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More farms, Gov. Cuomo, not bigger farms

By Nate Wilson
March 14, 2013

The economy of upstate New York has been mired in malaise for several decades. This has been the economic bane of several previous governors and their administrations. It would be for Governor Andrew Cuomo, too, were it not for an unforeseen economic gift that has dropped into his lap.

This windfall?—new construction and major expansion of dozens of yogurt processing plants across upstate New York. Several of these plants have potentially massive production capacity. This trend has brought construction jobs, real estate sales, massive purchases of building materials, and eventually will produce several thousand additional good manufacturing jobs. All that will be lacking will be copious amounts of additional milk.

The reaction of the Cuomo Administration has been wholly predictable—wild enthusiasm, general cluelessness and somewhat sophomoric ideas as to what is feasible or appropriate. Last August, the governor hosted the first ever “New York State Yogurt Summit” in Albany. Attendance was tightly controlled; all major yogurt processors were in attendance and the governor’s office even courageously included three hand-picked token dairy farmers (holding the appropriate opinions, of course)—all this to give the illusion that the summit was some sort of all inclusive democratic process.

One issue that surfaced at the summit was the regulatory exemption limit of 200 cows per farm in the official definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, (CAFO). Any farm with over 200 cows has to undergo a prohibitively expensive environmental vetting process allowing it to operate above that threshold. Hearing this, the governor sprang into action. Leaving the summit room for a brief period, he returned triumphant to announce that he was going to amend the CAFO exemption to cover farms up to 300 cows. This made a dynamic “executive moment” for Cuomo (too bad he overlooked the fact that any decisions regarding CAFO regulations are not his to make but are under the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Oops....)