For too long agriculture has been thought of as simply farms and not a viable industry, so thought Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Bill Magee (D-Nelson) as he introduced a bill to create the first ever AgriDevelopment Zones.
"There are times when economic development people talk about business and small business and attracting new business while the whole time failing to recognize that there are some 38,000 farms in New York State that represent 38,000 small businesses supporting local families and the local economy," Magee said.
The State of New York is home to just under 38,000 farms encompassing roughly 7.8 million acres of cropland, pasture and woodlands from Erie County to Suffolk County. These farms produce nearly $3.1 billion annually in direct economic output and probably double or triple that in indirect economic benefits with the farming and food industry employing over 425,000 people.
"There is no doubt that Empire Zones have been hugely successful in helping our economy but they too often fail to recognize the unique qualities of our farms," Magee noted. "While our farms may not directly employ a large number of people they, nonetheless, spend the vast, vast majority of their income in the local economy supporting the equipment and feed dealer, the diner, the auto dealership and many other businesses."
The AgriDevelopment Zones, when established, would be administered in much the same manner as Empire Zones but include incentives that are more beneficial to farms and agribusinesses including lower cost energy, environmental improvement credits as well as tax credits for town and county taxes and low interest loans to spur further investment in agriculture.
In an effort to receive input from farmers, community and economic development officials as well as towns and counties, the Assembly Agriculture Committee is planning to hold hearings on the creation of AgriDevelopment Zones and other related issues. The goal is to start the hearings in early March in the Watertown area, Central New York and Albany.
"We want to get our message out as to what we are trying to do and, most definitely, get feed back from the farmers and experts who deal in this every day of the week," Magee commented.
"At the end of the day, I do not want to see just lip service paid to our farmers because if farmland preservation is our goal, the only real and reasonable way to ensure it is to ensure the profitability of our farms – otherwise all we are going to end up with are old barns and fallow lots, not working farms and producing fields," Magee concluded.