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Legislative Report from the
New York State Assembly Committee on Agriculture
Sheldon Silver, Speaker • William Magee, Chairman • Summer 2008
Assemblyman Bill Magee

Bill Magee

Chair, Assembly Agriculture Committee

Questions or Comments?
Contact the Assembly Agriculture Committee at:

Room 828 – LOB
Albany, N.Y. 12248

Dear Farmers and Agriculturalists,

Agriculture remains a top priority in Albany this year as the 2008 Legislative Session comes to a close. The rising costs of fuel, fertilizer and feed are creating an enormous burden on New York farmers.

The New York State Assembly Agriculture Committee worked hard again this year to implement helpful ways to reduce costs for farmers by providing state assistance programs, increase marketing of various products and agri-goodies and ensure that our farmers are able to diversify their operations.

We must ensure that the agriculture industry remains strong, so I would encourage you to contact me with any ideas, suggestions, concerns or issues that you may have.

Best wishes for a great autumn!
William Magee
Chair, Assembly Agriculture Committee

What’s all the buzzing about?

photo Beehives in the rolling hills of Otsego County

The beekeeping industry is critically important to fruit and vegetable growers in New York as these growers rely on honey bees as their crop pollinator. Although New York is one of the leading states in beekeeping and the production of honey and beeswax, the industry is under tremendous pressure because exotic parasites and emerging diseases such as colony collapse disorder have threatened honey bee populations. The Department of Agriculture and Markets has estimated that the State’s honey bee population has declined by more than 60 percent since the 1980s.

To assist our apiarists with growing the beekeeping industry here in New York, the Assembly has passed legislation that would ensure that our beekeepers qualify for the benefits provided under the Agricultural Districts Law. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor.

The dairy industry – it’s still the tops

No more whining for wine ice cream

Every year, brainstorming leads to new value added products that are creative, clever and delicious. As part of that, New York agriculture is growing and growing with new creations of “agri-goodies” from flavored milk to specialty cheeses, creating more markets for local milk. This year the Assembly passed legislation that would permit the manufacture and sale of ice cream made with wine as there are currently at least two dairy processors in New York State producing wine ice cream. While this bill will expand the marketing of this specialty product, it also seeks to ensure that it is properly labeled as containing alcohol and it is only available for sale to those twenty-one years of age and older. This legislation, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor.

Providing fresh milk from Upstate to Downstate

There is no doubt that the rising costs of fuel are having a tremendous effect on the dairy industry. But add to that the burdensome restrictions being placed on bulk dairy haulers trying to deliver milk to plants on Long Island and New York City and it could easily become a disaster. Over the course of the last year, restrictions have been placed on the use of bridges entering both Long Island and New York City and this places a heavy burden on milk trucks. In order for New York’s dairy operations to continue their important role in delivering fresh farm milk to consumers throughout the city, the state and city need to work together to resolve this issue. To assist in this, legislation has been introduced in the Assembly which would allow the Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Markets, to investigate and resolve any barriers to bulk milk transportation. This legislation would also enable the State Department of Transportation and the City Department of Transportation to jointly establish weight standards for bulk haulers traveling within New York City. By doing this we can assist dairy processors in New York City with ensuring a stream of fresh milk from Upstate. This bill is being considered by the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Farmland protection enhanced

Farmland Protection Program expanded

The Farmland Protection Program has proven, over the years, to be a highly successful program. It not only assists farmers with continuing to farm, but also protects farmland against future development. It does this through the purchase of development rights, as well as by providing towns and counties with funding to assist them in developing farmland protection plans which serve as a planning tool in assisting municipalities with implementing local ordinances that encourage agriculture. Looking to expand upon that, the Governor has signed a bill passed by the Assembly that allows not-for-profit land trusts to apply for funding to assist municipalities and farmers with applying for and receiving funding for the purchase of development rights which would enable more farmers to take advantage of this program.

State aims to increase contributions for Farmland Protection Plans

For qualified farmers, the State provides assistance payments to help fund up to seventy-five percent of the cost of conservation easements and development rights purchased by counties and municipalities pursuant to a county or municipal farmland protection plan. However, often times farmers, who ultimately benefit from this program, are forced to essentially write off the remaining twenty-five percent, placing a large burden on them. As part of that, there has been a recognition that we must do something to address this and encourage more farmers to participate in the program.

To assist with this, legislation was introduced in the Assembly which would encourage more participation in the State’s agricultural and farmland protection program by farmers, counties and municipalities, by increasing the State contribution for the purchase of development rights to eighty-five percent thus providing an added financial incentive for farmers and local governments to participate in the program. This bill is being considered by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Wine, wine, wine

Wine tastings on Sunday morning

Without a doubt, wine tasting has become a must-do for tourists who visit New York State’s wineries. As it currently stands, a winery may sell wine at 10 am but not allow a customer to sample the wine until noon. This is certainly a disadvantage for winery owners because it is very difficult to sell wine to someone who is unable to sample it before purchasing and hoping that it meets up to their expectations. To address this, legislation has passed the Assembly that allows wineries to offer wine tastings to customers, patrons and tourists beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays. As more and more people look to “daycation” by driving to nearby attractions, this bill will greatly assist wineries with providing tourists and customers another reason to visit and spend time at one of New York’s over 200 wineries. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor.

Wine presence at NYS Fair expanded

The New York State Fair is one of the largest fairs in the Northeast drawing almost a million visitors annually during its twelve day run. Currently, fairgoers are allowed to walk around the fairgrounds drinking beer however, if drinking wine, they are restricted to drinking it in the wine court area where it was purchased. To expand the opportunities of our New York wineries, legislation has passed the Assembly that would allow visitors to the New York State Fair to purchase a glass of wine from a duly licensed and permitted winery at the Fair and then go anywhere on the fairgrounds with that glass of wine. This bill would encourage fairgoers to gain an understanding of New York wine production, resulting in an increase exposure for our wineries and farm wineries in New York State. This bill has been signed by the Governor.

Customers helping make their own wine

Today, the New York wine industry includes over 200 wineries from Long Island to the Hudson Valley, to the Finger Lakes to Lake Erie – producing over 100 million bottles of wine annually. In an effort to continue to grow the wine business, a bill has passed the Assembly that would allow commercial wineries to engage in what is commonly known as individual custom crush. The custom crush experience is a growing facet of winemaking in which the person purchasing the wine partakes in its creation, from choosing the base to assisting in its production. This bill would encourage the growth of the wine industry and strengthen rural economies that rely on the wineries. This legislation enables wine lovers to better understand the production of wine firsthand.

Hops & Brews

The New York brewing industry is a major economic force providing almost 50,000 jobs with an annual payroll of $1.4 billion. More than that, these brewers pay $1.3 billion in state and federal business, property and income taxes. In terms of agriculture, there is a growing movement among microbrewers to purchase locally grown hops as well as other agricultural products that they serve in restaurants and brew pubs. In recognition of this the Assembly has put forth legislation that seeks to continue to grow the beer and brewing industry.

  • A bill has been introduced to assist microbrewers with promoting and marketing their product by allowing licensed brewers who produce less than 60,000 barrels annually to sell their beer at fairs and farmers markets. It is believed that by doing this, these brewers could significantly increase their sales by reaching a wider audience of consumers. This is also consistent with wineries which are also able to sell their goods at farmers markets. This bill is being considered by the Assembly Economic Development Committee.

  • A bill has been passed which seeks to ensure that small brewers are able to work with beer distributors in various geographic regions who will best represent their products. As part of that, this bill would allow brewers who represent less than three percent of a beer wholesaler’s annual business to terminate their agreement with that wholesaler. By doing this we can ensure that smaller brewers will be able to market and promote their products to the best of their ability. This bill has been signed by the Governor.

More and more

Expanding disclosure notice for farm neighbors

Currently, when a person purchases land that is partially or wholly included in an agricultural district, they must be given a disclosure statement that their land is located in an agricultural district and are urged to contact the Department of Agriculture and Markets for additional information about what that means. Given the increase of people seeking to move to the country, often times near farm operations, without realizing that farms do generate noises, smells and tractor traffic early in the morning and late at night we must do everything we can to enhance these disclosure notices. To that end, legislation has passed the Assembly which would extend that notice to those prospective purchasers of property within five hundred feet of the boundary of an agricultural district, rather than limiting such notice to property directly or partially within such a district. This should go a long way towards ensuring farm-neighbor relations. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor.

Junior hunting bill approved

This state’s hunters have long advocated for the creation of additional opportunities for youth to hunt big game. Allowing interested youths to hunt deer and bear with a firearm can foster lifelong participation in this outdoor sport and help to increase recruitment of hunters. By requiring strict supervision by experienced sportsmen and sportswomen, it would enhance opportunities to develop a strong safety ethic in young hunters. To that end, legislation has passed the Assembly which would allow fourteen and fifteen year olds, who already are permitted to hunt small game in New York State, also to hunt deer and bear with a firearm under specified conditions and only while supervised and create a trapper mentoring program. It is believed that by doing this we will be opening up the outdoor recreational opportunities for young people throughout the state. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor.

Exemption on diesel motor fuel

The United States Environmental Protection Agency implemented new regulations requiring that all non-road vehicles, including farm tractors and farm equipment utilize a lower sulfur diesel fuel than has been historically used in those vehicles. Due to existing New York State tax law, the new lower sulfur diesel fuel is considered enhanced diesel fuel and is taxed in a different manner than the higher diesel fuel. Previously, uses of the dyed higher sulfur diesel fuel were exempt from the State’s three fuel taxes (the petroleum business tax, diesel motor fuel excise tax and sales tax) and farmers were able to purchase the fuel without paying tax. However, with this new classification, the farmer must pay the taxes up front and then apply for a refund of those taxes which can take several months. To address this, the Assembly has introduced legislation which would ensure that farmers would no longer have to pre-pay the taxes on this low-sulfur diesel thus freeing them from the time of filling out the needed paperwork and waiting for a refund. This bill is being considered by the Assembly Rules Committee.

Farm worker housing

The farm worker housing program has proven to be beneficial for farmers in providing clean and safe housing for farm workers. When the program was first created, most farm workers tended to work seasonally and thus the program only provided for seasonal housing. Now, however, many immigrant workers are employed annually on the farm helping not only with harvesting but also with pruning, marketing and the management of the operation. Recognizing that, the Assembly has passed legislation to expand the farm worker housing program to ensure that all farmers have access to this needed and successful program. This bill, having also passed the Senate, has been signed by the Governor.

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