By DARIN YOUKER
NEW YORK — New York farmers are growing concerned about the potential loss of a number of agriculture support programs in this year’s state budget.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a $162.6 million budget for the state’s agriculture department and calls for cuts to various programs funded by the state. Those budget cuts could spell the death of programs like Pro-Dairy, the New York Wine and Grape Foundation and the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program run by Cornell University.
Farmers have been lobbying state lawmakers to restore the agriculture budget, but many are not optimistic, given New York’s money woes, that funding will return. Known as the Aid to Localities programs, the state had previously given funding to organizations like Pro-Dairy or the New York Wine and Grape Foundation to provide research and advocacy for those commodities.
However, in this year’s budget Cuomo decided to make each agency compete for $1.2 million in grant funding. In the 2008-2009 budget, the amount of money given to the Aide to Localities program was $15.6 million, said Dean Norton, president of the New York Farm Bureau. The proposed budget is a 92 percent reduction in funding from the 2008-2009 figures, he said.
Overall, the Department of Agriculture and Markets is facing a $9.3 million budget decrease. Agriculture spending measures less than 1 percent of the state’s budget, Norton said.
The Farm Bureau was glad to see that the animal health and welfare budget within the department received level funding and farmland preservation dollars were not cut, Norton said. But the Aid to Localities fund provides research and services that are critical to farmers, Norton said. And if funding is not quickly restored, those programs could close by the end of March, he said.
“The Upstate economy is driven by agriculture,” Norton said. “If agriculture is doing well, the rural economy is doing well.”
Pro-Dairy, run by Cornell University, teaches farmers about proper manure management and animal health, Norton said. All of that allows farmers to be better stewards of their land and get greater efficiency from their cows, he said.
“We’ll be left wondering where we find that expertise,” he said.
As well, the Wine and Grape Foundation, which promotes the state’s growing wine industry, will also be left to compete for funding. The foundation runs the Uncork New York campaign, which assists with marketing for wine trails.
Pamela Burmaster, owner of Liberty Vineyards and Winery in Sheridan, Chautauqua County, turned to the Wine and Grape Foundation when she established her business. They helped Burmaster understand the rules and regulations for running a winery, she said. As well, they are doing a great job of advancing the state’s wine industry.
“It is a really good resource for us,” she said. “We rely on them to be our eyes and ears on the industry.”
Dave Edwards, president of the Chautauqua County Farm Bureau, said farmers in the region rely both on Pro-Dairy and the foundation, to assist them with best management practices for their operations.
“Our dairy producers look at Pro-Dairy as a way to improve efficiency and improve milk quality,” he said. “Producers here are using technology that comes out of that program. They look at is a tool.”
Donald Rutz, director of the integrated pest management program, fears for the future of his program as the loss of state aid will mean most of his staff will have to be laid off. Starting April 1, Rutz said he expects to not receive any state funding.
Portions of his program, and a few staff members, will be paid for through outside grants. That will seriously curtail IPM’s ability to hold pest management talks with farm organizations across the state. And along with farmer outreach, the agency works with other groups on issues like controlling bedbugs, he said.
“We have the ability to touch 19 million people in New York,” he said.
The pest management program began in 1985 as part of a state effort to better control the use of pesticides and chemicals in agriculture operations, Rutz said. Over time, the program has developed management practices that promote biological, or mechanical, control for pests, instead of relying on chemicals, Rutz said.
That includes the proper use and treatment of manure, controlling mice and insect populations in chicken houses and weed control in vegetable operations, Rutz said.
In 2008, IPM received $1.4 million in state funding and had a staff of 21 people. Now, the agency will have to compete with nine other agriculture organizations for funding, he said. Rutz said he hopes the lobbying efforts to restore funding pays off.
“People are paying much more attention to where their food comes from,” he said. “Integrated pest management is integral to protecting where their food comes from.”