Proposed State Budget for Agriculture Invests in NY Farms
We are nearing the end of National Agriculture Month. It has been a time to reflect on the importance that New York agriculture plays in all of our lives. It is a given that everyone in this state needs to eat and New York farms supply much of what is on your menu. But often, that reality is taken for granted.
We are blessed to have one of the most diverse agricultural sectors in the country. New York is among the national leaders in dairy production, apples, maple, cabbage, and grapes. We have one of the largest numbers of organic farms. We grow oysters off the coast of Long Island, onions in the black dirt of the Hudson Valley and western part of the state and have outstanding greenhouse operations. Our craft beverage business has grown by leaps and bounds while hemp and urban farming startups are getting off the ground. We should give thanks daily to what we can legitimately call local farming.
Right now, New York State lawmakers are wrapping up budget negotiations. This year, the industry could see some of the biggest investment made to New York farming in years. There is increased support for marketing and research, climate smart farming and environmental initiatives, along with tax credits for farms that reinvest in their operations. While this is all significant, there are other big issues that farmers are attempting to manage.
Like everyone else, farms continue to feel the impacts of supply chain disruptions and high inflation. Machine parts I ordered last year have yet to arrive. Fertilizer costs have tripled. Fuel prices are surging along with the cost of animal feed. Dynamics at play around the world are hitting us all in the pocketbook very close to home.
At the same time, labor challenges exist for every business, and farming and food processing are no exceptions. Soon, this could be compounded by an even lower overtime threshold for farmworkers. Bottom line, if we can’t find or afford the labor, food production will be greatly impacted. That begs the question, what happens to those who need assistance?
Feeding America estimates one in nine New Yorkers face hunger. That is significant. Imagine what goes through a parent’s mind when they struggle to feed their family. New York Farm Bureau just announced last week that our farmers donated 5.7 million pounds of food last year through Feeding New York’s Harvest for All program. That food was distributed in every corner of the state through the organization’s 10 regional food banks. While that number and the generosity of our state’s farmers are significant, that number is half of what it was just a few years ago. As the cost to harvest, pack and transport food keeps climbing, the ability of this state to feed itself diminishes, especially when our farms compete against farms in other states and countries with much lower production costs.
But it isn’t just those in need who will be left wanting, so to New Yorkers who desire local product at their grocery stores as well as at farm markets in Union Square, downtown Troy, or in Buffalo. Local businesses that depend on farms to make purchases and buy supplies will lose out. The rural tax base will shrink. I could go on. The USDA is gearing up for the 2022 Agricultural Census where they count the number of farms in the state. It happens every five years. In 2017, we lost around 2,000 farms and 300,000 acres from the period before. I fear this will happen again unless we act together.
I urge New York leaders to make the right decisions when it comes to investing in agriculture. But it is more than just funding programs. We must support the ability for our farms to grow, to reinvest, to stay open for business. With every regulation, comes a cost. With every mandate, comes a closure. People cannot say they support New York agriculture but advocate against the best interest of local food production.
If you want your communities to have New York product, then please be a partner with us. Let’s capitalize on the opportunities that exist. Let’s find a balance that lifts everyone up. Then we will truly have something to celebrate when National Agriculture Month comes around again next March.
David Fisher is a dairy farmer in Madrid, NY and New York Farm Bureau President.