On March 9, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas held a field hearing in Saranac Lake, New York. It was the first of a series to be held throughout March and April to gather input in advance of writing the 2012 Farm Bill. Members heard testimony from producers in the northeastern United States on the future of farm policy. New York is home to a range of agricultural industries, and it is among the nation’s top producers of a variety of specialty crops and dairy products. The hearing focused on policies impacting those industries in particular.

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Here are excerpts of testimony presented during the hearing:

“For dairy producers, the ongoing discussion of dairy reform is of particular importance … while I do not expect unanimity among dairy industry participants, I do encourage all industry participants – producers and processors alike – to find some level of consensus regarding the type of reform that is needed.

"The exact nature of the reform we include in the next farm bill will rely heavily on the input we receive today and in future hearings.


"While there are several proposals that have been introduced, and we have had some level of agreement on a starting point for discussion, we do not claim to have all of the answers. With your help and guidance, we would hope to develop a comprehensive package of reforms, which are fiscally responsible and balanced with regards to size and region.”
Frank Lucas
House Ag Committee Chairman

“As we look forward, it is imperative to remember that we are in a new paradigm of higher feed prices. So as policy makers and farmers, we need to keep this in mind as we build our farm business plans as well as formulate policy.

"It is also important to remember that while 2009 was a horrible experience for all of us, we cannot set policy for the next five (or 50) years based solely on one year, but rather look at long-term trends.

“Before I close, I would not be doing my job if I did not at least mention the need for labor in agriculture (not just dairy).

"One of the most serious issues facing farmers today is the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed youth agricultural labor regulations … similarly, if there is to be an E-Verify bill, there needs to be an agricultural guest-worker component. Overall, we need immigration reform and H-2a reform.”
Eric Ooms, dairy producer, partner
Adrian Ooms and Sons, Inc., Old Chatham, New York

“Margin insurance, promoted and partially subsidized by the federal government, would be very helpful in weathering the bumps in the road that disrupt normal market pricing.

"In fact, sometimes (as in 2009) these ‘bumps’ are more like a boulder in the field you’re plowing, a small seismic shake, or even a widespread earthquake that threatens the foundation of an entire industry. As a young dairy producer, I will never forget the financial hardship of 2009.”
Jeremy Verratti, dairy and crop producer
Verratti Farms, LLC, Gasport, New York

“The 2008 Farm Bill finally included permanent disaster assistance programs that should be continued in 2012. Farmers need some assurance of protection when a catastrophic disaster strikes.

"Ad hoc assistance is too uncertain – especially in the current budget environments in Washington, D.C. and the states – and often takes too long to access.”
Michele Ledoux, beef producer
Adirondack Beef Company, Croghan, New York

“Rather than offering just one solution, dairy policy must be multi-faceted: it must refocus existing farm-level safety nets; create a new program to protect farmers against low margins; and establish a way to better balance dairy supply and demand.”
Neal Rea, dairy producer, chairman
Agri-Mark Dairy Cooperative, Salem, New York

more_mark “Conservation is an important piece of the Farm Bill and New York farmers have worked hard to meet extremely lofty federal and state standards. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) has provided critical funding and has helped leverage state and local monies to make sure farmers in the state continue to meet ever-increasing standards.

“During these difficult economic times, l know there will be cuts in the Farm Bill, so I think it is important for Congress to focus its conservation efforts on working lands programs, like EQIP and the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, over the easement and land retirement type programs.

"Keeping vital and productive lands in production and protecting the environment at the same time should be our goals when funds are limited.”
Larry Eckhardt, vegetable, field crop and beef producer, president
Kinderhook Creek Farm, Inc, Stephentown, New York

“The specialty crop title of the farm bill was an important addition to the last bill and I hope this remains. The Northeast is mostly made up of specialty crop producers and this recognition is helpful to the success of farming in our areas.

"The Specialty Crops research initiative, the Agricultural Research Service, IPM programs, and Block Grants are all very important for grapes and other fruit and vegetable crops.”
Scott Osborn, wine grape producer, president
Fox Run Vineyard, Inc., Penn Yan, New York

“With the expected movement in the 2012 Farm Bill toward a reliance on insurance products and away from direct and counter cyclical payments, there needs to be a thoughtful discussion about the crop insurance needs in the specialty crop industry.

"For specialty crop growers, annual planting decisions are based upon market indicators. There is a significant risk of distorting or destabilizing markets when an incentive exists to make planting decisions based on crop or revenue insurance instead of those market indicators.”
Ralph Child, seed potato and leafy greens producer
Malone, New York

“Exports are extremely important to the apple industry, with nearly 30 percent of the fresh crop destined for overseas markets. While our company only exports a small portion of our crop, a strong export market strengthens domestic prices for growers nationwide. For many growers in New York, the export market represents a significant portion of their business.

“The apple industry strongly supports the Market Access Program (MAP), which has helped level the playing field as we compete with countries such as China and Chile that have a much lower cost of production.” PD
Adam Sullivan, apple producer
Sullivan Orchards, Peru, New York more_mark