"Agriculture Still No. 1"

George Winner

October 11, 2007

New York’s agricultural industry has been a mainstay of our state’s economic strength and cultural diversity for centuries, particularly upstate. It remains our No. 1 industry, and we can never ignore its importance.

As chairman of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I’m fortunate to be able to develop and seek the enactment of agriculture-related legislation each and every session.

In 2007, for example, I sponsored a law (Senate Bill Number 3234) establishing a new rural assistance grant program. Many rural areas lag behind the rest of the state in employment growth and income. So the new "Cluster Based Industry and Agribusiness Development Grant Program" will offer up to $25,000 in seed money to community-based development corporations to assist industry and agribusiness development, foster economic revitalization, and create and retain jobs. These grants will be economically beneficial to rural New York by facilitating local economic development strategies oriented towards indigenous resources, such as the grape-and-wine industry in the Finger Lakes region. Since viable industry and agricultural businesses are the core of sustainable rural communities, financial assistance to cluster based industry and agribusiness development is critical for local economies to realize their full potential. The new program envisions strategic clusters such as biotechnology, energy, information technology, specialized agriculture and rural heritage trail regions.

A second law I sponsored (Senate Bill Number 6268) authorizes the operation of the Finger Lakes Wine Center in Ithaca. We all know the value of the wine industry to the culture and economy of the Finger Lakes. Anything we can do to further promote it and help it grow is a good investment. The Finger Lakes Wine Center is a credit to the vision of so many community and business leaders in and around the Ithaca community. It will be a tourist-oriented facility dedicated to celebrating winemaking and the wines of the Finger Lakes and New York State, as well as promoting regional tourism and economic growth by educating the public about agriculture and the food and wine industry. The Center also plans to hold classes in cooperation with participating wineries, local wine experts, members of the Cornell University community from the Cornell Hotel School and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the New York Wine and Culinary Center.

One of this year’s prominent actions for agriculture was the "Dairy Investment Act" (Senate Bill Number 2105-C -- $30 million in this year’s state budget to provide direct financial assistance to dairy farmers hard-pressed by low milk prices, high energy and feed costs and other financial hardships. Other news laws approved so far in 2007 include:

> Senate Bill Number 4334-A authorizing the commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag and Markets) to undertake surveys of beekeepers and apiary yard locations within New York in order to assess the size and condition of the state's honeybee population;

> Senate Bill Number 5108 directing Ag and Markets to study the impact of hauling costs on dairy farms;

> Senate Bill Number 4455-A allowing counties to apply for funding to update their farmland protection plans after 10 years;

> Senate Bill Number 5580 specifying that any municipal corporation, regional market authority, public benefit corporation, not-for-profit corporation, or agricultural cooperative may submit an application for state assistance for promotional support for farmers' markets;

> Senate Bill Number 3022 exempting permanent farm buildings on working farms from state codes that would subject barns and other farm structures to various new and unprecedented inspections;

> Senate Bill Number 1108 giving self-employed farmers greater access to the state’s Family Health Plus insurance program; and

> Senate Bill Number 3253-A adjusting the way Agriculture Property Tax Assessment values are determined to prevent major fluctuations between years. Under this new system, assessment values can’t increase more than 10 percent above the preceding year.

If you’d like additional information on any of these new laws, just contact my office by clicking below on CONTACT INFO.

Please refer to the Senate Bill Number when making a request. Thank you.