Dairy Farms Essential to Upstate Economy

Legislative column by Assemblyman Brian M. Kolb (R,C,I-Canandaigua)
June 13, 2008

Living in Upstate New York, Iím sure that many of us know a dairy farmer or even have one in the family. With agriculture as our stateís top industry, and its largest sector being comprised of dairy farming, it is inconceivable to think what Upstate New York would be like without our dairy farmers.

Milk is New Yorkís leading agricultural product and has been for many years. In fact, milk has been the official state beverage for over 25 years. Milk sales account for one-half of total agriculture receipts in the state. According to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, production in 2005 was 11.7 billion pounds with a value of $1.91 billion, making New York the nationís third leading producer.

We all know that dairy farmers are some of the hardest working people in our state, but the last few years have been very difficult for them. In 2006 alone, an estimated 460 dairy farms were forced to shut down. To ease some of the pain, last year the Legislature passed the Dairy Assistance Program, which called for $30 million in a one-time direct payment to offset the low price of milk being paid to our dairy farmers.

Now, with milk prices on the rise, our farmers are being forced to face new challenges in the form of our struggling economy. That is why I am co-sponsoring legislation that would establish a dairy farmersí bill of rights that prohibits practices to intentionally impair a producerís collective bargaining ability and prevent dealers from thwarting a producerís ability to join in an association of producers or cooperative. Representing a majority of the farmers in Upstate New York, my Assembly Minority Conference and I will continue to be a voice for dairy farmers, as well as the entire agricultural industry, as we work to ensure that it remains the backbone of our economy.

During June we observe New York State dairy month, bringing attention to the significant impact this industry has on our economy. That is why, for more than a decade, my Assembly colleagues and I have celebrated dairy farming by hosting Dairy Day in Albany. This year, June 18 will be the day that hundreds of people converge on the Legislative Office Building to help us highlight the importance of our stateís dairy farmers and others in the dairy industry. As always, vendors from all over Upstate New York are scheduled to participate, and showcase their fresh products at our event. Past participants include The American Dairy Association, Brown Cow Ice Cream, Byrne Dairy, Friendship Dairies, Garelick Farms, Heluva Good, H.P. Hood, McCadam Cheese, New York State Dairy Foods, Pride of New York, Ronnybrook Farms Dairy, Stewartís Shops and Upstate Farms.

Letís show our support of local dairy farmers this month by picking up a fresh gallon of milk and frequenting our local farm stands. Together, we can keep it local and support our stateís bountiful agriculture industry; in particular, our numerous dairy farms.

Should you like to discuss this or any other state-related issue, please contact my district office at (315) 781-2030 or e-mail me at kolbb@assembly.state.ny.us.