Equine enthusiast corrals Farm Bureau members for Right to Farm communities

CEW-MR-2-Right to farm272by Pat Malin

LIVERPOOL, NY — Hans Mobius networked at the recent New York State Farm Bureau conference as if he were a fresh-faced rookie running for his first public office. Although he’s a battle-hardened political veteran, he still brings an eager approach to his campaign.

A voting delegate and farmer from Erie County, Mobius is a staunch advocate of Farm Bureau membership. To further confirm the strength in numbers theory, he presses members to join Right to Farm communities. Despite its ominous legalese name, he believes a right to farm law brings welcome attention to local farms.

“I’ve signed up 23 of the 25 towns in Erie County,” he boasted during a lunch break at the Holiday Inn. “We would like to get Buffalo on board, but it’s a city, not a town.” At the national Farm Bureau conference in Salt Lake City, he said he succeeded in passing out pamphlets to 1,000  farmers.

Mobius boards horses and grows hay on Maple Row Farm in the Town of Clarence. He is also a former Erie County president, so he knows a bit about politicking. Mobius grabbed the ear of as many farmers as possible at the New York State Farm Bureau conference at the Holiday Inn in Syracuse. He explained that by establishing right to farm committees in every county, it gives farmers a voice at town board meetings.

According to his pamphlet, the Right to Farm Law has many advantages. “The committee oversees land use conflicts and acts to preserve agricultural law,” it says.

“The Right to Farm Committee is used as a planning tool by the town, promoting farms as a preferred land use, thereby increasing the importance of agriculture in the town,” it adds.

“Placement of signs at the town edges signify that the town values agriculture.”

Every time a right to farm sign gets placed on a farm, Mobius calls in the local media, which in turn  increases awareness and brings in more customers for the delighted farmers.

Multiple state regulations baffle farmers

Franklin County farmers Jo Ellen Saumier and Kirby Selkirk must have read Dean Norton’s mind even before he addressed some 400 attendees at the annual New York Farm Bureau conference.

Part of the Farm Bureau president’s presentation dealt with the plethora of overlapping state regulations that unnecessarily confuse and hinder farmers.

As Saumier explained, “We’re governed by the Department of Health as well as the Department of Agriculture and Markets.” And each department has a different set of rules. “For example, when we sell eggs at the farmer’s market, the health department says they have to be kept at 40 degrees, while Ag and Markets tells us it’s supposed to be 45 degrees.”

Saumier and Selkirk, sheep farmers from Chateaugay in northern New York, attended the conference to listen to the debates over various Farm Bureau resolutions, especially those dealing with food safety. As one of two voting delegates from Franklin County, Selkirk spent much of his time on the conference floor. Saumier, meanwhile, manned a booth in the exhibit room promoting the Farm Market Federation and the value of farmer’s markets. At quiet times, she knitted snowmen, using wool from her animals.

She was also an alternate delegate and was permitted to express an opinion or vote on a resolution only if another delegate from Franklin County (usually Selkirk) left the floor. Saumier did vote against a resolution regarding exemptions for licensing small scale processors and home kitchens who sell products at public markets. She didn’t disagree with the rule, but said it contained an inadvertent error in the license number. The resolution still passed.

Following his speech, Norton mingled with attendees and found Saumier and Selkirk chatting with vegetable farmer Drew Piaschyk of Chenango County and discussed Farm Bureau policies. Piaschyk talked about how food safety inspections have complicated his business. “Every inspector tells you something different,” he said. “It seems the health department should not have jurisdiction. We also need to simplify the process in dealing with Ag and Markets and get consistent information from them.”

Saumier feels the inspectors are doing the best they can, despite limited training and layoffs in their ranks. “The safety of everyone’s food is certainly the state agriculture commissioner’s business and we’re glad we have a good inspection system,” she said. “But the inspectors lack the time to get proper training.” As a result, the authorities are sometimes giving out “mixed messages,” she noted.

Saumier finds value in attending these conferences since they do serve overall to unite farmers. Rather than focus on their surface differences, they wind up discussing mutual concerns. “Dairy farmers don’t always understand our issues and maybe vegetable farmers don’t understand dairy farmers,” she said. “But it’s still good to connect,” Piaschyk concurred.

He could also find common ground with Selkirk and Saumier on the issue of tax assessments. He said he was very pleased that the Farm Bureau succeeded in getting the state legislature to pass a law this year reducing tax assessments to 2 percent, down from 10 percent.

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