Agriculture Receipts Steadily Increasing; New State Laws, Policies Assisting Industry

By Assemblyman Will Barclay
For Christmas, one of the gifts I received was a local food basket.

This was much appreciated.

It contained locally made sauce and artisan pasta as well as locally grown onions and some locally made candy.

My family and I enjoyed it over the holidays.

I am always impressed with the quality and variety of our local producers – from cheese, vegetables, wines and breads.

The good news is our economy is benefiting more from these local products.

It was recently reported that New York agriculture industry recorded $5.68 billion in cash receipts in 2013, up more than $1 billion from 2010.

This is great news for our economy and for the agricultural industry.

Fortunately the state has relaxed some regulations and put certain policies in place to help the industry expand in recent years.

I wanted to highlight a few recent changes regarding agriculture in this week’s column.

I’ve written about the reduced estate tax before, but it’s worth mentioning again, as it has been made easier for farmers to pass their property onto loved ones without tax penalties up to $2.25 million.

Previously, the exclusion threshold was $1 million.

By 2019, this threshold will be in line with the federal government’s exclusion threshold, which is currently at $5.25 million.

I’ve advocated for this reform for years and was happy to see it come to fruition.

This will create real tax savings for farmers.

New Law reduces acreage requirements

More recently a bill was signed into law that will hopefully encourage more farm development.

I was pleased to support its passage in the Assembly.

Current standards require an area of at least 500 acres to create an agriculture district in a county.

Legislation signed into law in November will reduce that requirement to 250 acres.

This may give rise to a smaller number of farms to provide local products and jobs.

About 30% of the state’s land is considered agricultural or 8.8 million acres.

Craft Beverage Law cuts requirements

A new beverage law has eased restrictions on craft beverage products, including beer, cider, wine and distilled liquors.

It passed the Legislature last session and was signed into law in November.

I was pleased to support this in the Assembly.

The new law allows producers to conduct tastings and serve “by the bottle” and “by the glass.”

It permits farm distilleries to increase the retail outlets where they can sell and offer samples of their products and reduces some costs for small manufacturers.

At the time it was signed into law, it was announced that $3 million dollars in grants are being made available to New York’s beverage producers for marketing, promotion and tourism as well.

Upstate Feeding Downstate

In October the state announced $500,000 will go to help downstate low-income communities purchase fresh and locally sourced fruits and vegetables.

Consumers can use SNAP benefits to pay for food boxes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

I was pleased to hear this program announced, as farm organizations have advocated for this type of more official arrangement and investment for years.

It makes perfect sense that our Upstate farms would help feed New York City residents who obviously have to rely on out-of-town produce.

I hope it gives more Upstate New York farmers the chance to work more directly with New York City and downstate markets.

Beginning Farmer’s NY Fund

In this year’s budget, we were able to pass the Beginning Farmer’s NY Fund, a pool of grant money allocated to catalyze the careers of emerging farmers.

Up to $50,000 is available for new or expanding small farms that reside on less than 150 acres.

In this year’s budget, $1 million was allocated for this program.

And the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation accepted its first round of applications for the newly-created Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Program.

Those who are eligible will receive awards which provide up to $10,000 in education loan forgiveness annually for up to five years.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.