Agricultural Safety Awareness Week is being observed from March 5th through 11th. Not only is it a good time to highlight safe farming practices, it is a good time to reflect on the continuing importance of farms in New York State.
Agriculture is one of New York's top industries and is vital to our economy. Farms create jobs, generate significant economic activity and contribute to the tax revenue. According to the New York Farm Bureau, there are some 36,000 farms in our State, ninety-nine percent of which are family owned. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, some 400 farms in these two counties produce agricultural commodities worth over $57 million.
The Farm Bureau, through its Safety and Health Network, sponsors Agricultural Safety Awareness Week each year. Agricultural work can be hazardous, and the Farm Bureau undertakes a number of initiatives to help educate farmers about safe farming practices. New York's Department of Health also offers recommendations to prevent farm accidents.
Local members of the New York Farm Bureau visited with me when they came to Albany for their recent Lobby Day. Some topics of concern that we discussed were: continued funding for the Farm Viability Institute; reforming the Workers' Compensation system; and preventing abuse of our Eminent Domain laws.
These local farmers noted that the Farm Viability Institute helps New York agriculture by educating farmers about the newest technologies and techniques available that can help them compete globally. They would also like to see increased funding through the Environmental Protection Fund to help farmers comply with new environmental regulations. The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling where eminent domain can be used to take farm or private land has the Farm Bureau terribly concerned. They are lobbying for an amendment to the State Constitution and Eminent Domain Procedure Law to make sure private property rights protected. In regard to Workers' Compensation, they would like to see reforms that will decrease premiums while increasing benefits to injured employees. This will help the small and family-owned farms be competitive, the representatives said. Another Farm Bureau priority is creating a biofuels production tax credit, which will help provide New York with a new fuel source and help create revenues for farm businesses.
In addition to these issues at the State level, I am concerned about the "milk tax," which is a federal budget item that proposes a 3-cent tax per hundredweight of milk. With more than 11 billion pounds of milk being produced in New York each year, the milk tax would cost farmers here more than $4 million per year, or an average of some $720 annually per dairy farmer. My colleagues and I in the New York State Senate are strongly encouraging our federal representatives to oppose this proposal and thereby help our dairy industry and family farms.