by Steven E Smith
“Here in Upstate New York, our agricultural industry is just hours from one of the largest appetites in the country. While Upstate economy is uneasy, it is the economic engine of agriculture that can be a difference maker,” stated the NY State Acting Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets Richard Ball. Ball was the featured speaker at the SUNY Cobleskill 2nd Presidents Roundtable Breakfast hosted by Acting President Debra Thatcher on April 2. Ball, who was named to the position at the beginning of 2014, shared some of actions that the department is taking to enable the state’s agricultural industry.
Acting Commissioner Ball shared his vision for actions that the department will be taking in the coming months. “We plan to have follow up summits regarding the topics of dairy processing as well as on wines and spirits. We recognize that the New York market is growing in the both these sectors and that we can bring the right people together to advance these opportunities.” The summits will serve to bring leaders from the producer, processor and consumer sectors together to determine what barriers to marketing exist as well as where government representatives need to improve legislation and the government’s involvement in these sectors.
SILO task force
With a grin, the acting Commissioner made humor that he had “created his first governmental acronym.” SILO, which stands for Strategic Interagency Lessening of Obstacles, is a new task force that will serve to make government oversight from the different governmental agencies more business friendly to the New York farms. “As a farmer, I know first-hand what it is like to interact with government agencies. This task force will include state agency representatives joined by a group of eight to 10 farmers from across the agricultural sectors in the state.” The task force’s purpose is to find ways to improve the interactions between farmers and state agencies bringing them around the proverbial conference table in order to streamline the regulation processes. Ball explained while silos are important on farms it is not so regarding governmental agency because with isolationist mentalities, agencies operate too independent of one another. This sort of silo limits interagency coordination and results in redundancy. New York’s farmers need not be bogged down in repetitive bureaucratic interactions stated Ball.
Upstate and downstate opportunities will mean connecting the dots
Acting commissioner Ball cited the immense opportunities available to upstate New York. “From experience, in Schoharie County in 2010, a group of South Bronx residents decided they wanted to develop a different consumer supported agriculture CSA model by purchasing a farm and producing their own crops. The group purchased 100 acres in northern Schoharie County that is not a part of the fertile alluvial flood plain of the Schoharie Creek. After experiencing the challenges of being successful at crop production, the group sought the advice of Ball and other local agricultural producers. It turns out the CSA members while living just outside the nation’s largest food distribution terminal Hunt’s Point have limited grocery style access to food. By working with 40 different farms from around the Schoharie Valley, Ball explained that the CSA is now sourcing their products from their new Upstate partners. Ball stated, “With a population density of roughly 31,000 people per square mile, there are many more opportunities to connect New York farmers to nearby consumers.” Ball summed this up with a phrase he had used a few times through the morning, reiterated that whether you are a New York Farmer or New York City consumer, “It’s really all about the food.”
During the discussion session that followed the Commissioner’s remarks, numerous leaders from the agricultural community brought questions and comments to the department leader. New York Assemblyman Peter Lopez shared in the enthusiasm of enhancing the link between upstate producers and down state consumers. Lopez, who was recently invited to participate in the Black and Puerto Rican caucus shared in the interest to connect the upstate and downstate market by bringing fellow legislators to tour upstate agriculture. Acting Commissioner Ball shared his commitment to work with legislative representatives and their constituents to increase opportunities for New York agriculture to its fellow state residents.
The State Executive Director for Farm Service Agency, James Barber, a fellow farmer from the Schoharie Valley commented in the importance of helping to usher in the next generation of farmers in New York.
Acting Commissioner Ball agreed with Barber and his interest in promoting the new generation taking the reins as owners and leaders of New York Farms through the resources from Farm Service Agency, a strong Farm Credit system and the guidance of groups including FarmNet and FarmLink.
Earlier in the talk, Ball explained how much he values agricultural education and that he was optimistic that the state government’s recent on-time budget including support for agricultural education at a number for levels from high school Ag education and the FFA to colleges such as SUNY Cobleskill and Cornell University. Ball stressed the importance of projects like Ag Literacy, Ag in the classroom in the downstate as well as upstate education system because from Ball’s perspective there are many of our fellow residents here even in rural New York who lack a basic understanding of where their food comes from.
For New York’s agricultural industry, the State Department of Agriculture and Markets will continue to assist in the connection of agricultural producers to its current consumers as well as establishing new markets. In the role as Acting State Commissioner of Ag, Richard Ball is posed to serve the New York agricultural community due in part to his strong background in farmer and a leader who will strive to advance the sectors of New York Agriculture industry to its consumer base.
Acting Commissioner Ball speaks on New York Ag opportunities
by Steven E Smith