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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"A toast to farming's future"

ALBANY, March 17 -- Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s said, and while I’m more than proud to welcome one and all to the annual celebration of everything Irish this time of year, I’ll also go ahead and stretch the celebration to cover things green in government too. Green, in this sense, meaning agriculture.

Let me explain.

Last year, the Senate advanced what we called “Grown in New York,” a comprehensive tax and regulatory reform strategy with a straightforward goal: to make sure that New York State doesn’t tax, regulate or price our farmers out of business. One of Grown in New York’s key planks became law in 2013 and placed a 2% cap on annual agricultural land assessment increases, a priority of individual farmers and agricultural advocates who have long noted that our farmers fight to survive under the nation’s second-highest property tax burden.

So it was about time we took this action, and we continue to work to enact other provisions of Grown in New York. We’re hopeful that they’ll help the next generation of family farmers grow, prosper and stay competitive. Earlier this month we were joined in this tax and regulatory reform effort by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s creation of the state’s first-ever interagency task force on agriculture, known as the Strategic Interagency Task Force on Lessening Obstacles to Agriculture (SILO), to ensure that “state agencies that deal with farmers are communicating regularly, interacting efficiently and lessening regulations on farms.”

But the Senate this year is also taking direct aim at farming’s next generation by zeroing in on this fact: the average age of farmers in New York is approximately 57 years old. A growing percentage of all farmers are aged 65 and above. The state’s aging farmer population poses one of the most serious threats to the future of New York’s family farms.

It’s true nationally as well. In 2012, United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated a national goal of attracting 100,000 new farmers in five years, saying in an interview, "Over 30 percent of the current farm population is over the age of 65. We have a whole generation that is set to retire. The question is then who will take over those operations. We need generations of leaders in American agriculture to continue our position as the number one agricultural country in the world."

If New York’s going to remain one of America’s prominent agricultural states, we need to address the same challenge. So to encourage younger people who want to pursue farming careers, we’ve recently developed a legislative program called “Young Farmers NY” that we’re pushing to have included as part of this year’s state budget, and that the Senate approved late last week as part of our one-house budget resolution. Our strategy blends tax incentives, low-interest loans and grants, a new student loan forgiveness program and other educational initiatives to help existing young farmers stay on the land and encourage more young people to consider careers in agriculture. Specific provisions include:

> a Farm Preservation Tax Credit of up to 10 percent for farmers who sell or lease land or equipment to a new farmer;
> a Young Farmer Revolving Loan Fund to provide low-interest, start-up loans for land and equipment purchases by new farmers;
> Farm Savings Accounts to allow first-time farmers to establish special, tax-free savings accounts that can be used for purchasing a farm or meeting other farm-related expenses;
> Estate tax reform .to help keep generations-old farms in the family and to try to help prevent farmers from having to make the unfair choice of subdividing or selling off farmland in order to pay tax bills;
> a Young Farmer Student Loan Forgiveness Program for students who earn an agricultural degree from a State University of New York (SUNY) college or university, including the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, and work in New York State agriculture for at least five years after they graduate;
> a Young Farmer Apprenticeship Program, in partnership with local BOCES and the New York Farm Bureau, to provide hands-on training opportunities for young farmers under the guidance of experienced farmers; and
> increased state support for the highly successful Future Farmers of America (FFA) in-school program to encourage high school students in rural communities to explore agriculture-related career opportunities.

You can read more about the Senate’s “Young Farmers NY” plan on my Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov.

So here’s to all of you on St. Patrick’s Day. As the Irish toast to good health goes, sláinte mhaith!

And here’s to the health and a future of greener pastures, as well, for New York State’s farmers, who carry on an important way of life, anchor countless communities and industries, and provide good livelihoods for thousands of New Yorkers.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.

   
       

Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Van Harp

Jim Howell

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Michael Lausell

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen, 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383

 

State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address: http://schumer.senate.gov/webform.html

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451
Website: http://gillibrand.senate.gov/

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976
www.omara.nysenate.gov

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791
Website: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Phillip-A-Palmesano

 

© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869

E-mail publisher@odessafile.com
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