March 9, 2012
On March 9, the House Agriculture Committee held the first of four Farm Bill field hearings in Saranac Lake, New York. The state is fifth in the nation in specialty crop production and a major dairy state, so the hearing included the concerns of dairy farmers and specialty crop farmers. The transcripts of witness testimony are on the website for the field hearings.
The benefits to farmers of local food markets was a major feature of the hearing. Representative Bill Owens (D-NY), in whose congressional district the hearing was held, is a co-sponsor of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. A coalition of groups in the northern New York district, including The Adirondack Council, Adirondack Harvest, Adirondack North Country Association, and others, endorsed the bill and urged its adoption as part of the 2012 Farm Bill.
Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), chief House sponsor of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, asked farmers on the first panel about the opportunities arising from local food markets.
Ms. Michele Ledoux, a beef producer with the Adirondack Beef Company, markets beef at the Central New York Farmers Market and is considering the transition to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription farm to market both beef and eggs. She received a Farmers Market Promotion Program grant, which helped her produce and market her beef as natural beef, raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones. She noted that direct marketing of her beef provided her with a higher price, adding that local food production increased the viability and profitability of farmers like hers. She urged the panel to renew the program’s funding in the next Farm Bill.
Ms. Ledoux also recommended that Congress continue to fund programs that serve beginning farmers and ranchers by helping them with resources, training, education, and loans. Representative Pingree pointed out that as younger farmers have seen the opportunities of local food production in Maine, the number of farms is increasing and the average age of farmers is decreasing.
The dairy farmers on the first panel also spoke up for local food. Neal Rea, chairman of the Agri-Mark dairy cooperative, noted that the cooperative’s Cabot Creamery brand cheese was favored by many customers who “love local food” and seek out products produced in the Northeast region.
The second panel, comprised of New York farmers producing fruits and vegetables, also spoke in favor of local food. Larry Eckhardt, a vegetable, field crop and beef producer testified in favor of the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, the Farmers Market Promotion Program, and support for programs that helped create food distribution networks and provided grants for food-based entrepreneurship programs. He also supported programs for organic certification and organic research.
Scott Osborn, a wine grape grower supported research programs for a wide variety of specialty crops. In addition, he urged the panel to reform crop insurance to better serve specialty crop producers. Apple producer Adam Sullivan pointed to the work of USDA research and extension in enabling the state’s apple industry to thrive.
In related news, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, signed on as a co-sponsor of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act on March 9. You can look to see whether your Representative and Senators are on the bill on this Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act co-sponsor page.