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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;
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
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
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
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869