Assembly members criticize Assembly for lack of agriculture funding

Robbins Family Farm harvests hay last fall on Old Rome State Road. Several upstate Assembly members are upset that their house’s budget plan cuts agriculture funding. Photo by Justin Sorensen, Watertown Daily Times.

Robbins Family Farm harvests hay last fall on Old Rome State Road. Several upstate Assembly members are upset that their house’s budget plan cuts agriculture funding. Photo by Justin Sorensen, Watertown Daily Times.

A few Assembly members aren’t too happy with agriculture’s place in their chamber’s budget.

Among others, Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, is calling out the Assembly for giving little support to agriculture amid spending increases.

Mirroring budget trends of the last few years, the Assembly’s budget restores around $3.4 million in farm programs whereas the Senate’s budget restores around $12 million to over three times as many farm programs.

Mr. Blankenbush called the Assembly’s farm cuts a “punch in the gut.”

“Not only is it insulting that our agriculture community was so poorly funded in a budget that doubled the spending cap, but embarrassing that upstate leaders would approve of this proposal,” Mr. Blankenbush said. “They chose the agenda of their downstate political bosses over the needs of their hardworking neighbors.”

Mr. Blankenbush said he will support the farming provisions provided in the Senate budget as negotiations continue.

Other Assembly members have also voiced concerns. Assembly Agriculture Committee Chairman William D. Magee, D-Nelson, said in a joint budget conference last week that the Assembly budget didn’t go as far as it should have to restore agriculture funding, and his remarks were echoed by Assembly members Clifford W. Crouch, R-Bainbridge and Carrie Woermer, D-Round Lake.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, was less concerned by the budget allocations, noting she is “confident” agriculture spending will return to adequate levels in the final budget due at the end of next week.

A particular Russell-backed program that saw funding restoration in the Assembly budget but not in the Senate budget was the state’s Farm-to-School program. The Assembly allocated $300,000 to the program, which Mrs. Russell has a history of advocating.

Mrs. Russell wants additional funding for the program so the north country can start its own pilot Farm-to-School program. Reimbursement rates for schools would be changed from six cents per meal to 25 cents per meal acquired by a local farm. The rate would also depend on the amount of food schools purchase from farms each year.

“… it is clear there is still a need for additional monies — several hundred thousand dollars — to get those local products in our school cafeterias by the next school year,” she said in a release. “Our vibrant agricultural community and high needs schools in the North Country make us an ideal region to launch a pilot program.”

By Brian Molongoski, Watertown Daily Times