Diverse Farms Named to SILO Task Force

3/15/2014 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

Fruit, vegetable and dairy farmers from Long Island to Lake Ontario have been named to a first-ever New York task force intended to reduce barriers hindering the state’s agriculture industry.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo named six farmers to the newly created Strategic Interagency Task Force on Lessening Obstacles to Agriculture, or SILO, on March 3.

The panel also includes Northeast Dairy Association Executive Director Tonya Van Slyke, New York Farm Bureau Public Policy Director Jeff Williams and representatives of 10 state agencies including Agriculture & Markets, Environmental Conservation, Health, Labor and Transportation.

“The purpose is to voice our concerns to different agencies about how they interact with agriculture and help them have a better understanding of what agriculture is all about,” said Jim Bittner, Niagara County Farm Bureau president. “Any time we can have some dialogue that’s a good thing.”

Bittner, a current fruit grower and former dairy farmer, is also president and general manager of Singer Farms in Appleton, N.Y., where his wife runs a winery.

“So I have a pretty good handle on a lot of issues,” he said. “My plan is to meet with farmers in our area and get a list of things to discuss with state agencies on the task force.”

Topics could range from pesticide record keeping and farmworker protection standards, to getting help obtaining state liquor licenses for farm-based cideries and wineries.

Farmers are routinely inundated by new health, safety, labor and environmental regulations, making it difficult for farmers to focus on their main business at hand: raising food.

“There’s nothing wrong with oversight,” said task force member Brian Reeves, co-owner of Reeves Farms in Baldwinsville, Onondaga County. “It just gets to be a little much. It seems like every two or three weeks there’s somebody here, state or federal, doing inspections. It’s just one agency after another. Some of them overlap. Do we need that much?”

His farm, which specializes in hand-picked berries and fresh-market vegetables, relies heavily on migrant labor.

“Sometimes housing regulations are stricter than renting an apartment to the public,” Reeves said.

The governor has charged task force members to join forces to ensure state agencies that deal with farmers are communicating regularly, interacting efficiently and lessening regulations on farms.

“I’m sure there will be some good feedback,” Reeves said.

Cuomo, who is seeking re-election, announced the appointments March 3, but the panel’s organizational meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet.

“This new task force is designed to improve how state agencies interact with farmers, producers and each other to best expand the agriculture industry in New York,” Cuomo said. “Agriculture is vital to the state’s economy and by using constructive methods to identify and decrease barriers and leverage industry strengths, we can work proactively to promote growth, create jobs and support new economic opportunities statewide.”

The governor has taken a proactive approach to promoting various aspects of New York agriculture. A Yogurt Summit he called for has helped New York reclaim its place as the nation’s No. 3 dairy producer.

The state has also seen a 72 percent increase in farm-based beverage licenses since 2011, thanks in part to reforms enacted at the first Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit.

New York ranks high in many types of fruit and vegetable crops. It is the nation’s second largest apple producer behind Washington state. It is also second in maple, third in wine and grape juice production, and first in cabbage.

Other farmers named to the task force include Cathy Martin, co-owner of Martin Farms in Brockport, Monroe County; Ken Schmitt, retired vegetable farmer from Melville, Suffolk County; Dave Fisher, owner of Mapleview Dairy in Madrid, St. Lawrence County; and Tim Stanton, owner of Stanton’s Feura Farm and Markets in Feura Bush, Albany County.

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