August 23, 2023 

By Tom Graser

CANTON — Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, was in Canton Wednesday as part of her Farm Bill listening tour.

About 25 people gathered at Greenwood Farm to share their thoughts with the congresswoman.

John Greenwood, Stefanik’s host and owner of the 1,550-cow farm just north of the village of Canton, said he appreciated Stefanik’s willingness to listen to farmers.

With the sun streaming through the open door, Greenwood got a laugh from the mostly agricultural crowd when he mentioned that he wished Stefanik had been able to come on a rainy day.

With Stefanik were Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, and Assemblyman Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown.

“This is not my district,” Blankenbush said.”However, I am on the Ag Committee in Albany and my whole district … is farmland. Agriculture is a big part of my district.”

Agriculture is vital to the entire north country, Blankenbush said. When he heard Stefanik would be in St. Lawrence County, he said he had to be here.

“We’ve got to see what she has to say,” he said. “I have been on many farms with the congresswoman and she certainly knows farm issues.”

Gray said he appreciated the opportunity to join Stefanik in listening to constituents.

“We have a hard time in Albany convincing downstate legislators, the urban legislators, how important agriculture is to our communities,” Gray said.

Stefanik said she was working on the Farm Bill, the second Farm Bill she has been a part of.

“It is my top priority to make sure that New York Farmers have a seat at the highest level,” she said. “New York is an agricultural powerhouse. We all know it, but I think a lot of the time, people across the country don’t know that.”

In the last Farm Bill, the Margin Protection Program, which Stefanik described as a total disaster, was replaced with the Dairy Margin Coverage Program.

“We still need to make some updates to the Dairy Margin Coverage Program to account for feed costs and input costs,” she said.

Stefanik said that the Farm Bill needs to provide better programs for specialty crops in this area.

“Making sure that we are investing in those specialty crop programs is something we need to continue to do for this district and there is a maple program, the Acer Access and Development Program that we want to make sure is fully funded.”

Feedback she has received this year is that most of the issues farmers are having are coming from New York State.

“Whether it is the overtime rule that was jammed through in Albany, Whether it is just the labor challenge, that’s a Federal piece and we have been very active on making sure we have a workable ag visa program year round that works for dairy but also apples.”

Greenwood said one of his issues was the push to electrify New York State.

“It’s unrealistic, undoable,” he said. “My real concern is the solar projects that are going in, especially up here in the north country. It is taking land out of production that will probably never be put back.”

Greenwood said that new transmission lines built to get the energy out of the region will take more farmland out of production because they are never built through the woods and the wetlands.

“I don’t know if there is a way to disincentivise putting these projects on farmland,” he said.

Stefanik said that was mainly a local issue and she has focused on other threats to the loss of farmland, such as land purchases by the Chinese.

“It is a stunning, stunning trend that is happening,” Stefanik said. “It puts our food security at risk, our national security at risk. I introduced a bill called the PASS Act (Agriculture Safeguards and Security) that would not allow China to purchase agricultural land.”

She said the bill has passed out of the Senate and will pass out of the House.

“If we don’t have food security, we do not have economic security, and we do not have national security,” she said.

Ray Dykeman, a dairy farmer from Montgomery County, brought up a topic that Stefanik has championed: allowing more milk products in schools.

“We need to get the whole milk and the 2% milk back in schools,” Dykeman said.

Stefanik said she passed legislation out of the House to address the issue.

“The other piece of that is going after some of these regulations that Biden administration is putting into place that would limit flavored milk choices as well.”

Stefanik said that flavored milk is sometimes the only way a young child will get milk nutrition.

Stefanik spoke with the crowd for about an hour before telling them she had taken up too much of the rare sunny day.


Read the article in NNY360 here.