By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
Millions of dollars have been announced for New York farms this month.
That's according to news releases from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.
In just the past few weeks, Cuomo announced three distinct sets of funding for the farming sector statewide, focusing on topics of energy efficiency, water quality, and farmers' markets.
Martin Kelly, president of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau, said Friday that it seems the governor is recognizing the effect of farms on the state's economy.
"I think he's trying to grow the economy through a proven industry and that's agriculture," Kelly said. "We are the largest economic industry in the state and I think that he is putting his money where the jobs are."
Part of that funding includes $406,842 for the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) for projects to help protect the state's lakes, streams and rivers from potential agricultural runoff.
The county's portion is part of a $12.2 million chunk of funding that the governor has set aside for this topic across the state.
"As people who work with the land every day, it's one of our major priorities to make sure we have a safe water supply for not only ourselves, but for our neighbors and communities," Kelly said. "I think it's great when there's funding like that."
Three specific farms in Montgomery County will be part of that funding program this year.
Corey Nellis, Montgomery County SWCD District Manager, said Friday that though the governor announced $406,000 for Montgomery County, the total allocation is actually at $562,000 for three farms in the county, going toward implementing various energy efficiency projects.
"Every year we have the Environmental Protection Fund through New York State and the districts apply for money through that through the Non-point Source Pollution Program and that's an annual program," Nellis said. "The governor actually put a little bit more money in that section for our farmers this year."
The process is competitive, Nellis said, bringing in nearly $26 million in applications this year, but only about half got funded.
It's a "well-supported" and "strong" program, Nellis said.
The farms that were funded this year include the Esh farm in the town of Root, the Cauwenberghs farm in the town of Canajoharie, and the Sammons farm in the town of Mohawk.
About 12 practices or projects will be implemented at the Root farm, including putting in an entirely new pasture system, fencing out the streams, putting in new access roads so there will be no erosion where the cattle walk, putting in a covered barnyard, and collecting milkhouse waste, among others.
At the Canajoharie farm, Nellis said although they are implementing about nine projects and practices, the main thing they will be doing is collecting clean water before it becomes contaminated.
And about nine similar projects will be done at the Mohawk farm.
Nellis said the county has consistently been funded since 1997 through this program, though last year was the one year they didn't get awarded a contract.
For the projects funded, about 75 percent of the costs will be covered by the state, while the landowner will pick up the final 25 percent.
Nellis said the funding is always put to what it's earmarked for.
"This money doesn't come in to our office and sit here," he said. "We're not using it for staffing people. That money goes out to the contractors, the farmers."
On top of funding for water quality project implementation, the governor also earmarked about $6.4 million for energy efficiency projects in the farming sector.
The Agriculture Energy Efficiency Program is administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and facilitates energy audits to help identify energy efficiency measures for farms, the news release details.
Similar to the water quality program, the energy efficiency program provides 75 percent of the funding to implement electricity and gas efficiency projects on farms and at on-farm producers.
"I think having something that will help reduce our energy costs and at the same time make us more energy efficient is a great thing for anyone who takes the time to track down funding for it," Kelly said about the program.
Cuomo has also announced about $285,000 in funding for the FreshConnect Farmers' Market Program, a program aimed at brining fresh food from New York farms to underserved communities in the state.
The program carries underneath it about five smaller programs, like the FreshConnect Farmers' Market Grant Program.
Kelly said he's heard a little bit about the program and feels it would be something to allow the community to have more access to local produce.
"That's a big thing right now with consumers. That's a big concern of consumers and the community to know where their food's coming from," Kelly said, adding later that although he hasn't heard of a local market specifically going for a market grant, it is a great resource at their disposal.
Steve Ammerman, New York Farm Bureau Public Affairs Manager, said that farmers do play a role in helping their communities and feeding their neighbors.
"It also provide a new market opportunity for our farmers, as well," he said.
Ammerman said depending on the program would determine how extensive the applications are.
Sand Flats Orchard owner Jim Hoffman said he has heard a little bit about the funding, and programs like the energy efficiency program do seem like interesting ones to apply for.
"If I could upgrade and get new coolers, or updated cooler ... systems, that might be of interest to me," he said.
But applying for state and federal funding opportunities aren't always the easiest, he said.
Kelly said that with many government programs, there is a lot of red tape and the process "is a very slow process."
"You have to often times jump through many hoops," he added.
But he said they are all still appreciative that the governor is recognizing the importance of agriculture and its effect on the economy and the communities throughout New York.
"If there are ever any questions about applying for grants and things, we definitely field phone calls and questions to point them (farmers) in the direction to go to help expedite the process."