Heading into harvest season, we cannot forget the fact that many of our farmers are facing tough times. That’s as true across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions as anywhere else throughout New York State and the nation.
Turning it around requires action at every level of government and within the agricultural industry itself. Many responses are underway. Many more are needed.
At the state level, lowering the cost of doing business in New York would be helpful. So would regulatory reform, enhanced consumer awareness, and ongoing, overall strong support in government for pro-farm policies, programs, and services.
The last thing New York State can afford is to stop investing in programs and services vital to the future of farming and agriculture. Recall that back in January, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed deep cuts in state funding for numerous ag-related programs and services. In fact, the governor has made similar proposals for the past several years, and they make no sense. If enacted, the governor’s agricultural cuts would do great harm to many rural, upstate communities.
We have to keep New York’s priorities straight. This includes continued strong support for the agricultural industry and our farmers. This year I was grateful to join many upstate Senate colleagues to ensure that, once again, we said “No” to Governor Cuomo. The Legislature rejected the governor’s call to cut or eliminate millions of dollars in funding for programs and services that have become fundamental to the future of agriculture in New York State.
We rejected proposed cuts for initiatives, programs and services like the Wine and Grape Foundation, Farm-to-Seniors Assistance, Tractor Rollover Prevention Program, FarmNet (Farm Family Assistance), and the Diagnostic Lab at Cornell University. Additionally, the governor proposed to cut or eliminate funding for other vital Cornell research and study programs invaluable to the dairy industry among other critical agricultural challenges including food safety research and study, disease detection and prevention, honeybee die-off, invasive species, pesticide use, and rabies prevention and treatment.
Since 2011, Senate Republicans and I have led the fight to restore more than $50 million in budget cuts proposed by Governor Cuomo, increase funding for many programs and services, and spearhead new initiatives. Among others, I have been particularly grateful to reach across the aisle to work closely with legislative colleagues and the Cuomo administration, particularly the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, to position New York State at the forefront of a revitalized industrial hemp industry that has the potential to diversify our agricultural economy, generate revenue, and create jobs. We are moving forward to ensure that the development and growth of the industrial hemp industry will provide valuable new economic opportunities and a competitive edge for Southern Tier and Finger Lakes farmers and agribusinesses.
The 2018-19 state budget also provided a badly needed increase in funding for NY FarmNet, which was founded in 1986 by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University as a lifeline for farmers to help them weather the crisis of a struggling farm economy. This mission remains as necessary as ever before. Every farmer here at home and across New York should know that FarmNet is available as an important source of free, confidential assistance. Just call 1-800-547-3276, or visit https://www.nyfarmnet.org.
Another of this year’s critical actions increased, for the first time in decades, the school lunch reimbursement rate. K-12 school districts purchasing 30 percent of their lunch ingredients from New York farms will be eligible to receive a state reimbursement of $0.25 per meal—four times the amount currently provided per meal. The budget also doubles state funding for Farm to School grants.
We are fortunate to have a nationally leading agricultural industry, one that is a mainstay of our culture and economy. We need to keep taking every step that we can to ensure that famers will always have the opportunity to keep their land in farming and to create new opportunities for future farmers.