Assemblywoman Jenne Calls for State to Make Funding Agriculture Industry a Priority

March 10, 2017

Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne is calling on state officials to make funding for the agriculture industry an economic development priority in the 2017-18 budget.

"The state's agriculture industry has been a critical component of our state's economy for generations, and focused investment in our producers and our value added agribusiness has the potential to grow the economy in struggling rural areas of the state and create new jobs," she said.

Assemblywoman Jenne suggested the state – utilizing its economic development program - should make funding the agriculture industry a priority.

"We have seen the positive results that investments in the ag sector can have in the North Country in the past year with our farm-to-school pilot program. A $300,000 pilot program has been good for our producers and brought fresh, nutritious locally grown food to our school cafeterias," she noted.

The Drive to 25 Pilot Program in the 116th Assembly District increased per-meal reimbursements for schools that purchased New York farm products. The pilot program allowed schools to receive an additional 6 to 25 cents per meal to invest in locally sourced products.

The program was administered by the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) and connected 16 school districts with 15 local food producers and provided fresh food to more than 21,000 students.

'This program has the potential to be a driver of the agriculture economy in the state and also serves as an educational benefit by bringing students into closer contact with the agriculture industry. It is serving as a learning opportunity that could drive future growth. It is critical we continue the cutting-edge work that has been started this year," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

The assemblywoman, chair of the state Assembly's Task Force on Food, Farm & Nutrition Policy and a member of the state Assembly's Agriculture Committee, said the program could grow if the state increases its school lunch reimbursement rate from the 6 cents it has been at for the past 40 years to 25 years.

She has proposed a two-year investment of $15 million in the Assembly’s 2017-2018 budget to expand the pilot program to a large region in Northern New York and the Adirondacks.

Assemblywoman Jenne said funding is needed in a number of areas at a time when low milk prices are making dairy farming a struggle for farmers large and small. St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties are among the leading five counties in dairy production in New York State.

"We know in the North Country the important role dairy farming has played in our region since its earliest days and while the number of farms has declined - even as the size of our farms continues to grow - we know that most of our families are only a generation or two away from the farm. It is important - in an era when the source of our food has become more important - that we provide our ag industry with tools they need to continue to be successful," she added.

"I believe the state should provide dairy farmers a quality premium payment linked to meeting reductions over a three-year period in somatic cell count in fluid milk from the federally mandated 750,000/ml to 400,000/ml - the same level used in the European Union and the highest global standard," according to the assemblywoman.

She said high somatic cell counts are associated with bacterial infections in cows that result in lower yields and low quality milk. This program would operate over three years and give farmers a competitive leg up on the global dairy industry.

Assemblywoman Jenne called on the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to develop premium payments at a cost of between $50 and $100 million for farmers who reach annual targets toward the goal of reducing the statewide somatic cell count.

Her proposal calls for premium payments to go up to $3 per-hundredweight, triggered if the price per-hundredweight of milk falls more than 9 percent below the monthly milk cost-of-production (COP) calculation from the federal Department of Agriculture. Her plan calls for those payments to be phased out as the price of milk closes in on the cost of production.

Assemblywoman Jenne also noted she strongly supported several other funding initiatives that have come out of the state Assembly's Agriculture Committee. They include:

• The state should make the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) refundable in order to incentivize farm investment to meet the needs of global competition in a period of very low commodity prices and weather-related crop losses. Many farmers do not have taxable income to offset in bad years, she said.

• New York should double the agricultural minimum wage tax credit that was put into law last year in order to help offset increased labor costs on farms and allow New York farmers to better compete with farms in neighboring states.

• The budget should include a tax credit for farmers who donate to food banks - it was passed unanimously by the Assembly (A10584) in 2016 and later vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

• The state should adopt the budget funding recommendations of the Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Assemblyman William Magee for restorations for Farm Viability, Cornell programs and other local initiatives that have been significantly reduced or eliminated in the proposed 2017-18 executive budget.

• The Assembly should continue its support for the NY Farm Viability Institute, which has supported 222 completed projects over the last 12 years with an economic impact of nearly $109 million. The current budget invested $1.9 million in the program, and Assemblywoman Jenne said she believes the state should increase their funding to $2.4 million in the 2017-18 budget to ensure this program continues to support our agricultural communities.

• The Assembly should also fully fund the dairy profit team at $220,000 and support the governor’s proposal to reappropriate the remainder of last year’s funding.

• Legislation (A4772) introduced by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner that would allow insurance corporations to receive a tax credit for investing in rural business growth funds and establishing a fund dedicated to the well-being of New York Agriculture and Rural Jobs should become law.

The agricultural lands of New York's have been identified as a critical component of the state's efforts to conserve open space, protecting agricultural production, scenic areas, and vital wildlife habitats. This bill establishes a fund to help promote and sustain the economies of New York's rural communities and protect the jobs of hardworking individuals in these areas.

This bill provides an incentive for taxpayers to invest in the established fund, supporting the economic development of New York's rural lands and the state as a whole.

Assemblywoman Jenne noted a recent multi-million economic development study in St. Lawrence County demonstrated the potential for farming and agribusinesses to play a vital role in reversing the economic decline that has left many rural areas of the state struggling.

"That study, which was focused on St. Lawrence County but is a blueprint for other regions of the state, shows the potential to create jobs by diversifying the ag industry and working to increase production. We are starting to see that potential in a greenhouse operation in Jefferson County and a soybean processor working to locate a facility in St. Lawrence County. The state needs to make an investment in continuing those efforts and growing badly needed jobs in rural New York," Assemblywoman Jenne stressed.