2007 Agri-Happenings
from the
New York State Assembly
Agriculture Committee

Sheldon Silver, Speaker • William Magee, Chairman • Fall 2007

Assemblyman Bill Magee
“The agriculture industry is the largest and most important industry in New York State. Not only does it provide the fresh food, products and produce that we all need and enjoy, but it contributes billions and billions of dollars to our economy annually. As we move forward, we simply cannot forget the hard work of our farms and farmers and the need to ensure that they survive and thrive here in this state.”
Bill Magee, Chair
Assembly Agriculture Committee
Dear Friends,

Given the financial pressure that agriculture has faced over the last couple of years, our farms were once again a top priority in Albany this year.

The Assembly Agriculture Committee continues to look for ways to reduce the operating costs for our farmers, increase the marketing of their products and develop niche products that will continue to assist our farmers with farming.

Over the course of the coming year, I would continue to urge and encourage all of you – our farmers and agriculturalists – to contact me with any issues, concerns or suggestions that you would like to discuss.

Best wishes for a bountiful autumn!

William Magee
Assemblyman, 111th District

Questions or Comments?
Contact the Assembly
Agriculture Committee at:

Room #828 – LOB
Albany, N.Y. 12248

Apple Industry

The New York apple industry is a major economic force in agriculture, ranking second in the nation, just behind Washington state, in terms of production. There are almost 700 apple growers producing over 25 million bushels of apples annually on about 50,000 acres of land throughout New York State. Moreover, the apple industry employs over 10,000 people directly and thousands of others indirectly.

In an effort to further grow the apple industry, the Legislature increased funding for the marketing efforts of the New York Apple Association, which assists growers with marketing their products on a local, regional, national and international basis. With New York’s apple crop totaling approximately $170 million, it is clear that we must do everything we can to support our apple farmers.

How sweet it is

New maple exhibit coming to the State Fair

The New York State Maple Producers Association has been a fixture at the New York State Fair for many years, educating the public about the production of maple syrup and promoting New York-produced maple syrup to the hundreds of thousands of fairgoers annually. To assist in increasing the Maple Producers’ exposure at the Fair, the Assembly included $250,000 in the budget for the construction of a new, permanent exhibit at the Fair. The idea is to construct an interactive “sugar house” exhibit that provides people with a more in-depth maple syrup learning experience and a larger store to promote and sell their maple products. The 2007-08 state budget also included $100,000 to assist the Maple Producers Association with their year-round efforts promoting and marketing maple syrup. While New York State currently ranks third in the nation’s maple syrup production, the hope is that with these investments we will soon become number one.

Bills to assist beekeepers

According to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, there are more than 70,000 honey bee colonies in more than 3,500 apiaries in the state. From ensuring that our farmers’ crops get pollinated to producing the sumptuous honey we all enjoy, our commercial beekeepers are an important and growing sector of the agriculture industry. It is essential that we aid these producers, both small and large, in continuing to maintain their much-needed existence for what they contribute to the state’s farm economy. To continue this growth and further assist our apiaries, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed the following bills:

  • A.6524, which would include newly constructed buildings used in the production of honey and beeswax within the ten year real property tax exemption for agricultural buildings. (Ch. 540 of 2007)

  • A.7543-A, which would help to make the Department of Agriculture and Markets apiary inspection program more effective and efficient by allowing for the surveying of beekeepers to assess the size and conditions of colonies and the posting of ownership information at apiaries to enable the department to contact the owners of such apiaries. The bill also ensures that the information given to the department by beekeepers would be kept confidential. (Ch. 249 of 2007)

Dairy Is Still Number 1

Agriculture Committee Chair Bill Magee, Senator David Valesky, Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker, New York Farm Bureau President John Lincoln, Madison County Farm Bureau President Darrell Griff with the Holmes Family at their Holmes Acre Dairy Farm.

Impact of milk hauling costs to be studied

Certainly, the transportation of milk in the United States is almost entirely dependent on trucking, and the ever-increasing costs associated with such transport inevitably translates into lower milk prices for dairy producers. To date, little work has been done to determine just how extensively hauling costs affect a producer’s bottom line. To address this, the Assembly has passed legislation that would allow the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets to consult with professionals in the industry to create a snapshot of how hauling costs affect farm income. The study would include a determination of the annual impact of hauling costs on a dairy farmer’s net-income over twenty production years. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor. (Ch. 400 of 2007)

Dairy Assistance Program

It was very clear to see that 2006 was one of the worst years for our dairy farmers as they faced a prolonged period of low milk prices. Many dairy farmers struggled to keep their businesses going, wondering if they would have enough money to pay the bills and be able to plant corn in the spring. Looking to provide a shot in the arm to our dairies, the Legislature worked vigorously to ensure passage of the Dairy Assistance Program including $30 million in funding for dairy farmers.

All New York dairy farmers who produced milk in 2006 and were in operation as of April 1, 2007, were eligible to apply for the Dairy Assistance Program. The funds were paid directly to New York producers in two checks in May and July. As of August, the New York State Dairy Assistance Program had issued checks to 5,007 eligible dairy farmers statewide with the average total payment under the Dairy Assistance Program being approximately $5,991.

Beer, Wine & Spirits

New York Wine & Culinary Center a huge success

Since its creation, the New York Wine and Culinary Center has proven to be an enormous success in not only promoting New York wines, but also in providing a gateway for the consumer to New York’s dynamic array of freshly grown and processed produce and products. To assist the Center in continued success, the Assembly passed legislation that changes the license for the Center from a Winery to a Farm Winery license, thus giving the Center much greater flexibility in terms of ensuring that their wine tasting rooms are able to fully highlight New York State’s great assortment of fine wines. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor. (Ch. 567 of 2007)

Caterers able to serve alcohol at winery events

Clearly, wineries and farm wineries around New York State have evolved into more than simply a place to taste and purchase locally. They are now destinations for weddings, receptions, parties and other functions. Previously, there had been some questions raised as to the capacity of a caterer’s ability to serve beer and liquor at events that they were catering at a winery. In an effort to continue the growth of these wineries and their facilities, the Assembly passed legislation that clarified the law by allowing caterers and others providing these services to serve the array of alcoholic beverages at the winery facilities. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor. (Ch. 309 of 2007)

Distilleries and farmers working hand-in-hand

Just as the New York wine industry has reinvigorated the grape growing regions of the State, a bill aimed at growing and expanding New York State’s distilled spirits industry utilizing New York grown fruits and produce has passed the Assembly. This bill specifically creates a new Farm Distillery license to encourage fruit and other farmers to begin manufacturing products out of apples, grapes, berries and others products to create vodka, whiskey and other spirits. Additionally, this bill allows these farm distilleries to offer tastings as well as sell their products directly from the distillery. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor. (Ch. 564 of 2007)

Proposal allows microbreweries to sell at Farmers’ Markets

As with wineries, there has also been a tremendous growth in the number of microbreweries throughout the state with some beginning to focus more and more on the use of locally grown hops. In an effort to assist with the continued growth of our small brewers, legislation has been introduced in the Assembly that would allow these brewers to sell bottled beer at county fairs and not-for-profit farmers’ markets as long as a representative of the brewer was present. It is believed that this could have an upwardly positive effect on the sales of microbrews. This bill is being considered by the Assembly Economic Development Committee.

AG Assessment Update

Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Bill Magee discussing farm issues with Farm Bureau member Judi Whittaker

Ag assessments capped

Farming is a difficult way to make a living as there are many obstacles that may occur out of one’s control. This past year was an extremely difficult year with low commodity prices combined with high costs and bad weather that created a situation where many farms were facing severe financial hardship. However, because of the methodology used in determining the agricultural assessment value, these historic lows were not included in this year’s assessment values. To address this, the Assembly passed legislation (A.6866) which provides that the base agricultural assessment value increases shall not exceed ten percent of the base agricultural assessment value from the previous year, thereby ensuring that there are not severe year-to-year spikes in farm assessments. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor. (Ch. 68 of 2007)

Ag assessment application due dates

Over the past several years, New York farmers have experienced a number of natural disasters, including frequent flooding. It is during these times of high stress and further financial pressure that farmers may, unwittingly, forget to file their application for an agricultural assessment. Recognizing that, the Assembly has passed legislation that allows farmers to obtain a waiver to file an agricultural real property exemption application with a local taxing jurisdiction after the filing deadline has passed if the applicant’s farm experienced a natural disaster, such as a flood, or the applicant’s residence, barn or other farm building was destroyed by wind, fire or flood. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor. (Ch. 514 of 2007)

Farmland Protection

Farmland protection programs expanded

The Farmland Protection Program has proven to be one of the state’s greatest tools in providing for the future survival of agriculture in New York. Since 1992, for example, counties have been eligible for state funding for the development of agricultural and farmland protection plans to assist counties with identifying the needs of local farmers and agribusinesses and tools to assist in their expansion. The Department of Agriculture and Markets approved the first of these plans in 1995, and since that time, at least fifty counties have received up to $50,000 to develop these local strategies for supporting their farm economy and protecting farmland. Currently, however, these counties are only eligible to receive this funding for their initial plan and not to update that plan. In an effort to rectify that, the Assembly passed legislation that provides counties with funding for updates to previously approved agricultural and farmland protection programs after a period of ten years. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor. (Ch. 124 of 2007)

Likewise, since the inception of the purchase of development rights program, New York State has awarded nearly $80 million to protect approximately 36,000 acres on 200 farms in 18 counties. To continue the great work of this program, the 2007-08 state budget also included an additional $20 million in funding for these farmland protection programs.

More And More

Assemblyman Bill Magee conducting the 2007 Cheese Auction at the New York State Fair.

Farmworker housing expansion proposed

The Farmworker Housing Program provides loans for the construction and rehabilitation of housing for seasonal and dairy farmworkers. Since its inception this program has proved to be vital to assisting farmers with providing needed and adequate housing for their employees. Given that, there has been continued interest in expanding the program to include all agricultural producers who provide housing to their workers. To address this, legislation has been introduced in the Assembly (A.8819) that would ensure that all agricultural producers – not just seasonal operations and dairy farms – are eligible for assistance and funding from this program. This will enable all farmers who want to improve the quality of the housing provided to their workers to apply for a reduced interest rate loan for that purpose. This bill is being considered by the Assembly Housing Committee.

Farm buildings to be exempt from building inspections

Recently, the New York State Department of State issued new regulations requiring that all non-residential buildings be inspected for compliance with certain aspects of the New York building codes, particularly the Property Maintenance Code and the Fire Code. Unfortunately, these two codes provide little if any recognition of the unique nature of farm buildings. These new codes are designed to ensure maintenance of certain buildings such as commercial office spaces, which are very different from dairy barns. Certainly, farm compliance with these new codes would be a significant cost to the farm business, adding no benefit to the farm or the agricultural industry. Recognizing that, the Assembly passed legislation that would continue to ensure that these buildings would not be subject to periodic inspections. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor. (Ch. 159 of 2007)

Bill creates large animal vet forgiveness program

Since 1990, the number of veterinarians specializing in large-animal veterinary care has dropped to fewer than 4,500 from nearly 6,000, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AVMA also estimates that such doctors now make up less than 10 percent of private-practice veterinarians nationwide. Left unchecked, this situation could have serious consequences not only for the well-being of farmers and animals, but also potentially for food safety and the impact of non-native diseases like avian influenza. In an effort to address this, legislation has been introduced in the Assembly that would create a loan forgiveness program for large-animal veterinarians who graduate from New York State colleges and universities as an incentive to remain in the state to serve high-need areas. Hopefully, with this legislation we can ensure that large-animal veterinarians will be available for farmers and agriculturalists throughout the state. This bill is being considered by the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

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