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September 2, 2010 - 1:50pm

Sen. Gillibrand held first 'listening session' with NY farmers Wednesday

posted by Billie Owens in agriculture, Gillibrand.

Here's a news release from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's office.

As Congress begins debate over the 2012 Farm Bill, Gillibrand -- the first New Yorker to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years -- began her statewide listening sessions on Wednesday to discuss new efforts to help New York farmers and farming communities.

Senator Gillibrand plans to focus on key areas of the Farm Bill that will have major influence on New York, including access to financing, new market opportunities, assistance for specialty crops, and investments in renewable energy.

From dairy farms to black-dirt farms, and apple orchards to vineyards, artisanal cheeses, and other specialty crops, New York farmers and communities will have a lot to gain in the next Farm Bill.

“New York is home to the hardest-working farm families and the finest locally grown produce in the world, but outdated regulations and a bad economy are hurting our farmers and farming communities across the state,” the senator said. “We need to make sure the next Farm Bill is a good deal for New York.

"I plan to take the next several months to listen to farmers and businesses in every corner of the state and discuss my ideas on how to help farmers survive and prosper in the new economy.”

More than 35,000 farms stretch across 7.1 million acres – making up one-fourth of New York State. New York’s agriculture industry generates more than $4 billion for the state’s economy.

The Rochester/Finger Lakes Region alone is home to more than 6,000 farms stretching nearly 1.5 million acres and generating more than $1 billion for the state’s economy.

The following key issues were addressed in the first listening session, which took place Wednesday in the Rochester/Finger Lakes Region.

Providing Access to Capital
Like all small businesses, family farms are struggling to secure access to the financing they need to grow or, in many cases, survive in this difficult economy. Gillibrand plans to strengthen the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program to help New York farmers develop value-added products.

She also plans to bolster the Farm Services Agency (FSA) loan program to give farmers the resources they need to purchase land, livestock, equipment, feed, seed and other supplies. Gillibrand recently helped secure an additional $39 million for FSA operating loans to help give New York farms the capital they need.

Additionally, the senator will fight to exempt New York State from the USDA’s 10,000 population criteria – the maximum population to qualify for USDA water and wastewater funding.

Many parts of New York would be ineligible for funding under the new USDA guidelines since many New York towns include villages and other municipalities, putting a town’s population over the 10,000 threshold.

Addressing the Dairy Crisis
Due to outdated dairy-pricing regulations, dairy farmers pay more to produce their products than they make from selling them.

Senator Gillibrand has introduced legislation that would double the amount of money farmers get from the MILC program, retroactive to the low point of the crisis in March of 2009. While raising the MILC payment rate to 90 percent will not completely make up the gap between cost of production and market rates, it will certainly help prevent more New York farms from going under. 

She also introduced legislation to index the MILC rate to inflation. The MILC program payments were originally designed to help dairy farmers in their time of need, but funding levels have remained stagnant.

In the next Farm Bill, Gillibrand intends to work with New York farmers to make these improvements and overhaul the milk-pricing system and secure a fair price for producers.

Additionally, she will work to make the opaque pricing system of the dairy market more transparent. Senator Gillibrand is cosponsoring the Mandatory Price Reporting Act to reauthorize the electronic price reporting of dairy prices, helping to increase transparency and change-price reporting from monthly to weekly.

Gillibrand has also introduced legislation to make Cold Storage Inventory Reporting to the National Agriculture Statistics Service mandatory, and give the USDA the authority to audit the survey. Experts agree that reducing the influence of the thinly traded Chicago Mercantile Exchange is the best way to increase market transparency.

Expanding New Markets
Senator Gillibrand intends to expand the Market Access Program (MAP) to enable our farmers to sell more New York products worldwide. The MAP program provides funding for the creation, expansion and maintenance of foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products.

She is also planning to introduce an infrastructure provision in the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program to help farmers reach new markets.

Additionally, Gillibrand will work to secure more federal funding to promote the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program to give New York farms more opportunities to supply schools with fresh, locally grown products.

Targeted Assistance to Specialty-crop Farmers
Specialty-crop farmers stand to gain tremendous benefit from the conservation programs in the Farm Bill. Senator Gillibrand intends to bolster the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), as well as introduce a new program, called the Conservation on Muck Soils (COMS), to provide additional assistance to New York’s specialty crop farmers.
Investing in New Sources of Clean, Renewable, New York Energy
New York’s agriculture industry is rich with opportunity to help lead America to a clean energy economy that can create good-paying jobs and rebuild our economy, strengthen our national security, and cut pollution.

Gillibrand plans to work for more investments in the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) that provides loans and grants for farmers and small rural businesses that build renewable energy systems, such as anaerobic digesters.

She also intends to push for greater investments in the Rural Energy Self Sufficiency Initiative, which assists with installation of integrated renewable energy systems in rural communities that make use of wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass sources.

Additionally, she plans to work to secure more investments in the Biomass Research and Development Program and the Biomass Crop Assistant Program to harness more of our state’s potential to convert biomass and agricultural waste into renewable energy.

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