Programs and policies that support agriculture have evolved considerably over the past four decades. At the federal level, there has been a significant shift from farm price support programs to risk management programs, including crop insurance.
State programs have also evolved. At one time the primary state focus was to provide support to its Land Grant University and related cooperative extension service. Over the years, states became involved in agriculture promotion programs, market development efforts and a wide variety of economic development initiatives intended to benefit all agriculture or focused on specific industry sectors. While state policymakers should continue those efforts that have been successful and have strong farm support, I suggest they also consider these more fundamental issues to support Northeast agriculture:
- Public sector costs and regulations – Northeast farmers deal in a global marketplace and are generally price-takers, not price-makers. Regulatory burdens, fees and taxes that are higher in Northeast states compared to competition in Pennsylvania, Ohio or Michigan, reduce our region’s farmers’ chances to be successful. At the very least, states should address the property tax burden so that Northeast farmers don’t pay more than the per-acre national average for property tax and ensure that regulations and state laws do not put the region’s farmers at a competitive disadvantage.
- Applied research – supporting applied research that addresses specific regional production and processing problems and helps farmers deal with real life challenges can be a good investment, and a necessary one to be competitive with farmers from other states.
- Neighbors and communities – with non-farm neighbors’ proximity to farms, we need to continue to develop awareness and acceptance of agricultural practices. Groups like the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition and many county Farm Bureaus are working to develop stronger farmer and non-farm community relations. It seems this will become increasingly important in the future. At the same time, local governmental entities need to recognize the value of maintaining a strong agriculture community with strong right to farm laws.
A strong agriculture industry is a win-win for the consumer and our proximity to customers is a great advantage for Northeast agriculture. By buying local food and horticultural products, consumers enjoy fresh, high quality products, and these purchases further support jobs and the regional economy.