Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R,C,I-Schoharie) and Senator James L. Seward (R,C,I-Oneonta) today were joined by representatives of the local agriculture community as they called for a transformation of state and federal agricultural policies. The rally, held at the Schoharie County Sunshine Fairgrounds in Cobleskill, was attended by a diverse group of agriculture representatives advocating an assortment of solutions to the overwhelming challenges faced by the local farming industry.
“Our message today is awareness and solutions,” said Assemblyman Pete Lopez, a member of the Assembly Agriculture Committee and the Task Force on Food, Farm & Nutrition Policy. “We need to gather the attention of our state and federal representatives and alert them that we, as a rural community, cannot fathom the death of the American farm. Agriculture is the life of our community. This is why we have assembled such a diverse cross-section of the community. Agriculture is interconnected among our citizens, our businesses, and our farmers. And while our community has been especially hard hit by the agriculture crisis, this also is a statewide and nationwide problem.”
“Milk prices have plummeted, leaving many of our dairy farmers to wonder how they are going to make their month’s bills,” said Senator James L. Seward, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The recently announced federal cash infusion will help sustain some of our local farmers, but for how long? We need to maintain the momentum to push for viable, long-term solutions to protect our number one industry.”
Lopez and Seward were joined by conservation advocates that described the vital role agriculture plays in protecting the local environment. Justin Brown, of First Pioneer Farm Credit, discussed the difficulties faced by many farmers and agribusinesses due to the financial meltdown and subsequent recession. There also were several dairy farmers in attendance.
“We are not asking for a handout, or a bailout,” said Susan Tillapaugh, from a local dairy family. “We are asking for a living wage for a quality product produced in this state.”
Richard Ball explained how the crisis was affecting not only the local dairy farms, but establishments like Schoharie Valley Farms, which his family owns and operates. Community farmers’ markets were represented by Linda Cross. Cross made the case for buying local, arguing that it is healthier and supports the community.
One recurring issue was that of Milk Protein Concentrates (MPC). MPCs are non-perishable, dried dairy products. They have become prevalent in processed foods, raising health and economic concerns for advocates such as Tammy Graves of Dairy Farmers of America, Inc.
“We have allowed MPCs, an industrial product, to gradually make their way into our food products as cheap dairy substitutes,” said Graves. “These goods are produced abroad, in countries where labor is cheap and health regulations are substandard. Ultimately, these products are circumventing FDA regulations and putting our farms out of business.”
Debbie Coager, of Don’s Dairy Supplies, explained the dependence that those within the farming market have on one another. She noted that struggles at the local farm trickles up to businesses that assist farmers. Dr. Mike McCaskey, from the State University of New York (SUNY) Cobleskill, discussed the difficulty in attracting students to a profession that is so often faced with hardship.
“We have heard the frustrations today, as well as the sensible short-term and long-term solutions to the agriculture crisis,” Assemblyman Lopez concluded. “We know that agriculture is an environmental issue. We have seen that agriculture is a health issue. We believe it should be a source of national and local pride as well: we have fair trade coffee, why not fair trade dairy? We need stability in our local food production because we – the businesses, institutions of education, citizens and farmers – all depend on one another.”