HUDSON — Dozens of state lawmakers wrapped up a two-day farm tour Thursday ready to advocate for additional funding in next year’s budget to support state agriculture and pursue legislation to aid agricultural processors.
The third annual farm tour, spearheaded by Assemblyman Chris Tague’s office, featured stops at seven Greene County farms Wednesday. Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin and about 60 lawmakers attended stops on the first day. Roughly 40 representatives visited farms Thursday.
Tague, R-Schoharie, sits on the chamber’s Agriculture Committee. A former dairy farmer, Tague started the tour so representatives from across New York and urban areas could understand the issues impacting the state’s agricultural industry and its trickle-down effects on tourism, hunger and public health.
“It’s beyond what I could have imagined,” Tague said of the well-attended tour. “A lot of great questions were asked, there’s been a lot of great interaction between farmers and members.”
Farmers at each stop, including apple and tree growers, dairy farmers and others, cited the industry’s labor shortage and issues holding up meat processing with a deficit of facilities to process products in compliance with differing federal and state standards.
“Employment and processing of meats and dairy are a serious problem in the state of New York,” Tague said. “We discussed potential solutions after our meetings — we will have to sit and come up with solutions next session. We need to come up with some answers with regards to environmental conservation and the agricultural community.”
Tague stressed the need for a balance between protecting the environment and fighting climate change while making changes that are cost-effective for struggling farmers.
A group of about 40 legislators stopped at New York Hemp Service & Hudson Valley Fisheries for lunch and a tour Thursday afternoon.
The Columbia County facility, located in Greenport in Hudson’s outskirts, contains 130 acres of fields, 160,000 square feet of greenhouses, and 12,000 square feet of true indoor cultivation space for its hemp operations.
The local fish farm raises wild Steelhead Trout, a cousin of salmon, without the use of antibiotics, hormones or pesticides and are not contaminated with mercury, micro-plastics and other heavy metals.
The farm composts its fish feces for use in its hemp fields, and has plans for its other waste.
“We have unique ways of culturing hemp,” said John Ng, president and founder of New York Hemp Service & Hudson Valley Fisheries. “The water that we discharge helps furtigate the hemp... and in the future as we finish development of our greenhouses, we can even ventilate the carbon dioxide the fish exhale, which we have to get out of the water and put oxygen back in and we can ventilate that into the greenhouse for the plants to capture the carbon and actually conserve heat.
“As far as I know I’m pretty unique — I can’t think of too many operations out there that utilizes the waste as we do.”
Ng’s family owns metal recycling company Fortune Metal Group, based in Brooklyn with 19 other facilities throughout the U.S.
Agriculture Committee Chair Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, highlighted the fragility of state food supply chains as agricultural businesses and rural communities struggle — especially of challenges posed by the COVID pandemic.
Hinchey is eager to secure more funding in the 2022-23 state budget to increase farmers’ access to agricultural processors and make processing licenses more cost-effective.
This week’s tour helps lawmakers from across the state see the need for a robust budget that supports New York farms, she said.
“Food isn’t political or partisan,” Hinchey said. “Not every conversation may form one piece of legislation, but it will help us fight in the budget. It will help us say, ‘Remember when you saw this farm, and you heard this issue with labor, or you saw this challenge?’ we can solve that by having a better agricultural budget.”
“If we can have more people be here seeing it, recognizing the importance of the upstate agricultural market and strengthening the ties, that’s a massive win for agriculture across the state,” she added.
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Hudson, a member of the Agriculture Committee, cited New York’s role in growing a significant portion of the nation’s food supply.
“This is the breadbasket of America,” Barrett said. “Our small and mid-sized farms are the future of agriculture in every way. ... We have created a system in this country where food doesn’t cost at the market what it really costs to produce.”
Lawmakers need to explore ways to support the agricultural labor force, Barrett said. The Hudson Valley assemblywoman attended both days of the tour, and noted the benefit of upstate and downstate lawmakers from both sides of the aisle coming together to better understand the industry.
“To see and hear the answers together is really important when we go forward into session to be able to support the agricultural sector,” she said.