Essex County Farm Bureau President Erik Leerkes takes time to discuss the pros and cons of the latest Farm Bill at his farm in Ticonderoga.
Things could get a little easier for New York State farmers after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act Wednesday, Jan. 29.
It’s been two years since the expiration of the last farm bill, and far too long according to Congressmen Bill Owens.
“Passage of the Farm Bill provides farmers the long-overdue certainty they deserve and contributes significantly to deficit reduction,” said Owens. “I am confident this bipartisan agreement will help New York agriculture thrive.”
Essex County Farm Bureau President Erik Leerkes said the new farm bill would affect his family operated farm in Ticonderoga with more than 180 dairy cows.
“Overall, the bill is a good compromise. It’s not as beneficial as the proposed program, but better than what we had. At this point but we’re happy to get anything,”said Leerkes.
“Farmers aren’t looking for a hand out, they work hard every day, more than 70 hours per week,” he said. “It’s important for us as a country to support its own agriculture.”
Three provisions added by Owens that were designed to have local impact consist of apple exports, farm credit and maple promotion.
The Owens provision aimed at apple exports is designed to streamline U.S. apple exports to Canada by exempting bulk shipments of apples from inspection under the Apple Export Act. According to the New York Apple Association, the elimination of the required inspection will immediately offer a savings to growers of approximately $300 per truck load. Additionally, removing this regulation will allow apple growers to distribute their products on their own schedule without working around costly after-hours inspections procedures, providing them the opportunity to save money and streamline operations.
The second Owens provision will expand the range of business structures that qualify for loans and loan guarantees through the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Increasingly common structures that do not currently qualify for loans through the FSA include family trusts when family farms divide into a farm ownership LLC or farm operating LLC to facilitate ownership by multiple family members, as well as farms operating with an “embedded entity structure.” An embedded entity occurs when one entity is owned wholly or partly by another entity.
The final provision drafted by Owens and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) is aimed to promote activities related to maple production. This includes maple syrup operations, natural resource sustainability for the maple syrup industry, promotion of maple products and increased access to land for maple-sugaring activities.
“Family farmers help strengthen New York’s economy,” said Owens.
One of the major sticking points in the final days of negotiations between the House and Senate was a program designed to stabilize milk prices.
Farmers are paid for their milk through a complicated, regionally based system called the Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO.) This system was initially developed to price milk based on demand, but because price triggers were not transparent to the average producer, and prices were announced on a month delay, farmers were unable to respond to the market and it became extremely volatile in both production and income to farmers.
For example, milk is sold by the one-hundred weight. Farmers pay for the cost of production which may be $20 per one-hundred weight, but have had no control over the sale price of, say, $19 per one-hundred weight. The new bill offers insurance to cover that margin.
Leerkes said, “The problem with milk, unlike soda, you can’t stop making it. If there’s 1 percent too much milk nationally, the price will dip 10 percent to the farm.
“In the long run the bill is good for dairy and the budget,” said Leerkes.
“Food production is really important to national security, if you can’t sustain yourself and things go bad, you’re done for,” he said.
William Gunnison, co-owner of Gunnison Orchard in Crown Point, also said getting the bill passed is positive for local growers.
“Improved crop insurance offered in the bill will help improve our operation,” said Gunnison. “This bill will give us five years to concentrate on our growing without the unsettled worry about what’s around the corner.”
Gunnison is the President of the NYS Horticulture Society and the Vice Chairmen of the NY apple association and has been to Washington, D.C. lobbying for this bill over past years.
“The apple export provision is a huge step in the right direction in regards to getting fruit into Canada,” said Gunnison. “In the past, growers haven’t been able to get fruit into Canada unless the country runs out of their own fruits.”
Congressman Owens added, “This has been a difficult process to say the least, but I am satisfied that the compromise on the dairy title will address price volatility for New York’s farmers.”
“This bill is a remarkable achievement considering the dysfunction that has plagued Washington. I commend Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson for their tireless efforts to get this important work done. This bill serves as an example of what we can accomplish when both sides come together and I am hopeful we can continue this momentum through the year,” Owens said.
Co-owner of Essex Farm in Essex, Mark Kimball said that USDA programs have been very beneficial to his farm over the years, creating jobs and increasing the health of his livestock.
Mark and his wife Kristin have trained and mentored over 50 beginning farmers who have started more than 10 new farms to date. They currently farm 600 acres and feed 222 CSA members and the farm is powered by 15 solar panels, nine draft horses, 10 full-time farmers, and three tractors.
A past clean waterways act under President Obama increased funding for the Champlain Valley, allowing Essex farm to build covered barnyards to reduce the loss of nutrients in manure that occurs with water run off in winter and spring. It also helps reduce pollution in that runoff from reaching the lake.
“Counter to our original thinking, the USDA has been easy to work with and we’re hoping this new bill will continue to benefit our farm,” said Kimball.
The Farm Bill combines an overhaul of the nation’s agricultural commodity programs with a package of reforms that will produce an estimated $23 billion in 10-year savings.