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Photo: Sarah Harris
Photo: Sarah Harris

NYS government sows seeds to boost farming economy

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It seems like state leaders are sowing acres of ideas these days to boost New York's farming economy. This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of New York's first ever inter-agency task force on agriculture. The idea is to help farmers cut through the bureaucratic red tape that's an obstacle to growth.

Also this week, North Country Sen. Patty Ritchie unveiled a plan to encourage more young farmers to enter the business.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

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In the last month, Governor Cuomo's office has put out no fewer than 11 press releases about programs to help agriculture. The state has streamlined approvals for on-farm wineries, breweries, and distilleries. New York City restaurants will buy more New York-grown produce. And there's more money for farmers markets.

In this election year, Governor Cuomo is trying to make it clear he's engaged in agriculture. And others have taken notice. Sen. Ritchie, who chairs the Senate's Agriculture Committee, says she thinks that's great. "We need a lot of people at the table, and I think led by the governor, in order to look at the problem, and find a way to connect the dots."

One of the problems is that, while interest in farming and food has never been greater, New York still lost about 800 farms, mostly small, from 2007 to 2012. And Ritchie says the average age of a New York farmer is 57: "For every two farmers over the age of 65, there's only one farmer under the age of 35. That's really an alarming number."

That's true even though New York added 270 more farmers under 35 since 2007.

Ritchie has introduced a package of bills to make it easier for young farmers to enter the business. It would be called "Young Farmer NY." Speaking on the public radio show Capital Pressroom this week, New York Farm Bureau president Dean Norton said it's modeled on Start Up NY, Cuomo's tax-free program to incubate businesses near universities.

"They could have tax-free status for 10 years while they're growing their business and have refundable credits to help with capital in their business. That's really where the idea came from."

The Farm Bureau and Sen. Ritchie also back Cuomo's plan to raise the estate tax exemption, which they say would make it easier for farmers to pass on their farms to the next generation. Cuomo has also promised another yogurt summit this year, and a new one intended to guide more Upstate New York fruits and vegetables to New York City consumers.

Anita Deming of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County says the more attention to agriculture from anyone, the better: "There are a lot of initiatives out there, and I think the more we can talk about good food and good local food is only good for our local farmers. So I'm very happy to see an emphasis on that."

It's hard to say how much of this will actually reverse the decades long decline of farming in New York State. But New York did become the number one producer of Greek yogurt in the country last year. And it regained its position as the third-biggest dairy-producing state.

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