Winner Says Final Budget Doesn't Do Enough for Dairy Farmers, Wine Industry

George Winner

April 09, 2009

Albany, N.Y., April 1–State Senator George Winner (R-C-I, Elmira) and his Republican colleagues in the state Senate offered an amendment to the 2009-2010 state budget plan being enacted by Governor David Paterson and the state’s Democratic legislative leaders late yesterday that would have reauthorized an emergency assistance program for New York’s dairy farmers.

The Republican move to amend the state’s agriculture budget – which was defeated along party lines by the Senate’s Democratic majority -- also would have fully restored state funding for the operation of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, which is being cut under the Democratic plan from $2.8 million last year to approximately $951,000 in 2009.

Winner said that the soon-to-be-approved, final state budget fails to recognize two key segments of the state’s No. 1 industry, agriculture.

“It’s a failure on their part to recognize the importance of these industries to the New York economy as a whole, but especially to upstate communities,” said Winner, noting that New York is the nation’s third-largest producer of milk, behind only Wisconsin and California, and America’s third-largest producer of wine.  “There should be room in the New York State budget to maintain a strong commitment to these economic foundations.”

Winner wrote to the governor in February and urged the Paterson administration to pay close attention to a potentially devastating financial crisis within New York’s dairy industry.  There’s growing concern about farm losses as milk prices being paid to New York’s farmers have fallen by as much as 40 percent from a year ago, according to recent statistics from the federal Department of Agriculture.  The decline has produced fear within the industry and among upstate lawmakers that hundreds of dairy farms, especially small family farms, could be out of business by the end of the year.

The Republican amendment would have reauthorized the state’s Dairy Assistance Program, first approved in 2007 to provide $30 million in direct assistance to state dairy farmers facing low milk prices, high operation costs and other factors that threatened the collapse of many farms.  Winner noted that the average price per hundredweight being paid to farmers today is even lower than it was two years ago and farmers face equally high production costs.

The Republican amendment also would have fully restored state funding for the Wine &  Grape Foundation, which Winner said has been a driving force since its creation in 1985 behind the remarkable success of New York’s wine industry.  Of the state’s more than 250 wineries, nearly 200 were established after the Foundation’s establishment.  The industry employs 18,000 workers and annually generates $3.4 billion for the state economy.

“Now is no time to be pulling back state investment in such a proven industry. To save a few million dollars, the Paterson-Smith-Silver plan turns away from a strong commitment to a statewide industry that generates billions of dollars in economic activity, accounts for thousands of livelihoods, forms the backbone of Finger Lakes tourism, and brings national and international acclaim to New York.  It makes no sense.”