American Farmland Trust presented testimony at a Joint Legislative Hearing on New York’s 2014-2105 Executive Budget Proposal held on January 29th in Albany, urging the State Legislature to increase funding for the Farmland Protection Program and the Environmental Protection Fund, beyond the modest increases proposed by Governor Cuomo in his Executive Budget, released January 21.
The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) is a dedicated source of funding for investment in critical environmental programs that protect drinking water, working farms, state parks, and wildlife habitat. The state’s Farmland Protection Program, which provides money to aid communities in supporting agriculture and conserving farmland as well as for the purchase of development rights on farmland, is funded through the EPF. In his Executive Budget, Governor Cuomo proposed increasing the EPF from $153 million to $157 million and the Farmland Protection Program from $13 million to $14 million in State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2014-2015.
“We appreciate Governor Cuomo’s recognition of the need to expand funding for the Farmland Protection Program and the Environmental Protection Fund,” said Laura Ten Eyck, AFT’s Senior Manager of New York Projects and Outreach, who testified before members of the assembly and senate, committees on agriculture, environmental conservation and finance/ways and means. “However, the funding proposed is capable of satisfying only a small fraction of the demand for state farmland conservation funds from Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, North Country, Western New York and other regions of the state.”
AFT is asking the State Legislature to support increasing funding for the state’s Farmland Protection Program in SFY 2014-2015 to $25 million. This increase would enable the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to offer a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for the program for the first time since 2008, initiating new permanent farmland protection projects in the upcoming fiscal year.
Agriculture is a strong part of New York State’s economy with enormous potential for growth. Yet, the farmland that provides the foundation for this economic activity is often taken for granted. New York has lost more than 425,000 acres of farmland to poorly planned development since the 1980s. As farmland is fragmented by development it becomes increasingly difficult for the state’s farmers to meet the demand for agricultural products such as locally grown fruits and vegetables sought after by consumers and milk required to feed the state’s booming Greek yogurt industry. In addition, farmland, which generates more in tax revenue than it consumes in public services, plays a vital to controlling escalating property taxes.
In order to provide increased funding for the Farmland Protection Program as well as invest in numerous other important environmental programs, the State Legislature needs to work to increase funding for the EPF to $200 million. The $4 million increase Governor Cuomo has proposed would bring the EPF up to $157 million. This is an excellent step forward but, at a level 38 percent less than funding prior to the fiscal crisis of 2008, it is simply not enough. Unfortunately, even as the state’s economy and fiscal situation have been recovering, New York’s investment in the EPF has not kept up. The people of New York State expect more to be done to protect the state’s threatened land and water resources.
A recent public opinion survey of New York voters conducted by Global Strategies Group, funded by The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land, the Open Space Institute, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows that the majority of voters statewide support increasing funding for the EPF and recognize the good it does for our communities.
New Yorkers are ready to invest more in protecting the environment and preserving natural resources such as clean drinking water and the irreplaceable farmland that forms the foundation of the state’s robust agricultural economy. It is time to start protecting farms again in New York State!