By Senator Darrel Aubertine, Chairman Senate Committee on Agriculture
Agriculture is the foundation of our economy. As the only active farmer serving in the State Legislature and as a former dairy farmer for more than three decades, I know on a personal level how important our farms are to our upstate and rural economy.
More so than even Wall Street, agriculture is vital to the future of all of New York State. It’s on our farms, where wealth is generated and economic viability begins. It’s on our farms where we can see that hard work produces a commodity that is sold to feed our families. No other industry can make a dollar invested multiply as many times over in a community as agriculture. Still, farmers are asked to produce more food with less every day—less land, less resources and less money.
Over the past 40 years, the number of people on this planet has doubled, but the amount of farmland in production has not changed. In New York State, where the population has grown by several million over the past 30 years, the number of farms in this State has declined steadily by more than one farm per day. In 1970, the average farmer produced food for around 70 people. Today, each farm is asked to produce for more than 150 people. Some projections are that by 2050, today’s farmers will have to produce as much food as has been produced since farming began.
As population and the demand for food continues to increase, we are looking at the possibility of very real food shortages in the next 20 to 40 years, which will have serious negative consequences for not only our quality of life, but all sectors of our economy. Yet, farmers rise to the occasion time and time again, whether or not they get the credit they deserve or even get paid. Food is cheaper now than it has ever been and despite the low prices they receive, farmers continue to find new and better ways to produce more food and have actually reduced their impact on our environment.
It’s important that the next administration recognizes the impact of agriculture on our economy and our rural communities. While the challenges facing our dairy industry—the State’s top agricultural sector—can best be met at the federal level there are issues that can be resolved at the state level. These include tasking the DEC with working with the farmers to avoid making mistakes rather than just handing out penalizations. Establishing a universal definition of milk, as well as defining the ownership of milk and when it changes hands will all help to make the industry more transparent and user friendly by reducing costs and regulations.
As chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have worked to pass legislation that would give farmers an individual voice within their co-ops outside of the bloc voting concept, reduce regulations for the maple, honey and wine industries, protect local crops from diseases in dumped out-of-state products, and cap property taxes. Likewise, I worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure the defeat of farm labor legislation that would have increased regulations and costs for farms large and small across the State, drying up the number of jobs available to farm workers and pushing many farms out of business.
Farmers will continue to drive the economy, preserve open spaces, and feed our families. This is why it is so important to protect this vital industry, remove the burdens that limit profitability and raise its profile by promoting the “buy local” movements whenever possible. NYSAC and every New Yorker should join the fight to ensure our farms can remain viable as the small businesses they are. In this State, family farming is still the norm—about 99 percent of our farms are family owned—and we cannot afford to limit our economic future by ignoring the impact of our farms.
Farmers are price takers and too often those prices are not high enough to cover expenses. We need to ensure that legislation introduced and considered by the Legislature is an affirmation of our agriculture industries and our efforts to ensure safe, local food is made available to consumers by workers who in New York are among the best paid and most protected farm workers in this nation. Protecting the bottom line for our farms is the best way to ensure that we have a safe, stable food supply that is produced responsibly here in New York.
So when you eat breakfast today, or share lunch and dinner with friends and family, keep in mind the farm families that are working just down the road in our rural towns to feed us, protect and sustain our economy, providing the opportunity for job creation in every sector, from service to high tech industry.