New York State Budget Empowers Farmers in the Fight Against Climate Change
I remember being taught in grade school that farms produce food, fiber, and fuel. I think it’s time we make an overdue addition to what we teach kids about agriculture – future. Farmers are at the forefront of the fight against climate change, implementing innovative practices to help them weather increasingly frequent challenges like flooding, drought, and pest pressure while simultaneously building healthy soils capable of sequestering carbon and protecting water resources. Unlike almost any other sector, agriculture has the potential to produce net neutral greenhouse gas emissions.
Farmers inspire me, but perhaps more importantly – they bring me hope for the future. Not only does New York agriculture provide the food we need to survive and thrive, it is a hotbed of experimentation and research blending new technologies like renewable energy and alternative animal feeds with historic land stewardship and cultivation practices, many of which originated with Native Americans, the African diaspora, and other BIPOC and historically marginalized, yet resilient, farmers. Day in and day out, New York farms and farmers are finding new ways to grow a better future for us all, which is why it’s vital to support them by ensuring land is available and affordable, helping to bring a diverse new generation of farmers onto the land, investing in climate adaptation and mitigation projects, and building resilient local and regional food systems.
Fortunately, New York leaders and lawmakers included historic levels of funding in the FY23 state budget to work towards these goals and secure a vibrant, resilient future for New York agriculture!
State Budget Wins
#1: Keeping Farmland Available and Affordable
Farmland protection funding was increased to a record $21 million as part of a historic $400 million Environmental Protection Fund. Based on the average cost of farmland protection and farm size in New York, this funding could help 32 more farm families permanently protect their farms from development. Farmland protection funds help farmers invest in the current and future viability of their beloved farms by enabling them to make capital upgrades, pay off debt, and/or retire and transfer their farm to the next generation. Participation in farmland protection programs has also been shown to encourage the adoption of new and additional climate-friendly conservation practices, many of which sequester carbon while improving soil health, water and air quality, and farm viability when adopted long term.
The governor and the legislature also reauthorized and increased the now $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act, which will appear on the ballot before New York voters this November. If approved by voters like you, this once-in-a-generation investment will invest at least $150 million in farmland protection and fund a broad range of projects to improve New York’s climate resilience and water quality while creating jobs.
#2: Supporting a Diverse New Generation of Farmers
Thanks to champions in the legislature, funding was maintained at $500,000 for Farmland for a New Generation New York, a nation-leading farmland access and transition program coordinated by AFT in partnership with the state of New York that helps existing, new, and beginning farmers match with landowners. The program’s network of 34 Regional Navigators – including CCE offices, land trusts, and agricultural nonprofits – have provided virtual and in-person coaching, training, and one-on-one support to nearly 2,300 farmers and facilitated 91 matches of farmers to 4,345 acres of land since 2018!
This year, the state budget also included $5 million to provide grants to beginning and historically marginalized, yet resilient, farmers. These are important steps towards justice in the agricultural sector by addressing the major challenges BIPOC and other historically resilient farmers have faced growing successful farm businesses in the state.
#3: Helping Farmers Build Climate Resiliency
The Environmental Protection Fund included $14.5 million for Soil and Water Conservation Districts and more than tripled the Climate Resilient Farming Grants program funding to $16.75 million. This funding will help provide farmers with the technical and financial assistance they need to implement projects that reduce GHG emissions, build soil health, and improve water quality and efficiency. The Environmental Bond Act also includes $100 million for climate adaptation and resiliency projects that would further fuel these efforts and help New York implement many of the strategies included in the Climate Scoping Plan (Public comments are being accepted through June 10, 2022).
#4: Supporting Healthy Kids and Local Farms
New York also continues to invest in our nation–leading farm to school programs – the Farm to School Reimbursement Incentive and the Farm to School Grants program were funded again this year at $10 million and $1.5 million respectively. The New York Grown Food for New York Kids Coalition worked hard to expand the refund incentive to include all school meals, not just lunch, and will continue to push for this critical change in next year’s budget. Expanding the program will make it easier for more schools to participate, ensuring that more New York kids have access to healthy local food throughout the school day!
We are filled with gratitude for the many leaders and organizations who made these outcomes possible.
We thank Governor Hochul, Commissioner Ball, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Senator Hinchey, Senator Kaminsky, Senator May, Senator Mayer, Assembly Speaker Heastie, Assemblywoman Lupardo, Assemblyman Englebright, Assemblywoman Woerner, Assemblyman Benedetto, and all of their staff for negotiating a final budget with strong funding for programs that save the land that sustains us.
We also thank our fantastic partners across the state: farmers, farm and environmental organizations, land trusts, schools, and so many others who worked alongside us to advocate for these programs and work tirelessly every day to build a more resilient farm and food future for New York.
We offer heartfelt thanks to our farmers, farmworkers, school food service providers, and other food service workers who continue to persevere in the face of ongoing challenges to keep us fed.
Finally, we thank you for taking action at key moments by calling and writing your state representatives to let them know what these programs mean to you and your community. Lawmakers cannot act for the people without hearing from the people – the time you took to communicate with them was impactful, meaningful, and appreciated.
We look forward to working alongside you all to keep saving the land that sustains us in New York. Please stay tuned for future opportunities to join us in speaking up for New York’s farms!