CANTON - North country legislators have lauded an increase from last year in overall funding for agricultural programs in the 2014-15 state budget, along with a Young Farmers NY initiative with a windfall of grant and loan funding.
Compared with fiscal year 2013-14, the funding for agricultural programs administered by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets in the budget jumped by 6 percent, or $526,000, from $8,169,000 to $8,695,000.
Newly funded programs under the Young Farmers NY initiative, crafted by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, include a $615,000 beginning farmers fund that will offer grants up to $50,000 toward agribusiness expansion projects and a $100,000 fund for student loan forgiveness to assist college graduates in agriculture who commit to farming careers. Both programs will be administered by the New York State Urban Development Corp.
Also funded under the initiative led by Mrs. Ritchie is a $350,000 loan program for students pursuing agriculture careers, to be administered by the state Office of Higher Education.
The final budget doesnt include a $5 million revolving loan fund, however, that was part of the original Young Farmers NY proposal in the Senates budget. That fund would have helped new farmers buy land and equipment.
But overall, Mrs. Ritchie said, she was pleased with the level of agriculture funding in the final budget.
The lifeblood of agriculture in New York is the family farm. And the funding and incentives included in the new budget will help encourage young farmers to continue that tradition and strengthen family farming, she said in a statement released Sunday.
But while legislators from the region touted funding for programs, not all agriculture leaders in the north country are pleased with the outcome.
The New York State Farm Viability Institute, which funds critical research to develop commodity crops across the state, received much less than it requested. The budgets appropriation of $1.1 million toward the program is a decrease of $600,000, or 35 percent, from last years $1.7 million. Its also a far cry from the $3.2 million requested by the institute, which would have established a $1 million fund to provide up to 50 percent of the cost of research projects led by commodity-crop organizations, according to Ronald C. Robbins, a member institutes board of directors.
That was additional money that we felt we needed to effectively serve the industry through grant proposals we receive, said Mr. Robbins, who operates a large dairy operation in Sackets Harbor. And so obviously, this is significantly under where we felt we needed to be.
For her part, Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell praised measures in the budget to provide what she described as critical tax relief for farmers. The budget reforms the estate tax by relaxing the threshold at which estate taxes for land purchases kick in, from $1 million to $5.25 million. The plan also continues the phaseout of the 18-a energy surcharge on utility bills by lowering the rate for families, farmers and businesses. Collectively, the lower rate will cut taxes by about $200 million compared with last years budget, according to a news release from the assemblywomans office.
Farming is an indispensable piece of the North Country economy and reforming tax policy so farmers can grow and expand is one of my top priorities, Mrs. Russell said in the release. The tax relief contained in this budget will lower the cost of doing business and make it more affordable for farmers to pass their businesses on to the next generation.
State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, praised the budget for including a total of $6.3 million toward research programs, describing it in a news release as the largest commitment in at least six years.
New York farmers need our support to make their operations more efficient and more profitable, Mr. Griffo said. Thats why I was pleased to advocate for rejecting the governors proposed cuts to these essential programs and increasing funding to several others.