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Press Release from the New York Farm Bureau:

New York Farm Bureau’s President, Dean Norton, unveiled the state legislative priorities for the year based on grassroots input from farmer members and approval by the NYFB Board of Directors.The priorities focus primarily on economic issues stressing the need and importance of assisting the state’s farms to become more profitable for the betterment of all.

“When you grow New York’s farms, you also grow New York’s economy,” said New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton. “Farms are the largest employers in rural areas and support a number of local businesses like seed and machinery dealers. With proper investments, agriculture can lead the economic recovery in New York.”

In a press conference call with reporters, President Norton began outlining priorities that will assist with the transition of family farms to the next generation. According to the 2007 Ag Census, the average age of a farmer in New York is 56-years old. Increasing the state’s estate tax threshold for farms from $1 million to $5 million will go a long way in making that transition more affordable. This would also bring it more in line with the Federal threshold. It’s estimated that there are more than 3,000 family farms that exceed the $1million limit in New York when you add up land value, costly machinery and buildings.This would enable families to better transfer property without having to sell off large partials of land to cover the estate tax.

President Norton also expressed the need to cap agricultural land assessments at 2%. Currently, there is a 10% cap in place which has been repeatedly hit the past several years, quickly driving up the overall tax rate for farmers.

“With the tax cap passed a few years ago, New York farmers are being unfairly hit and we are hoping to level the playing field,” said Norton.

NYFB also is advocating for more support for the New York FarmNet FarmLink Program and dairy profit teams that assist with helping new farmers enter the field as well as help farmers in planning for natural disasters and long term needs.

In addition to transition planning, there are a number of other economic priorities for NYFB including the establishment of Farm Savings Accounts to allow for tax free savings and withdrawals to help farmers plan for a literal “rainy day.”  The accounts will incentivize long term saving and mitigate the impacts during years where there are tough crop losses like what are fruit farmers dealt with last year.

“One of the things NY Farm Bureau is always trying to do for our members is make the business of farming less risky,” said NYFB Public Policy Director Julie Suarez. “We believe that this risk management tool will be of no cost to the government, certainly other than some deferred tax revenue, and would assist our farmers in the bad years and will help them grow in the future.”

Also, New York farmers are very giving.  New York Farm Bureau members have traditionally led the country every year in food donations to regional food banks through the Harvest for All Program. And a priority this year is to support a tax credit for donations of locally grown food much like what New Yorkers currently receive for clothing donations.

“We have noticed our members are increasingly donating more to the food banks to fight hunger. So from our members’ perspective, we would like to see more encouragement and recognition from the state for our farm families to allow them to take a tax credit for the cost of food, labor and packaging for people in need,” said Suarez.

NYFB is also very concerned about the proposal to dramatically increase the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour.  While farmer members are opposed to any hike, NYFB will additionally advocate for a training wage much like what is used in other states for new hires.

Many farmers currently pay more than minimum wage for a number of positions, but often employ high school students at u-pick farms or to run a cash register at a farm stand, positions not meant to feed a family of four.

“We would like to see a training wage established for all businesses that employ young people on a temporary basis so you can at least hire them on at a reduced rate during a probationary or training period to teach them to work at a job,” said Suarez.

The State Board of Directors also is supportive of the Governor’s proposals to reform workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.  While there may be some initially higher costs, the Board is supportive of the long term savings.

In regards to other budget initiatives proposed by Governor Cuomo, NYFB feels it is a good start for agriculture in New York State including the Taste NY program to open duty free stores that promote and sell New York made products.

“This certainly goes right along with our vision for economic development and promotion of agriculture in the state,” said Jeff Williams, NYFB Deputy Director of Public Policy. “$2 million in branding for agriculture will put us at the forefront of that effort.”

NYFB is also supportive of the Governor making good on his promise to help new hops growers following his successful wine, beer and spirits summit last fall.  This will work to bring New York back as the leading hops producer in the nation. In his budget, the Governor has also recognized that animal health programs are important in making sure livestock diseases aren’t transferred and consumers can feel good that food safety is protected in this state. In funding for the Environmental Protection Fund, there are a number of opportunities for farmers to continue to protect water quality and their land.  For example, the nonpoint source abatement program was increased by $1.2 million and farmland protection funding was also increased by $1million to aid farmers who would like to sell easements on their farms preventing new development.

“There are other programs to help farmers move forward to meet the dairy demand in the state and making sure environmentally we meet the challenge to protect the environment,” said Williams.

NYFB is also supportive of the Governor’s proposal of additional funding for apple promotion to market the great fruit grown in New York nationally in light of the tough year and loss in apple production in 2012.

New York Farm Bureau will be advocating for these important issues throughout the legislative session in Albany.

“It’s our strong belief that if you have healthy farms, you have a healthy economy,” said NYFB President Dean Norton.

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