State’s efforts to protect the future of farming will help curb climate change, reduce food miles, and secure our food supply

By Keith Kimball | March 19, 2024

National Ag Day (March 19) is an opportunity to recognize that we are all united by the need to eat. And it’s the multi-generational farms that have been around for decades that will continue working every day to provide nutritious milk and dairy products for New Yorkers to enjoy. More than 96% of the state’s dairy farms are family-owned and these farmers are the original stewards of the land.

The Northeast Dairy Producers Association has hosted farm tours with elected leaders from across party lines, as well as Cornell CALS leadership, state commissioners, and key legislative and agency staff members. NEDPA remains laser-focused on working together to bolster our dairy industry, which is New York’s largest agriculture sector accounting for nearly half the state’s total income from agriculture.

And while the dairy industry remains a strong contributor to our rural economies, it is also unique and unlike any other sector. Farmers are unable to set their milk prices, face persistent labor shortages and complex regulatory challenges, and are working in a severely competitive global marketplace. For dairy farmers, the last few years have felt like the perfect storm. We’ve dealt with weather extremes affecting crops and harvest, new costly regulations, and historic increases in input costs while milk prices have not kept pace to offset them.

That’s why the Executive, Senate, and Assembly’s proposals to invest in the viability of the dairy industry are more important than ever before.

While there is much to celebrate about this year’s budget, the final enacted budget must guarantee that all farms are eligible for the Farm Employer Overtime Credit, which is what the law had intended from the start. Currently, some farms are being excluded from receiving this important credit due to the structure of their businesses, which could impact their operation’s viability and the amount of hours and pay their workers receive. We are confident that the Governor and Legislature will act swiftly to address this issue and look forward to the program getting up and running as intended.

One of the proposals that will directly support our family farms, is a $24 million investment proposed by Gov. Hochul, which is supported by both houses and aims to assist with implementing new technologies that allow for expanded on-farm storage. This will also help alleviate supply chain bottlenecks, a solution that came directly from the administration’s collaboration with NEDPA and industry partners over the last year.

NEDPA remains committed to working with government partners to find solutions that work for all. Good examples of this are the proposed funding for Cornell’s Climate Leadership Position and Ag Workforce Development Program, as well as the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, which are critical to farm employees and farms’ ongoing efforts to be part of the solution to achieve the state’s climate goals. Additionally, the resources committed to Soil and Water Districts, agricultural non-point source pollution, and Cornell Pro-Dairy all keep farmers appraised of the latest research, and support and inform environmental stewardship practices.

Dairy farms strive to achieve a closed-loop system, by recycling resources as much as possible while following science-based research to ensure our natural resources, animals, and workforce remain healthy and strong. Local farms partner with professionals like nutritionists, veterinarians, nutrient managers, researchers, and experts in academia and state agencies to accomplish that.

Senator Hinchey and Assemblymember Lupardo, who both chair the legislature’s Agriculture Committee, have been steadfast advocates of family dairy farms. Their efforts to lead conversations about the needs of farmers and farmworkers, and spearhead legislation to support the viability of agriculture and consumer access and choice, are greatly appreciated.

Right now, proposals indicate strong investments in New York’s dairy industry for this year’s state budget, a boost that’s crucial to the future of our local farms. According to the latest data from the USDA Census on Agriculture, the number of family dairy farms in New York decreased by nearly 40% from 2017 to 2022. At the same time, Purdue University’s Ag Economy Barometer continues to find financial distress as an ongoing concern for farmers.

The numbers are staggering and it’s a trend that needs to end. This year’s budget is as good a time as ever to change course and invest in the future of our dairy community. To protect our remaining farms, elected officials and the dairy industry need to continue working together, and ensure that important support programs, like the Farm Employer Overtime Credit, are benefitting all farms.

While challenges persist, the data does show that New York’s dairy farms continue to build upon ongoing efforts to curb climate change. The Ag Census reveals that farms across the state are doing their part to protect water quality and soil health. There was a nearly 25% increase in farm acres utilizing no-till practices. Additionally, the number of acres using all other conservation or reduced tillage practices increased by nearly 11%, while land dedicated to cover crops in New York State increased by nearly 13% over the last 5 years.

Farmers are the stewards of our land and waterways, and according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation, account for just 6% of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The New York State Climate Impacts Assessment also reveals that farms continue to invest in practices that are supported by science and data to protect their farm from climate change and weather extremes. Even though the number of dairy farms has decreased significantly, the number of acres utilizing best management practices to protect our natural resources has increased.

Dairy farms’ ability to participate in reducing emissions while providing locally-produced milk and food to our communities is dependent on continued collaboration and support. Family dairy farms need fair and informed policies and New Yorkers need local farms. NEDPA looks forward to working with our partners in state government to ensure the next generation is able to continue farming in New York State.

Keith Kimball is Northeast Dairy Producers Association Chair.