Congressman Bill Owens with farmers in Beekmantown.
BEEKMANTOWN — Larry Gonyo’s grandfather, Willard, arrived in the United States in April 1916, shortly after purchasing property in Beekmantown.
His father, Lawrence, was 4 months old when Willard started the farm with three to four horses, three to four cows and a couple goats.
Gonyo was born on the farm, and never really left, eventually inheriting it. Today, Beekman Lane Farm consists of 89 milking cows, 17 dry and another 80, a small dairy farm compared to the average one with 300-400 head.
“My father passed away four years ago,” Gonyo said. “Our debt load was low and the whole family contributes to everything.”
He and his son Kevin, co-owner of the farm, gathered with other farmers to listen to Congressman Bill Owens. They sat at picnic benches and plastic Adirondack chairs under the shade of a towering maple tree as Owens shared information about the farm bill.
The farm bill is an agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government that is passed every five years or so by Congress. It deals with agriculture and all other affairs under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Farm bills are often controversial and can impact international trade, environmental conservation, food safety and the well-being of rural communities.
Before Owens began, Gonyo explained that milk prices have dropped again, from $20 to the $16 range. Yet equipment payments do not fluctuate and fuel and fertilizer costs are up.
“If you are able to save in good years, it goes toward that,” Gonyo said.
So far, he said, the farm has been fortunate. It has struggled months at a time, but they seem to get by.
“But it’s been worse this year.”
“I just wish they would use common sense,” said his son, Kevin. “Legislation doesn’t help.”
Owens felt the farm bill would be passed by early September. If it was not to pass in July, the current bill would remain in effect.
“The Senate passed a bill that has $23 billion in cuts,” Owens said. “At the end of the day, those numbers look more like $27 billion, with $8 billion or so going back into food stamps.”
The House Agriculture Committee approved a farm bill, but currently House Republicans are split over spending cuts.
The bill would cut spending in farm and nutrition programs by $35 billion over 10 years, similar to the one passed by the Senate.
Both would eliminate direct payments to farmers.
Food stamps would be slashed by $16.5 billion over 10 years, and new eligibility requirements could kick two to three million people out of that program.
Hundreds of thousands of children could lose their free-lunch status.
“I don’t know if you have farm-labor issues here,” Owens said to the farmers in Beekmantown, “but that problem won’t be solved in the short term.”
The Congressman said the farm bill would function off what they are being paid and what the costs are, with insurance kicking in to bring them “back to spread.” Most folks with small and medium farms are alright with this, but the larger farms are not, he said.
With Owens’ appointment, it marked the first time in 40 years someone from New York sat on the Agriculture Committee.
Owens said the individuals sitting on the Agriculture Committee are by and larger reasonable. They focus on farmers’ issues, a far cry from the many individuals writing regulations who do not have a good feel for what is happening on the ground.
Kevin doesn’t expect much to change.
“Let’s accept reality,” he said. “Hope for the best and expect the worst.”