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Cuomo’s budget reduces aid for Farm Viability Institute

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in 2012 that dairy farmers need to produce more milk to meet demand for Greek yogurt. But the governor’s proposed 2013 budget slashes funding for agricultural programs that could help farmers do so.

Funding for the New York Farm Viability Institute, a nonprofit organization that helps agriculture production enterprises, will be sliced from $1.2 million in 2012 to $400,000 under the plan. Funding for the North Country Agriculture Development Program, which received $500,000 last year, will be eliminated.

To Jay M. Matteson, Jefferson County agricultural coordinator, the loss of funding for these important farmer-led programs seems to indicate the governor doesn’t understand the true value they have for dairy farmers.

“In 2012, we heard how important it was to grow our industry,” he said. “But when you look at the budget, there’s not a real shining investment in growing the dairy industry. These programs make good decisions for farmers, and now we’re back to trying to find funding for them.”

Mr. Matteson said the New York Farm Viability Institute has developed several useful programs that have helped dairy farmers in the north country. In 2007, for example, Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp. secured a $115,000 grant to launch dairy profit teams to help farms develop stronger business plans. Agriculture experts on the dairy profit teams worked with seven farms under the program, and 12 jobs were created when farms expanded operations.

“We had farms that were able to increase their profitability and create jobs. They hired herd managers as a result of growth,” Mr. Matteson said.

Mr. Matteson said farmer-led agencies that develop research and grant programs need to continue to play a leading role.

The New York Farm Viability Institute “has been one of the best things to happen here in New York in the 23 years I’ve been in this business,” he said. “To see the funding keep being played around with like this is very frustrating.”

A year ago, the organization found itself in the same position as Cuomo’s proposed budget reduced its funding from $1.2 million to $400,000. The state Legislature restored the group’s funding to $1.2 million in April.

In 2011, Cuomo proposed eliminating the institute’s funding, but legislators kept the $1.2 million in the budget.

Sackets Harbor dairy farmer Ronald C. Robbins, an institute board member, said if the state cuts funding it will drastically hamper the group’s ability to launch programs for farmers.

“For the governor to talk about growing the dairy industry, the one place that’s vitally important for that to happen is applied research and education,” he said. “The institute will continue to be on the cutting edge of funding research that will have a direct impact on the dairy industry and other agriculture sectors. So we’re disappointed that it’s only $400,00, which just keeps the lights on. We’ve got to find a way to get the politics out of this funding for applied research. You can’t fund research with short- and long-term benefits with one foot on the gas and one on the brakes.”

Mr. Robbins said the institute’s board of directors now will seek to collaborate with state lawmakers to acquire the funding it needs to operate. Numerous farms in the north country have taken advantage of programs at the institute to expand.

“A lot of farms need help to take their business to the next level, utilizing their resources better, getting cutting-edge technology on the farms and keeping pace with issues that fall out of the sky — whether it’s insects or diseases,” he said.

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