North Country Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne is calling on state officials to make funding for the agriculture industry an economic development priority in the 2017-18 budget.
"The state's agriculture industry has been a critical component of our state's economy for generations, and focused investment in our producers and our value added agribusiness has the potential to grow the economy in struggling rural areas of the state and create new jobs," she said.
Assemblywoman Jenne suggested the state - utilizing its economic development program - should make funding the agriculture industry a priority.
"We have seen the positive results that investments in the ag sector can have in the North Country in the past year with our farm-to-school pilot program. A $300,000 pilot program has been good for our producers and brought fresh, nutritious locally grown food to our school cafeterias," she said.
The Drive to 25 Pilot Program in the 116th Assembly District increased per-meal reimbursements for schools that purchased New York farm products. The pilot program allowed schools to receive an additional 6 to 25 cents per meal to invest in locally sourced products.
The program was administered by the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) and connected 16 school districts with 15 local food producers and provided fresh food to more than 21,000 students.
“This program has the potential to be a driver of the agriculture economy in the state and also serves as an educational benefit by bringing students into closer contact with the agriculture industry. It is serving as a learning opportunity that could drive future growth," Jenne said.
The assemblywoman, chair of the state Assembly's Task Force on Food, Farm & Nutrition Policy and a member of the state Assembly's Agriculture Committee, said the program could grow if the state increases its school lunch reimbursement rate from the 6 cents it has been at for the past 40 years to 25 years.
She has proposed a two-year investment of $15 million in the Assembly’s 2017-2018 budget to expand the pilot program to a large region in Northern New York and the Adirondacks.
Jenne said funding is needed in a number of areas at a time when low milk prices are making dairy farming a struggle for farmers large and small. St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties are among the leading five counties in dairy production in New York State.
"We know in the North Country the important role dairy farming has played in our region since its earliest days and while the number of farms has declined - even as the size of our farms continues to grow - we know that most of our families are only a generation or two away from the farm. It is important - in an era when the source of our food has become more important - that we provide our ag industry with tools they need to continue to be successful," she added.
"I believe the state should provide dairy farmers a quality premium payment linked to meeting reductions over a three-year period in somatic cell count in fluid milk from the federally mandated 750,000/ml to 400,000/ml - the same level used in the European Union and the highest global standard," Jenne said.