A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
June is National Dairy Month and right now, our dairy farmers could use our support and gratitude. Throughout the entire coronavirus pandemic, our dairy farmers have worked tirelessly to continue providing communities across this state and nation with the healthy, essential products we all rely on. Like many New Yorkers, their way of life has been severely disrupted by COVID-19, and as we work to get New York back on track, we need to ensure our dairy farms and all farms succeed for generations to come.
As someone who grew up and still lives in a part of New York that relies on and values agriculture, I understand the importance of our dairy industry and have consistently advocated for legislation and programs to support our dairy farmers.
I have always been a strong supporter of state programs that assist our farmers and, in recent years, have had to step up the effort to protect many of these vital programs. The governor has consistently cut funding for several programs farmers count on from his state budget proposal. I have fought hard for restorations and have been successful in making sure key programs continue to receive state assistance.
The state-funded programs help support investments in cutting-edge agricultural research, education for the next generation of family farmers, environmental stewardship, and protections for plant, animal, and public health.
One of the biggest concerns for dairy farmers remains the price they receive for their milk. The federal government sets milk prices, and while I do not have a direct voice on the matter, I continue to encourage our representatives in Washington D.C. to address this issue so our dairy farmers can receive a fair price for their labor.
As we work our way through the COIVD-19 pandemic farmers are doing their part to help communities in need. A number of milk giveaways and similar events are taking place on a regular basis, ensuring those in need receive locally sourced food. The state’s Nourish New York Initiative is helping those that are food insecure while providing a market for farmers to sell their products. The program provides $25 million in funding to food banks for the purchase of agricultural food products such as produce, meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy products from New York State farms and processors. Additional information is available online at https://agriculture.ny.gov/NourishNY. The website allows you to search for available products and lets farmers with surplus products register their availability.
We are also on the constant lookout for new and innovative products. If you have an idea for a food or agriculture start-up New York State wants to know about it.
The application window is now open for the Grow-NY food and agriculture competition. The competition, in its second year, focuses on growing an enduring food and agriculture innovation cluster in New York’s Finger Lakes, Central New York, and Southern Tier regions. Last year $3 million in funding was awarded to high-growth start-ups and another $3 million in prize money is on the line this year. Applications are open to start-ups from across the globe with a $1 million top prize, two $500,000 prizes, and four $250,000 prizes.
Grant winners will have to commit to operating in the Finger Lakes, Central New York, or Southern Tier regions for at least one year and will have to agree to participate in an equity share program – returning a portion of their profits back to the program. In addition to prize money, this competition will support all operational, promotional. and implementation expenses including marketing, events, and a mentoring program that will bring finalists to the three regions, support their development, and foster connections to the agriculture and food and innovation communities.
Applications are due by July 15, 2020, and more information can be found at https://www.grow-ny.com/. This is a great opportunity for anyone with a creative idea and could serve as a springboard for our region’s agricultural future.