A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

New York is always changing, but one thing remains constant – the state’s agricultural past continues to play a significant role in our future. With that in mind, I was pleased that legislation aimed at enhancing opportunities for our farmers was once again a focal point for the New York State Senate this year.

Funding for vital agriculture programs was a main priority and the state budget included significant resources to help our farmers. Thanks to a push from the state senate, the final budget included more than $13 million above the amount proposed by the governor for farming initiatives. In total, $54.4 million will be used for over 30 different programs that support farmers, agricultural technology, and research.

I also worked with a local business in my district, Gilligan’s Ice Cream in Sherburne (Chenango County), to update our state laws and allow for the sale of ice cream made with beer or hard cider. This measure has already been signed into law by the governor and builds on a 2008 measure regulating the sale of wine ice cream. Under the law, the percentage of alcohol in beer and hard cider ice cream is limited to no more than five percent. The law also prohibits the sale of the new product to anyone under twenty-one years of age, and requires a special label indicating that the ice cream contains alcohol.

The dairy and craft beer/cider industries are key contributors to our state’s agriculture economy. By bringing these entities together, we are able to capitalize on homegrown New York ingredients with the creation of a cool, new product. I was pleased to work with the owners of Gilligan’s Ice Cream to advance this law, clearing the way for their inventive product that will be popular at fairs, ice cream shops, and farm breweries throughout the state. This innovative ice cream is creating a real buzz, and I am certain more dairy producers and craft breweries/cideries will tap into this new market.

Ensuring our state laws don’t stifle ag businesses is important, but it is also essential that we improve access to investment capital. Another bill I sponsored, entitled the “New York Rural and Agriculture Jobs Act,” will accomplish that goal. The measure establishes a $100 million fund, created through private investment, to help develop small businesses that are agricultural in nature or located in rural areas of the state. One of the best ways to keep people in our rural parts of the state, and attract new families and individuals, is through a robust economy and job market. My legislation (S.4727B), which passed both the senate and assembly and will be sent to the governor for final approval soon, will lead to an influx of capital that is sorely needed to jumpstart small business growth in communities searching for a spark.

Several other bills that will help our famers passed both houses and should be acted on by the governor in the coming months, including:

Protecting the Future of Family Farming
Senate bill 8362A enhances the existing Department of Agriculture and Markets Farmland Protection Implementation grant program by strengthening the program to better protect farmland, improve the chances of farmer-to-farmer property transactions, and keep active farmland in use;

Protecting Pollinators and Farmers
Senate bill 6339A makes it state policy to encourage pollinator-friendly landscapes on solar farm sites. Many of the state’s leading agricultural crops rely heavily on pollination, and although many solar site owners claim that they are eco-friendly, this legislation would help ensure that statewide guidelines to be developed by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets include short-term and long-term minimum standards for biodiversity and land management practices.

Farmers deal with countless challenges every day. Anything that can ease their financial burden, increase productivity, open markets for their products, and help get new farmers off the ground has my strong support.