New York farmers have benefited from millions of dollars of state support during the coronavirus pandemic, and more help remains available.

Nourish NY, which buys surplus ag products for food assistance programs, has funded 16 million pounds of fresh milk.

Almost $13 million of the $25 million allocated this spring has been used so far.

The plan was designed to mitigate farmers’ loss of food service markets and help the people who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The program could help New York milk stay in the state for processing.

“We definitely need to connect our food banks with dairy processors that exist right in our state,” said Jennifer Trodden, the deputy ag commissioner. “Prior to Nourish NY, they had relationships with dairy processors, but not necessarily those right here in the state.”

New York has also started offering free on-farm COVID-19 testing for ag workers in the counties with the highest number of out-of-state harvesters.

The state has found that many outbreaks are related to out-of-state workers, Trodden said.

The counties where the testing will be offered are Genesee, Orleans and Wayne in western New York, Clinton in the state’s northeast corner, and Ulster in the Hudson Valley.

Testing is voluntary, but farms should still have a plan to house workers who need to be isolated, and a strategy for supplementing the farm workforce if need be, Trodden said in a recent virtual meeting with the state Dairy Promotion Order Advisory Board.

Farmers may sign up for the program at bit.ly/nyfarmtesting

The board provides input to the ag commissioner on how to use $15 million from dairy producers for marketing and research.

Trodden praised the board’s decision this summer to spend $475,000 to launch a competition for the development of new consumer dairy products.

“We have the opportunity to make some decisions for the development of future projects and products that could be developed, if not this year, then next year or the following year,” Trodden said.

Dairy is important to New York, where the $2.5 billion in farm milk sales accounts for nearly half of the state’s farm receipts.

Ag Commissioner Richard Ball recently sent a letter to the head of the federal Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to ban plant-based beverages from being called milk.

Dairy groups have been pushing for the change as an attempt to outflank the growing competition from soy, almond and oat products.

“We haven’t given up the fight,” Trodden said. “We still feel very steadfast in our thinking that nondairy products that are passing themselves off as milk and are significantly nutritionally inferior should not be called milk.”

Lancaster Farming

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