New York farmers not forgotten


By Patsy Nicosia

New York’s dairy farmers aren’t forgotten—even though it may seem otherwise.
Despite changes on the federal level, the price farmers are getting for their milk has remained largely unchanged—and below the cost of producing it.
That rankles State Senator Jim Seward, who said he’s asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to look into complaints that the middle man—processors—are taking more than their fair share.
“The Attorney General called me and he’s very interested in the issue,” Senator Seward said.
“All that money is going somewhere but it’s not going to the farmer and consumers aren’t getting any break either. Something has to change.”
Assemblyman Pete Lopez insists the best way to change dairy policy is to involve organizations like the Business Council and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, along with consumer groups and Chambers of Commerce from across the state.
“Twenty years ago, you didn’t hear thing like ‘carbon footprint’, there wasn’t an emphasis on eating locally,” he said.
“But now, everyone’s concerned about their food and their farmers. When I travel to farm markets, it’s not the farmers who are clamoring for something to be done. It’s everyone else.”
Assemblyman Lopez is also planning a series of rallies across his district, including one in Schoharie County, in the next few weeks.
More information will follow as the dates are finalized.
The two legislators had hoped to tap into federal stimulus money the state had received as a way to help dairymen through the lowest prices they’ve seen in 30 years, but it’s now clear the money doesn’t exist.
According to a letter from Bill Ketzer of State Ag & Markets to Lorraine Lewandrowski, attorney for the grassroots group, United States Dairy Farmers, the $1 billion in stimulus money included in the 2009-2010 state budget was a “dry” appropriation with no real money behind it as Assemblyman Lopez and Senator Seward had feared.
“But it seems to have created the impression amongst many in the Legislature that this authorization is a ‘rainy day fund’ that Governor Paterson is ‘sitting on’ in case of emergencies,” Mr. Ketzer wrote.
“This is simply not the case, unfortunately.”
The $6.1 billion the state did receive in stimulus money, Mr. Ketzer added, was essentially used to close the budget gap.
That doesn’t really matter to Assemblyman Lopez, who said the state still needs to find money to help its dairy farmers, much like General Motors and others have received help.
It’s expected to be one of the topics discussed when Assemblyman Lopez holds a community meeting this Thursday starting at 7pm at the Cobleskill Fire House.
Meanwhile, the Schoharie County Farm Bureau expects to discuss the situation at its annual business meeting, Thursday, October 1 at the Cooperative Extension.
The meeting will vote on resolution that will be passed on to the New York State Farm Bureau.
The state Farm Bureau is already calling on Congress to support the Sanders Amendment, sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders, Charles Schumer, and Kirsten Gillibrand, which would direct $350 million in the final Agriculture Appropriations bill to improve farm milk prices.
The Senate has approved its version of the bill but it wasn’t included in the House version.
“Our dairy farmers are facing the worst pricing crisis in decades,” said Dean Norton, NYFB president, a dairyman, and an agricultural consultant from Batavia.
“We need help now.”