Agriculture is one of the most important industries in New York, especially in our region. The hard work of over 36,000 family farms contributed more than $4 billion to our state economy. Combined, over 117,000 farm laborers and farm operators make a living from cultivating the land and managing livestock.
New York is a leader in dairy production, fruit crops, such as apples and wine grapes, and silage corn, and with recent news that the state contains more sugar maples than the most productive region of Canada, we can see that New York could align itself to not only become one of the leading states, but world leader, in agricultural production.
New York policy needs to more aggressively support agriculture, especially in this changing economy. Some of the largest challenges faced by our small family farms are high property taxes, energy costs, access to capital and the decreasing interest of younger generations in farming. New York needs to act now. There is no doubt that there are many challenges to our current economic situation, but there are new opportunities through increased access to technology allowing family farmers to connect with consumer markets in entirely different and innovative ways.
Farming requires large swaths of land and our farmers have been good stewards of the land, but are facing bigger challenges every year as property taxes rise throughout the state. Much like homeowners and small business, our farmers need immediate property tax relief. Capping property taxes to two percent or less in conjunction with unfunded mandate relief for our local governments will turn the tide of high property taxes. All sides in Albany need to come together and seriously address this problem. The less farmers have to spend on property taxes, the more money they have to invest back into their operations.
Rising energy costs affect us all, but they also impact farmers, especially our dairy operations. I am happy to report that I helped pass Recharge New York, which is the new permanent energy for economic development program that replaces Power for Jobs. By utilizing the stateís vast hydroelectric generation resources, it means that we have a more stable energy source, and specifically $8 million is given back directly to small farmers in their energy bills. Farmers are now getting more than what was previously allotted. Additionally, we authorized a five-year energy efficiency program through the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to improve energy efficiency for rural consumers.
Every year, weíre losing more farms due to a lack of interest by younger generations, not because of diminishing demand for agricultural goods. New York needs to better recruit and retain farmers. I often hear how difficult it is for recent college graduates to obtain employment in the still recovering economy. There is a need for dedicated and innovative future farmers in the state. New York should look into establishing a scholarship and loan forgiveness program for those who enter into farming and who wish to further the agricultural sciences.
Lastly, technology and Internet access has helped support and improve rural agricultural industries around the world and it needs to be replicated right in our own state. The use of the Internet has helped to connect farmers to suppliers, resources, and consumers.
Connecting our agricultural centers to our urban centers will help support the local food market and raise awareness within our state. I look to the Sacramento region in California as they have successfully implemented rural-urban connections in their economic development plans. Rural-urban connections can take advantage of the growing local food movement. Together, these communities addressed infrastructure issues to improve local agricultural markets. I believe that the governorís Regional Economic Development Councils could help spearhead such partnerships throughout the state.
I look forward to seeing how we can utilize agriculture in New Yorkís continuing economic recovery. As always, if you have any questions or comments about our local agriculture and economy or any state issues, please donít hesitate to contact me at either my Johnstown office at (518) 762-6486, my Herkimer office at (315) 866-1632, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.