American Farmland Trust’s Statement on Governor Hochul’s Proposed FY25 Executive Budget
AFT Urges Support to Protect Farmland to a New Generation of Farmers, and Incentivize Farm to School in New York
American Farmland Trust (AFT) is grateful for Gov. Kathy Hochul’s leadership in the proposed FY25 executive budget to fund programs that support New York farmers and keep land in agriculture, providing benefits to all New Yorkers.
AFT was encouraged by Gov. Hochul’s continued support for farm to school initiatives, including funding the 30 percent Farm to School Reimbursement Incentive Program at $10 million and the Farm to School Grants Program at $1.5 million. However, the 30 percent reimbursement program remains inaccessible for most School Food Authorities (SFAs) across the state, with only 7 percent of total state SFAs having participated in this program since 2018. In a recent research report jointly authored by AFT and National Farm to School Network, over 70 percent of SFAs surveyed indicated they would purchase more local foods from New York farmers, producers, food hubs, and distributors if breakfast was included in the program.
Additionally, 70 percent of the 57 SFAs who qualified for the 30 percent reimbursement incentive in 2023 will receive a lower reimbursement than the anticipated 25 cents per lunch due to a change in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) threshold, which provides students access to state-funded meals. As a result, the 30 percent reimbursement for these schools has been lowered, disincentivizing them from purchasing local foods from New York farmers, when these programs could be working hand-in-hand. AFT looks forward to working closely with the legislature to amend the 30 percent language to address these challenges and ensure that students not only have access to funded school meals, but that the food served is healthy, and bolsters the state’s economy and supports New York farmers.
AFT applauds the governor’s ongoing support of New York’s farmers and farmland. In 2023, Gov. Hochul, in collaboration with the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets, announced funding to permanently protect over 4,000 acres awarded through the state’s Farmland Protection program, which will bring the total acres of farmland permanently protected to 113,000. However, AFT was concerned to see a proposed decrease in funding for farmland protection from $21 million to $18.25 million. We also oppose the proposed $25 million offload of state agency costs within the $400 million Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), taking funds directly away from environmental and community programs, such as the farmland protection program.
Though New York has made strides in protecting its agricultural land, we have only permanently protected approximately two percent of our total farmland. New York loses an average of 50 acres of farmland per day, or the equivalent of two farms in New York each week. With this rapid rate of farmland loss, which is critical to New York’s food supply, environmental health, and economy, as well as the rising cost of farmland, AFT looks forward to working with the legislature to secure $25 million for the state’s Farmland Protection program, as part of a $400 million EPF that does not include the proposed offload to state agencies. This investment is vital to not only increase the amount of farmland available for a new generation of farmers, but to capitalize on the additional benefits of protected farmland, such as improved soil, air, and water quality, strong local economies and job opportunities, and a more resilient food and fiber system.
AFT strongly believes that keeping farmers on the land is crucial to ensure our farmland remains productive and resilient. We were disappointed that the proposed executive budget did not include funding for the Farmland for a New Generation (FNG-NY) program. FNG-NY is a proven program, coordinated by AFT in partnership with the State of New York, agricultural organizations, land trusts, and others – that helps farmers seeking land and landowners who want to keep their land in farming. Over the past five years, this program has had an outsized impact, supporting 33 Regional Navigators annually who have helped to facilitate 148 matches between retiring farmers and a new, more diverse generation of farmers, and keeping more than 9,000 acres in farming.
AFT is grateful for our legislative champions who continue to fight for this program. We remain hopeful that the legislature and Gov. Hochul will work together to ensure this program is funded at $850,000 to continue its impact on ensuring that older farmers who are looking to transfer their land are supported in doing so, and new and beginning farmers are able to navigate the many challenges of acquiring a farm, including legal, financial, and technical support. This is especially important so we can increase equitable access to farmland, which has proven a true challenge for new, beginning, and historically resilient farmers from BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities. With increased funding, AFT is poised to expand its reach to a growing number of Spanish-speaking farmers and farm owners, and to work with Regional Navigators to better serve farmers in Spanish across the state.
If enacted, these actions and investments will help farmers access more local market opportunities and feed kids healthy, locally grown food, protect more of New York’s valuable farmland resources, and support a new generation of farmers to steward the land.
American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 7.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.