Amid Albany Frustrations, Agriculture Is Getting Renewed Attention

By State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine

With all that is frustrating in Albany right now—the budget deadlock, the lack of an Assembly companion to Power for Jobs legislation, the reintroduction of the farm labor bill—there has been good news. The Senate has passed more legislation to benefit agriculture than any year in recent memory.

Three bills to benefit our agriculture industry have been delivered to the governor, with one having been chaptered last week. One bill will help farmers preserve their land for generations to come, while two others will help our state’s maple industry. The maple industry in New York State may be a small part of our overall agricultural production, considering dairy makes up around 60 percent of our gross sales, but this state ranks second in the nation in the value of syrup produced and third in total number of gallons produced.

The new law makes syrup, maple cream, maple sugar and other maple products an agricultural commodity, which will enable our maple producers to access new funding and protections through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state Agriculture and Markets. The bill awaiting action by the governor would include the maple industry in the definition of agricultural tourism, giving maple producers the same rights and protections afforded to other farmers who welcome tourists onto their land.

The preservation bill permits certain not-for-profit conservation organizations to apply for farmland protection funding on behalf of farmers looking to sell development rights on their land, as long as the municipal and the county agricultural and farmland protection board have both endorsed the project. Often what holds farmers back from applying for this funding is the upfront cost.

In the Senate, we have passed legislation that now awaits action in the Assembly to give dairy farmers more say in their coops, bills to reduce regulations in our agricultural industries, and bills to open up new markets for New York products from wines in frozen desserts to the statewide promotion of agricultural tourism.

And we continue to move bills along, including two more bills to help our dairy farmers last week. In the Agriculture Committee, which I chair, we moved a bill that would define when the ownership of milk changes hands. There is no mandate in this legislation for the shifting of costs in any direction, but it will give farmers leverage. It does not mandate that processors pick up the hauling cost but allows for a dialogue that gives farmers a seat at the table to set where those costs will be borne.

The Codes Committee also moved legislation I sponsored to make fluid milk more valuable by devaluing the milk protein concentrates—powdered milk products that are imported as industrial glue from countries without our health, safety or labor standards—against which our state’s 5,000 dairy farmers are forced to compete. By saying any product using these MPCs and caseinates cannot be marketed as dairy, the consumer will see that these products are not like the cheeses and other dairy products made with our farmers’ milk.

Without federal legislation to improve the pricing structure, regulation of imported MPCs or separate action to eliminate hauling fees, moving these bills helps us as a state to send a message. There is still a great deal of work that needs to be done to help grow our state’s agricultural industry, which has faced significant decline over the past three decades. However, we are making progress and I will continue working to pass bills to help our state’s number one industry and stop legislation such as the farm labor bill.