Ritchie: Grow Manufacturing by Growing Agriculture

Senator Ritchie’s Weekly Column

I was surprised a few months ago when I discovered the cafeterias at New York State’s Empire Plaza in Albany were serving milk from out of state.

With more than 40,000 people eating at New York State’s facilities, serving New York milk to our own state employees seemed an easy way to help our state’s family farms.

After I raised the issue with officials in Albany, I was assured it was just a temporary glitch in state procurement policies. I was promised that the Empire Plaza’s restaurants would soon be serving milk produced in New York State, as well as more fruits and vegetables grown on our state’s 36,000 family farms.

As the chair of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, I see myself as upstate’s main advocate for our family farms and our agribusiness industry.

Too many of our state’s leaders fail to recognize that a key part of our efforts to revitalize our upstate economy must focus on harnessing and growing our food manufacturing businesses which account for our state’s 4th largest manufacturing sector, according to a state Comptroller’s report.

With an average salary of $41,000, meat packing, cheese making, yogurt production, wineries, fruit and vegetable processors accounted for over 24,000 manufacturing jobs in 2008. Yet, over the past four years, the previous administration and state legislators cut $11 million in research, education and marketing funds for this critical sector. When I arrived in Albany in January, state bureaucrats had proposed even more ill-thought out cuts to agriculture which would have eventually cost us even more manufacturing jobs.

Too many people at the state level fail to grasp that our family farms produce the raw materials for a key part of our manufacturing sector. Unlike many of the industries that are being outsourced overseas, capitalizing on New York’s agricultural products provides our state with a way to use our own locally-produced resources.

Growing our own markets for New York produced farm products can help us grow our upstate economy, increase our manufacturing base and revive many upstate communities that have been damaged by the loss of other industrial companies.

With the growing awareness of the benefits to our health, our environment and our economy by buying and using locally produced farm products, whether they be maple syrup, honey, apples, onions, grapes or dairy, I believe we have an historic opportunity to revive our anemic upstate economy while helping our family farms.