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Gillibrand Announces Farm Bill "Listening Sessions"

By Dave Lucas


Albany, NY – New York boasts more than 35-thousand farms stretching across 7.1 Million Acres are generating nearly $4.5 Billion for the state's economy. But farmers have been struggling to survive, and now they're getting some help from New York's Junior Senator. Capital District Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.

The farmers are hanging in there - weathering the recession like everybody else - but dailry farmers are taking it on the chin - they've been deeply affected by the ongoing milk crisis. As Congress begins debate over the next Farm Bill, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the first New Yorker to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, today announced that she will hold listening sessions around the state to discuss new efforts to help New York farmers and farming communities.

Gillibrand's plans include focus on key areas of the Farm Bill that will have major influence on New York, and she says she'll target issues like providing farmers access to capital, expanding new markets, and addressing the dairy crisis by raising the amount of money farmers get paid to produce milk.

Senator Gillibrand also plans to strengthen the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program to help New York farmers develop value-added products. She believes national security is weakened each time a local farm goes out of business.

Gillibrand is bringing other legislative changes to the table - she'll kick off her listening sessions this month in Western New York, the Finger Lakes region and the Hudson Valley.

Specific Issues to Be Addressed In Listening Sessions :

Providing Access to Capital

Like all small businesses, family farms are struggling to secure access to the financing they need to grow or, in many cases, survive in this difficult economy. Senator Gillibrand plans to strengthen the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program to help New York farmers develop value-added products.

Senator Gillibrand also plans to bolster the Farm Services Agency (FSA) loan program to give farmers the resources they need to purchase land, livestock, equipment, feed, seed and other supplies. Senator Gillibrand recently helped secure an additional $39 million for FSA operating loans to help give New York farms the capital they need.

Additionally, Senator Gillibrand will fight to exempt New York State from the USDA's 10,000 population criteria - the maximum population to qualify for USDA water and wastewater funding. Many parts of New York would be ineligible for funding under the new USDA guidelines since many New York towns include villages and other municipalities, putting a town's population over the 10,000 threshold. Red Hook, Arcardia, Kirkland, Utica, Cortlandville, Herkimer, Waddington, Massena, Alden, Sullivan, Wawarsing, Kingsbury, Plattsburgh, Lansing, Lysander, Fallsburg, Lowville, LeRay and Moreau are already threatened from being denied access to these resources.

Addressing the Dairy Crisis

Due to outdated dairy pricing regulations, dairy farmers pay more to produce their products than they make from selling them. Senator Gillibrand has introduced legislation that would double the amount of money farmers get from the MILC program retroactive to the low point of the crisis in March of 2009. While raising the MILC payment rate to 90 percent will not completely make up the gap between cost of production and market rates, it will certainly help prevent more New York farms from going under.

Senator Gillibrand also introduced legislation to index the MILC rate to inflation. The MILC program payments were originally designed to help dairy farmers in their time of need, but funding levels have remained stagnant.

In the next Farm Bill, Senator Gillibrand intends to work with New York farmers to make these improvements and overhaul the milk pricing system and secure a fair price for producers.

Additionally, Senator Gillibrand will work to make the opaque pricing system of the dairy market more transparent. Senator Gillibrand is cosponsoring the Mandatory Price Reporting Act to reauthorize the electronic price reporting of dairy prices, helping to increase transparency and change price reporting from weekly to monthly.

Senator Gillibrand has also introduced legislation to make Cold Storage Inventory Reporting to the National Agriculture Statistics Service mandatory, and give the USDA the authority to audit the survey. Experts agree that reducing the influence of the thinly-traded Chicago Mercantile Exchange is the best way to increase market transparency.

Expanding New Markets

Senator Gillibrand intends to expand the Market Access Program (MAP) to enable our farmers to sell more New York products worldwide. The MAP program provides funding for the creation, expansion, and maintenance of foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products.

Senator Gillibrand is also planning to introduce an infrastructure provision in the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program to help farmers reach new markets.

Additionally, Senator Gillibrand will work to secure more federal funding to promote the USDA's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program to give New York farms more opportunities to supply schools with fresh, locally grown products.

Targeted Assistance to Specialty Crop Farmers

Specialty crop farmers stand to gain tremendous benefit from the conservation programs in the Farm Bill. Senator Gillibrand intends to bolster the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), as well as introduce a new program, called the Conservation on Muck Soils (COMS), to provide additional assistance to New York's specialty crop farmers.

Investing in New Sources of Clean, Renewable, New York Energy

New York's agriculture industry is rich with opportunity to help lead America to a clean energy economy that can create good-paying jobs and rebuild our economy, strengthen our national security, and cut pollution. Senator Gillibrand plans to work for more investments in the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) that provides loans and grants for farmers and small rural businesses that build renewable energy systems, such as anaerobic digesters. Senator Gillibrand also intends to push for greater investments in the Rural Energy Self Sufficiency Initiative, which assists with installation of integrated renewable energy systems in rural communities that make use of wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass sources.