State Fair Celebrates Agriculture, Action Needed for Dairy Farmers

By State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine (D-Cape Vincent)

The New York State Fair opened this past week. For 163 years now, this fair has served as a celebration of the best in New York State agriculture. The fair’s exhibits showcase the best livestock, fruits, vegetables, maple, honey, dairy, Christmas trees, flowers, art, antique machinery, wines, beers and more, all produced here in New York State.

Our farmers and our state’s agricultural industries contribute billions to our economy and are an important part of our way of life. New York’s farms and agricultural industries put food on our plates, support hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs, improve our quality of life, and are now playing an increasingly important role in the future of our energy industry.

As we begin to see small gains in our sluggish economy, our farmers continue to struggle. Too often, when discussing the economy, agriculture is discussed separately. The truth is that agriculture is part of our economy’s foundation and when we see the agricultural sectors rebound, the entire economy will grow.

Dairy farmers contribute around $14,000 per year to our economy for every cow and support the agricultural infrastructure for all farmers. Yet they face the toughest row to hoe, and New York is not alone. Throughout the Northeast, 30 percent of our dairy farmers have sold off their assets over the last 10 years and in the past year we’ve seen prices plummet 50 percent, forcing farmers out of business at a faster rate. Meanwhile, substandard foreign dairy products and commodities in the market have shortchanged both farmers and consumers.

As chair of the state Senate Agriculture Committee, I am working with other Northeast representatives to call on U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Congress to take action. In a system where nationally set prices determine what a farmer gets for his milk—not the farmer—we need federal action immediately. This system has created record profits for processors, while our neighbors get paid a fraction of what it costs to produce their milk.

We need our federal representatives to work for our farmers to adjust the way prices are calculated and use laws already on the books to allow for a farmer’s costs to be included in the price. This will not require a new handout which our state and federal taxpayers cannot afford, but instead will enable farmers to get a fair price and cost taxpayers less than what we contribute to the MILC program. If the farm economy is healthy, we all benefit.

At the state level, I have introduced legislation to determine ownership of milk and reduce for our farmers the cost of hauling milk that has been co-mingled from multiple farms before delivery to a processer. What we’re trying to do is reduce the input costs for farmers, by determining where ownership begins and ends, and I’m working with legislators throughout the northeast to have uniform legislation on this throughout the region. Properly documenting the ownership of milk and where it was delivered will provide a substantial savings for our farmers.

Here at the fair on Monday, we celebrated dairy day, at which I attended a number of events to talk with farmers, look at their fine animals and products, and even milk a cow in a contest for charity. So as we celebrate the best in our state’s agriculture, we cannot lose sight of the struggles facing our farmers every day and must take the opportunity where we can to buy local and thank our farmers for all that they do to benefit our daily lives.