Lawmakers consider relief for farmers

A farm in the Mohawk Valley of New York.debra millet /

(The Center Square) — New York lawmakers are advancing a package of bills aimed at buoying the state’s farmers by promoting agricultural products and locally sourced foods. 

The legislation, which was approved by the state Senate last week, includes proposals to expand urban farming, establish a farming hotline to help connect farmers to resources to expand their farming operations, set procurement goals for products purchased by state agencies, expand regional farmers’ markets, and establish carbon farming tax credits.

Legislative leaders said the raft of proposals are aimed at supporting New York farmers amid inflationary pressures, rising labor costs and increasing market competition. 

“From every corner of New York State, agriculture plays an important role in our lives as well as economy, and is something we must always make an effort to protect and support,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. 

One proposal would establish first-ever food procurement goals for state agencies that spend over $2 million annually on food, providing a direct line for all agencies to buy from New York farmers.

The plan, filed by Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, would set a goal for at least 15% percent of food products purchased by state agencies shall be New York state products in the first two years, at least 20% in the third year and 25% in the following years.

The package also includes a proposed tax credit for farmers to pursue carbon sequestration projects as part of a “carbon farming” land management strategy. 

It would also direct the state Department of Environmental Conservation to develop regulations to certify the amount of carbon sequestered or emissions reduced. Backers said the plan would create a new financial incentive for land management practices undertaken by farmers, which help improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Another bill would direct the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to increase the number of regional farmers’ markets to help expand access to locally-sourced food products, with a focus in communities where access to healthy, local options are limited.

Other proposals in the farmer relief package would create the Office of Urban Agriculture to promote urban farming in New York and establish a hotline, with assistance from Cornell University, to connect farmers with information on tax credit programs, loans, grants, research, and marketing assistance.

David Fisher, a dairy farmer and president of the New York Farm Bureau, said he welcomes the proposals to support the state’s agricultural industry by expanding markets for farmers, and urged lawmakers to approve the bills. 

“It is imperative that we work together to expand opportunities for our farmers,” he said in a statement. “We have one of the most diverse agricultural sectors in the country, and we need to maintain that strong connection to local production which benefits our food system, economy, and overall quality of life in New York State.”

The farmer package comes amid criticism of state’s Department of Labor new rules lowering the threshold for farm workers to qualify for overtime pay, which farmers say will drive up labor costs and force struggling family owned farms across the state out of business. 

To help farmers cover the cost of paying more hourly wages, labor officials have proposed a refundable overtime tax credit. Under the plan, included in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s preliminary budget plan for the next fiscal year, eligible farmers would be able to claim a tax credit of up to $1,200 per employee.  

The legislative package is now being considered by the state Assembly, which must approve it before it lands on Hochul’s desk for consideration.