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December 25, 2014
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editorial

Helping New York’s farms helps us all


Last week the New York State (NYS) Senate approved two legislative bills to help farmers. The first concerns electricity generation and net-metering on farms (net metering is a policy for consumers with renewable energy producing devices, allowing them to receive credit for at least a portion of the electricity they generate). The second bill concerns the authority of industrial development agencies (IDAs) to allow technical and financial assistance to farmers.

The River Reporter urges the state assembly to pass companion bills and make this proposed legislation the law.

Under the senate’s “Repower New York Farms Act,” farmers would receive relief from the ever increasing cost of energy by (a) reducing interconnection costs for renewable energy and (b) increasing the size of solar units that can be deployed to farm operations with residential meters. The goal is to increase on-farm renewable energy generation to lower utility bills allowing farmers to channel those savings into farm investment.

The other senate bill would amend the existing NYS law that currently limits IDAs to issuing loans and providing technical support only to agriculture manufacturers, processors and warehouses but not to farm businesses that directly grow, harvest or produce agricultural products.

Steps like these are important on many levels, as one of the act’s co-sponsors Senator John Bonacic explained, “Our local towns and businesses rely on our farmers. We need to provide farmers economic relief so they can continue to invest in farming, reach our markets, and reinvest in our state.”

There are many reasons to support these two acts, as many people will benefit.

NYS farmers would benefit. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA), 2007 Census of Agriculture, net cash farm income for NYS’s 36,352 farms was $1.2 billion, an average of $32,553 per farm. However, more than 20,000 farms posted net losses, losing an average of nearly $18,000 each. Any step that improves a farmer’s ability to earn a living wage will help keep farmers on the land producing essential goods for growing markets.

Local economies would benefit. When local farm businesses thrive, their purchasing power contributes to rural economies like ours, as farmers buy equipment, supplies and inputs locally. In addition, thriving local economies help create healthy, resilient local communities that are less vulnerable to economic shocks from the global economy over which individuals and rural populations have so little control.

New York State’s economy would benefit. Agriculture, already an important economic engine for NYS, has the potential to become an even more powerful economic driver statewide, with 20% of the U.S. population lying within an easy drive of our NYS farms. Markets for farm-fresh food in large metropolitan areas throughout the Northeast will only continue to grow in the years ahead.

Consumers would benefit. As the benefits of this kind of legislation help farmers expand their operations (or draw new young farmers to the land to meet the demand of the farm-to-consumer food movement), consumers will find increased supply of the products they are seeking.

Finally, the environment would benefit. Agriculture is the fifth largest producer of greenhouse gases (behind electric utilities, transportation, industry and the commercial/residential sector). By focusing not only on agriculture and energy, part of the proposed legislation will promote the growth of the renewable energy industry in general and the agricultural industry in particular.

These proposals are win-win and deserve to become law.