Senate passes Budget that invests in agriculture and new upstate economic opportunity

Darrel J. Aubertine

March 31, 2009

ALBANY —The enacted 2009-10 State Budget approved today by the New York State Senate will fund agriculture programs at levels close to 43 percent higher than the Executive Budget had proposed, restoring critical programs and investing in the future of our farmers and producers.

With the economic downturn, Sen. Aubertine, Chair of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, and the Senate Majority worked diligently to preserve and fund programs and opportunities that help farmers improve their product and business model, market their produce, and otherwise increase their bottom line. The budget adds close to $6.3 million more in funding over the executive budget’s proposed $14.76 million, and restores funding for the Wine and Grape Foundation, apple growers, the maple industry, agriculture development programs, and local fairs.

“No budget is perfect, but we’re facing economic uncertainty in difficult times and this budget addresses the core needs in our agriculture programs,” said state Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine (D-Cape Vincent). “We’ve allocated more than $21 million focusing on the critical programs that help our farmers the most, seeking efficiencies and consolidations to make sure the vital needs of New Yorkers are met.”

The Wine and Grape Foundation, which would have received no funding in the executive budget, will receive $951,000 plus another $250,000 for promotions. The foundation has been the voice of the state’s wine industry, which has grown to about 250 wineries and 1,400 vineyards producing more than 200 million bottles of wine annually. The wine industry is an attraction for millions of tourists and contributes between $3 billion and $6 billion per year to our economy.

Another important provision in the budget is the Health Food/Healthy Communities initiative which will provide financial assistance through the agricultural economic development fund in the form of loans, grants or contracts for service to increase the number of food markets providing affordable and nutritious foods in underserved areas. This "Farm to Fork" program will help to connect the state's farmers with new markets to sell their quality produce.

The Senate pushed for the restoration of funding for local fairs throughout the state. County and local fairs throughout the state showcase the state's agriculture and involve young people and adults in agriculture. The executive budget offered no funding for fairs, but the enacted budget includes $453,000.

“Our local fairs remind people that food doesn’t come from the grocery store. It comes from our farms,” Sen. Aubertine said. “The active role our young people and adults take in showcasing their prize fruits, vegetables, and livestock, helps preserve interest in agriculture throughout the state and the prizes this funding helps pay for are an important incentive.”

The budget increases the allocation for the Farm Viability Institute from $400,000 to $3,242,000. The Center for Dairy Excellence farm viability program allocation will increase by $176,000 to $376,000 compared to the executive budget and  “Grow NY”—a multi-faceted program that includes “Pride of New York” and helps the economic development efforts of the state’s agriculture production, processing and marketing industries—will be funded at $600,000. These programs help farmers increase profits by offering assistance to improve their business models.

Other key increases over the executive budget allocation for agriculture programs include $7,579,000 for Cornell University agriculture programs, which represents a more than $1 million increase. This funding will provide $250,000 more for the “Core” Diagnostic Lab, $200,000 more for the Quality Milk program to help dairy farmers combat mastitis, $250,000 to combat rabies statewide, increased funding for the Geneva experiment station and experimental state seed inspection program, and $300,000 for Northern New York Agriculture Development Program.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith said, “Our farmers, growers and so many others in the process produce healthy, local food, attract tourists, and bring new economic opportunities to Upstate, particularly rural communities. Developing a 21 st Century economy for the ag sector is a priority and this budget is a very good first step towards that goal.”

Outside of the agriculture appropriations for aid to localities, the budget also includes continued funding of $1 million for Clarkson University to continue its Dairy Waste to Energy program to help farmers turn cow manure, waste silage, and cheese whey into energy with the design and construction of an anaerobic digester and power/heat recovery system.

In the Environmental Protection Fund, the Senate fought to restore $5.5 million for the Farmland Protection Program, which allows farmers to sell the development rights for their land to the state to preserve it as farmland and obtain much needed capital to re-invest in their business. Studies of worldwide food production have forecast a shortage of farmland and the demand for this program has risen in recent years.

“The viability of New York’s farms, wineries and agricultural businesses remain an integral part of the upstate economy and New York State’s economy as a whole,” said Senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “The funding we were able to restore will help jumpstart businesses that have suffered due to the fiscal downturn and enable New Yorkers to benefit from more locally grown products.” 

“Agriculture is an often overlooked industry, but it has a multi-billion dollar impact on our state and is the foundation of our rural communities,” Sen. Aubertine said. “I’m pleased that in working with the Majority Leader, the Assembly, and the Governor, we were able to maintain our commitment to agriculture and fund these essential programs.”