NYS Assembly
Agriculture Committee
2003 Legislative Happenings

Sheldon Silver, Speaker • William Magee, Chairman • December 2003

“We are really looking at the future of farming and how we can continue to grow New York agriculture for not only the benefit of our farms, but for all New Yorkers. It has been said many times, but it still rings true — if we have no farmers we have no future.”

Bill Magee, Chair
Assembly Agriculture Committee

A Message from the Chairman
The agriculture industry continues to be one of New York State’s top industries — producing good, wholesome and nutritious foods while contributing billions of dollars to our local and state economy.

Recognizing that, as a state we must continue to look for new and innovative ways to help our farmers reduce operating expenses through tax breaks and incentives, and increase revenue through development of a statewide marketing and distribution system.

With low milk and commodity prices, I know that the future of farming sometimes seems uncertain, but I believe that all of us working together — from Suffolk County to Niagara County — can improve the outlook and the future of farming.

This newsletter is meant to provide a highlight of the Agriculture Committee’s legislative accomplishments, as well as a look to the future at ideas and proposals that are beginning to grow.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

William Magee
Chair, Assembly Agriculture Committee

Forbidden Fruit No More

With an eye towards finding new fruit and niche crops for our farmers to grow and market, the Assembly passed legislation (A.6462) that would once again allow for the growing and production of black currants here in New York.

In Europe, the growing of currants, which are commonly found in everything from tea to yogurt to vodka, has turned into a $1 billion industry. It has been estimated that the fruit has similar potential in the United States, with the ability of New York farmers to produce a $20 million crop. More than just a valuable product, currants also provide health benefits in the form of antioxidants, which are believed to help prevent degenerative diseases. This bill has been signed into law. (Chapter 290)

New York Wines are New York Divine

More and more, New York wineries are being recognized not only as the premier makers of wine in the United States, but as a major economic force in agriculture. With almost 170 wineries generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually in state and local revenue and drawing three million tourists a year into Niagara County, the Finger Lakes, the Hudson Valley and Long Island, it is imperative that we do everything we can to continue to grow our wine and grape industry.

Chairman Bill Magee, Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte and Speaker Sheldon Silver celebrating the Niagara Wine Trail.
From good fruit to great wine
There are many fresh fruit farms throughout New York State, and while much of this fresh fruit is grown for sale at local stores and farm stands, a problem arises when farmers have surplus fruit that they are unable to sell.

In trying to assist farmers with finding a market for this surplus fruit, the Assembly passed legislation (A.6454) that would provide for the creation of a micro-winery license. This license would provide fruit farmers with increased revenue by allowing them to produce up to 1,500 gallons of wine from New York State fruits that could then be sold on site, in bulk to different wineries, or to liquor stores for off premise consumption. Overall, this legislation could create a larger demand for local fruits, providing security to more farmers. This legislation has been signed into law. (Chapter 522)

Cork pops on Sunday sales at farm winery stores
In an effort to help farm wineries increase sales at their tourist oriented satellite stores, the Assembly passed legislation (A.6461) that clarifies that these stores are allowed to open on Sundays.

Despite the fact that these stores have opened on Sundays for over seventeen years, this legislation was needed to correct an interpretation by the State Liquor Authority that would have closed these off-premise winery tourist stores. This bill was signed into law. (Chapter 672)

Wine is fine, but now they can serve liquor, too
More and more, New York State wineries are becoming major tourist attractions and destinations, offering wine tours and beautiful facilities. With that said, wineries continue their efforts to meet their customers’ wants and needs by, among other things, offering on-site restaurants and catering facilities. The downfall has been that they have not been able to serve liquor — only beer and wine — putting wineries that have restaurants at a disadvantage and resulting in a loss of business, especially when it comes to weddings and other private functions.

To address this, the Assembly advanced legislation (A.8527), signed into law as Chapter 206, that will allow wineries that operate restaurants to apply for a liquor license, thus increasing their future viability and profitability.

The Assembly Agriculture Committee honoring the New York wine industry at their first meeting of 2003.
Allowing wine to be sold at wine tastings
In an effort to expand their marketing reach, New York wineries often conduct taste tests at restaurants. Due to an unusual quirk in the law, however, they are not allowed to sell patrons wine for off-premise consumption. To address the issue, legislation has been introduced in the Assembly (A.7326) that would allow New York wineries to begin selling wine to those attending these wine tastings. This will greatly assist our wineries with increasing their marketing efforts and building brand recognition as the country’s premier maker of wine. This legislation was advanced to third reading before the full Assembly.

Planting the Seeds of New York Agriculture

Chairman Magee joined by Dr. Gib Vincent of the Farmers Museum presenting the F. Ambrose Clark Livestock Cup for Best of Show to Darby Reynolds of Delaware County at the Junior Livestock Show in Cooperstown.
Agricultural districts aided
Agricultural districts have proven to be an enormously important tool for farmers in terms of providing much needed and deserved tax incentives and right-to-farm protections. With that in mind, the Assembly pushed for a number of improvements that will continue to make agricultural districts one of the most important resources our farmers have. These improvements include:

  • As we continue to literally farm the wind in terms of developing wind energy facilities, the Assembly passed a bill (A.6456) ensuring that farmers who allow the development of wind farms on their property will not suffer conversion penalties on land currently receiving an agricultural assessment. There is no doubt that this will allow and quite possibly encourage more farmers to allow wind energy production on their hills, ridges and vistas which will most certainly benefit all New Yorkers. This bill was signed by the governor. (Chapter 565)
  • With a greater emphasis being placed on attracting new and younger farmers into the agricultural profession, the Assembly has advanced a measure (A.6455), that will allow newly established farms and farmers to become immediately eligible to receive an agricultural assessment if they meet the required gross sales value during their first year of operation. Previously, a farmer had to wait two years to become eligible for the agricultural assessment, placing these new farming businesses at a great disadvantage. This bill has been signed into law. (Chapter 479)
  • In an effort to continue to ensure that farmers are not unduly burdened by local zoning regulations, the Assembly passed a bill (A.8577) to provide that upon the request of a municipality or farm owner, the Department of Agriculture and Markets shall render an opinion as to whether farms would be unreasonably restricted by proposed changes in local land use laws and ordinances. This bill seeks to modernize and formalize the long practice of the Department providing opinions on local laws to ensure that farmers can continue to farm without undue interference from municipalities. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act on this measure.

Chairman Magee with Dennis Alley, Anthony Iannello and Harold Bean of the Vernon Verona Sherrill Central School Chapter of the FFA.
What is milk?
More and more, milk protein concentrates (MPCs) — which are a dried, processed protein powder — are being used in dairy products in place of milk. Certainly, this often decreases the overall price that our dairy farmers receive for their milk.

In response to this, the Assembly has taken the lead in passing legislation that would have clarified the definition of milk as not including MPCs. By doing this, we could have ensured that consumers all across New York State were purchasing dairy products made with wholesome real milk. Unfortunately, the governor has vetoed this legislation.

Farming for the Future: Agricultural Hearings Held

Chairman Magee and Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine hosting the Agriculture Committee’s first hearing at the State University of New York at Canton.

Looking for ways to revitalize the agriculture industry, Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Bill Magee continues to hold hearings and roundtable discussions around the state, seeking input, information and ideas from all sectors of our agricultural community on how we can grow New York’s largest industry.

Thus far, forums have been held at SUNY Canton (St. Lawrence County), and in both Sullivan and Niagara counties. Chairman Magee is working to create a legislative package for 2004 consistent with many of the policy issues raised at these hearings, including the creation of comprehensive economic development incentives for farmers, state assistance to encourage the transfer of farmland to younger generations and marketing/distribution aid that would help farmers sell products directly to wholesalers and retailers.

Nelson Farms: Producers & Production Come Together

Do you make outstanding ketchup, succulent spaghetti sauce or relishing relish? If so, the State University of New York at Morrisville has created a small-scale food processing center known as Nelson Farms. This industrial shared-use kitchen, located in Madison County, will minimize the risk of individuals and small businesses by assisting them with creating, manufacturing and marketing their home recipes for almost any food product.

Given that one of the biggest problems farmers and small scale food processors face is the inability to easily transport and distribute their goods, Nelson Farms is also working on creating a distribution system that will allow farmers and producers to more easily market their products to school districts, institutional buyers and others throughout New York State. For more information contact Nelson Farms directly at 315-655-8833.

There’s More and More...

Chairman Magee with 4-H members Ben Durfee (Madison County), Tonya Chapman (Oneida County) and Rebekah Dickerson (Madison County).
A little less taxing for our farmers
The Assembly has passed two important bills that seek to provide farmers with greater tax relief. The first (A.8793) expands the eligibility of the Agricultural School Property Tax Credit by allowing farmers to average their income over a three year period to satisfy the two-thirds farm income requirement and continue to qualify for this important property tax credit. This bill has been signed by the governor. (Chapter 527)

The second bill (A.1410), which has also become law, ensures that more farmers are eligible for the School Property Tax Reduction (STAR) Program by specifically enabling farmers whose primary residence is owned by a farm incorporated as an s-corporation or a c-corporation to participate in the STAR program.

Bill to assist farmers with selling compost vetoed by governor
Hoping to assist farmers with selling farm-produced compost, legislation was introduced and passed (A.8497) that would have exempted farmers from the labeling and other requirements related to having to register it as a fertilizer.

Despite the governor’s veto, this legislation only makes sense because it is very cost prohibitive for a farmer to register compost as a fertilizer given the small amount of compost that most farms produce and the fact that the farm compost is tested and utilized differently than other fertilizers.

Questions or Comments?
Contact the Assembly Agriculture Committee at:
Room 641 LOB • Albany, N.Y. 12248 • 518-455-4807

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