A US Farm Bill potentially worth nearly one trillion dollars over ten years has stalled in Congress, and with it the hopes of young farmers, conservationists and agriculturalists in general have stalled as well. When Congress returns to Washington in September, they have only until the end of the month, September 30th, before the current Farm Bill expires and the country is potentially left with a radically reduced support system for farmers.
On Monday, the Hudson Valley Young Farmers’ Coalition – an affiliate of NYFC – decided to speak up.
The group began organizing the Hudson Valley Farmers’ Forum earlier this summer when it became apparent that the bill’s chances of passing in an increasingly polarized Congress were diminishing. At the same time, farmers were struggling through state and federal systems designed to serve them. On Monday in an auditorium at Columbia Greene Community College in Hudson, NY, Lindsey Shute, of NYFC and herself a farmer in nearby Clermont, NY, introduced five panelists before an audience of nearly 100 people. Jordan Schmidt, an organizer with the Hudson Valley Young Farmers’ Coalition, introduced the coalition and explained the importance of its mission. Then US Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-20), Kathryn Tanner, a Legislative Assistant to Senator Gillibrand, State Senator Roy McDonald, State Assemblyperson Didi Barret, and Phil Giltner, special assistant at the NY Department of Agriculture and Markets, each introduced their vision for a more farmer-friendly New York, and then took questions and comments from farmers, engaging in a diverse range of topics.
Many questions centered on issues faced by beginning farmers. Severine von Tscharner Fleming, director of The Greenhorns, raised the question of how the government is going to assist in the transition of land from the current generation of land-owners to the next. Sophie Ackoff, of Glynwood Farm, spoke in favor of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which funds educational programs like the one in which she is involved. Bryn Roshong, of Second Wind CSA, asked state officials what New York is doing to prepare for the potential severe cuts in federal agricultural spending. Other farmers spoke about the Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program that helped subsidize the costs of buying a farm for more than one farmer in the room.
A range of other issues affecting farmers in the region also abounded – more than one farmer spoke of problems with the current state of H-2A, the certification program for seasonal, non-immigrant foreign worker. Dale Ila Riggs, owner of the Berry Patch in Stephentown, NY said that they “are going to have to have a workable H-2A program, or close down the farm and put eight people out of work.” Others brought up ways of synergizing various state systems to encourage and the purchasing and production of New York products in the state.
All five government representatives responded passionately to the concerns raised. Congressman Gibson gave his opinion of the Farm Bill, that a full five-year Farm Bill would indeed come together this fall. He pointed out that even if an extension gave the federal government more time to write a full bill, it would require a tremendous amount of extra work, since a new Congress would have to start over in negotiations. Both Gibson and Tanner expressed strong support for a five year bill and not a mere extension. The state representatives each spoke to supporting New York agricultural products on both the production and the purchasing levels. State Senator McDonald expressed that the government needs to “convince the people in the boroughs we are part of this state, to buy our products.”
Overall, the event was hailed as a stunning success and politicians and farmers alike expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to come together and communicate on the issues. As we move closer to the expiration of the Farm Bill, it is becoming more and more important to do whatever is possible to make sure our elected leaders in Washington are fighting for the needs of beginning farmers across the country.