Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor | Richard A. Ball, Commissioner
Jessica A. Chittenden

May 12, 2008

Governor Paterson and Senator Schumer Meet with Western New York Farmers To Discuss Agriculture Industry’s Current Challenges

Issues Include the Federal Farm Bill, Labor Needs, and Economic Development

Governor David A. Paterson and U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today met with more than 100 farmers in Western New York to discuss issues of critical importance to New York's 36,000 farms. Governor Paterson detailed the unprecedented agricultural aid provided in the 2008-2009 enacted state budget during a town hall event that allowed farmers to discuss unique problems they face in this tough economic time.

“Few industries are as important to New York as agriculture,” said Governor Paterson. “Farmers generate food for our tables and they also feed our economy to the tune of $3.6 billion annually. We must ensure they have adequate protections against rising fuel costs and a shrinking work force. We must also help in the fight against invasive species and diseases, and find new routes of trade for their products.”

The Governor was joined by State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith, who spoke with farmers about their problems hiring seasonal workers. Farmers have been increasingly frustrated at their inability to find qualified workers to harvest their crops, hampered in large part by federal regulations requiring them to exhaust all domestic possibilities before being granted waivers to hire non-domestic workers. Farmers insist the supply of farmhands is far outweighed by the demand, and without sufficient federal waivers from the Bush Administration, crops will literally die on the vine.

The Governor discussed the state's aggressive program to contain and eradicate the Plum Pox virus (PPV), which is threatening New York's stone fruit crops, particularly peaches. Increased state and federal funds will allow for more the 100,000 crop samples to be taken from New York farms, and farmers will continue to be reimbursed for crops that are destroyed.

The Governor was also joined by New York State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker who last month led a delegation of farmers and agri-business leaders on New York's first-ever trade mission to Cuba. The trip was part of an effort to encourage the exportation of New York agricultural products to the island, which has not been a destination for New York goods. Governor Paterson said opening a New York-Cuba trade route would help New York farmers participate in a U.S.-Cuba trade relationship that generates $350 million annually.

Senator Schumer updated farmers on the status of the federal Farm Bill, the primary agricultural and food policy bill of the federal government. The Bill addresses an array of agricultural and food issues, such as subsidies, energy policy, conservation, nutrition, and rural development. This spring, Governor Paterson and Senator Schumer fought to include an amendment to the Bill that ties milk prices to the price of animal feed, so that increased feed prices farmers pay do not diminish dairy farm profitability. If the Farm Bill is approved, it would be a victory for the more than 6,200 New York dairy farmers.

Senator Schumer said: “This farm bill is one of the best things to happen to Northeast agriculture in a very long time. Our two biggest products--dairy, and fruits and vegetables--take giant steps forward under its provisions. When I became Senator I vowed to put Northeast agriculture on the map, and this bill will ensure we can do just that. I know Governor Paterson will work tirelessly to defend and promote the interests of all New York farmers from one end of the state to the other.

“Besides significantly raising the repayment rate to dairy farmers, it fulfills our promise to bring specialty crops the kind of federal support they need, providing over $400 million in block grants to states and $300 million to combat pests and diseases like the Plum Pox virus which has been threatening crops across Western New York this year.”

Commissioner Patrick Hooker said: “Whether at the state or federal level, Governor Paterson and Senator Schumer are two leaders who recognize the important contributions the agriculture industry provides New York State. Their support and dedication was heard loud and clear among the farm community today as farmers had a unique opportunity to speak face-to-face with them on the issues impacting their businesses the most.”

Senator Schumer also announced that the conference report for the 2008 Farm Bill will be filed on Monday, with the full Senate voting on the Farm Bill sometime next week. The Farm Bill has just come out of conference with the House, and Schumer discussed several portions of it that will aid farmers across Upstate New York.

Besides providing important support for dairy farmers, the Farm Bill also helps fruit and vegetable farmers by including about $3.5 billion in new money for specialty crops programs. In addition, the Bill includes block grants to states, conservation programs, disaster relief funding, programs to combat pests and disease, including invasives like PPV, and funding for the Tree Assistance Program. The Bill also contains new programs to assist organic farmers, provide funding for organic farming research, and help conventional farms that desire to transition to organic farming.
The 2008-2009 Enacted State Budget sent a message to New York farmers that their needs are a priority for lawmakers in Albany. The Budget includes:

    • The largest Environmental Protection Fund package ever to preserve irreplaceable farmland, protect water resources, and fight invasive species.
    • $30 million for farmland protection and $13 million for agricultural non-point source pollution control.
    • $9 million for the Agri-Business Child Development Program and nearly 100 percent increases for the Economic Development and Farmland Viability grants program and Farm Family Assistance.
    • An unprecedented $40 million for the Upstate Agricultural Economic Development Fund.

2008 Press Releases