By DARRIN YOUKER
SALEM, Ohio — New York’s state budget will bring some power into the hands of farmers.
The state’s budget contains funding for the Recharge NY Power Program, which will make low-cost power available for farmers who are on residential and commercial meters.
Members of the New York Farm Bureau had sought support for the Recharge program as a way to help keep costs down for the state’s farmers.
As well, under the new state budget, lawmakers restored funding to the Aid to Localities program, that provided money for organizations like Cornell University’s Pro-Dairy and the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.
“Obviously, given the current economic environment, these restoration should be considered a major success story for Farm Bureau members,” Dean Norton, president of the state Farm Bureau said in a prepared statement.
And with funding secured in the budget, the Recharge program could soon have an impact on New York farms.
Historically, farmers have had a difficult time getting access to the low-cost power programs that New York had offered because they were tied to job creation, said Jeff Williams, manager of government relations for the New York Farm Bureau.
However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had wanted to revamp the program and change its criteria, Williams said.
“The manufacturing base in New York State has left particularly because of the energy costs,” he said. “Those electricity costs are big numbers.”
The Recharge program allows small business and farmers the chance to qualify for low-cost power previously only available for business that were creating jobs, Williams said.
Eligible business, including farms, would be able to apply for a seven-year contract for reduced cost power, which will lower the cost of doing business in the state, Williams said.
“Power is defiantly a considerable cost in New York State,” Williams said.
The state Farm Bureau is also working with the state on a program to perform energy audits on farms. Williams said audits have uncovered ways for farmers to save anywhere from 10 to 35 percent.
The legislation also creates an $8 million pool of money for farmers that are currently on residential meters, Williams said.
Farms will have to go through any application process to qualify for the residential program, he said. The program will make available 900 megawatts of power from hydroelectric sources, and will provide residential customers with a yearly discount totaling $100 million through 2013.
Along with the Recharge program, the state budget was also good news for specialty agriculture programs that are financed by the state.
The Cornell Pro-Dairy program faced the elimination of its $800,000 in state funding, which pays for eight employees who work with dairy farmers across the state, said Tom Overton, director of the program. The funding was restored to the budget.
In years past, the state has trimmed its allocation to Pro-Dairy but the program had never faced wholesale elimination, Overton said.
“We did not have a backstop for that state funding,” he said. “It would be a blow for what we have to offer.”
Pro Dairy provides research and education for the state’s dairy producers.
When it appeared that Pro-Dairy was going to lose its state funding, the organization began reaching out to the dairy industry to try and find other sources of funding to keep the program going, Overton said. Those are discussions will continue in the hopes that Pro-Dairy can diversify its funding, he said.
“We are working on longer term funding so that we don’t put all our funding in one basket,” he said.