April 13, 2023

By Vicky Klukkert

Several local farmers attended a discussion about the upcoming federal farm bill at SUNY Cobleskill Thursday, April 13.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY21, was joined by state Farm Bureau President David Fisher, Assemblyman Chris Tague, State Senator Peter Oberacker and Schoharie County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Federice, to hear concerns from local farmers.

Even though Stefanik isn’t a member of the agriculture committee in the House of Representatives, she said she has always advocated for upstate farmers in Washington, D.C. “I talk to farmers all the time about their concerns,” she said, and said today’s event is one of many she will have throughout her 15-county-wide district.

Stefanik said she has introduced bills into the House to reinstate whole milk in school lunches and to ban nut-based milks from using milk on their labels. She also is against President Joe Biden’s proposal to reduce the amount of milk families on Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children are allowed to buy.

Duane Spaulding, who speaks across the state to get whole milk and whole flavored milk back into schools, asked Stefanik to do all she could to include that in the farm bill.

Several dairy farmers spoke to ask that the farm bill include help for small, struggling dairy farmers.

MaryBeth Shults, who owns Shults Farm in Montgomery County, said their dairy farm has had to diversify to earn money. The dairy has added creamline milk, vegetables, beef and a retail store to their farm. She said she has also had a hard time finding steers because of the drought in Kansas last year, and didn’t know what she was going to do this year.

Many farmers also talked about the aging of farmers and next generation either not wanting to take over the farm or the younger generation finding it hard to securing land to farm. They also raised concerns about solar farms popping up in the area and taking valuable farm land.

New York Center of Agricultural Medicine and Health ROPS Hotline Coordinator Duane Martin asked if the ROPS program could be included in the farm bill to make tractors safer. “Seven out of 10 farms that experience an accident are out of business within a year,” he said. “That equates to over $1 million lost.”

Phoebe Schreiner, executive director of Center for Agricultural Development & Entrepreneurship, gave Stefanik a copy of the Vision 2050 report her organization did, and also talked about small dairy farmers.

She said Cornell University recently did an economic study of 150 conventional dairy farms across the state, and farms with fewer than 1,000 cows were losing money. “That’s very sad for the state as 75% of all dairy farms are small,” she said. “We are losing our family dairy farms.”

She said the small dairy farms should be promoted. They help the environment because they help keep water system clean and help ecosystems. She said most of the farms participate in climate-smart practices and help the public, so they should be recognized.

Stefanik also released an online portal at https://tinyurl.com/bdhn66db/, where farmers from across New York’s 21st District can directly share their priorities for this year’s Farm Bill with the Congresswoman, a media release said. Farmers were encouraged to scan a QR code following the meeting to take the survey.

Currently, Congress is in the early stages of writing the 2023 Farm Bill, a package passed every five years to support a strong agriculture industry and that covers a wide range of programs and resources for farmers, the release said. In addition to the input form released today, Stefanik will be working directly with local farmers across New York’s 21st District, so she can advocate for them and bring their concerns to the highest levels.

Read the story in The Daily Star here.