AUBURN, NY — Richard Ball is not only the New York Agriculture Commissioner but is a long-time Schoharie County vegetable farmer. As such, when it rains, “You don’t feel as guilty sitting inside conversing with others over coffee,” said Ball. The deluge outside the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District provided some downtime to discuss issues for area farmers and their soil and water agency partners as part of Governor Cuomo’s Capital for a Day initiative.
Ball, along with Deputy Commissioner Jackie Czub, Genesee County dairy farmer, Dale Stein of the State Soil & Water Conservation Committee and Michael Latham and Brian Steinmuller from the Department of Ag & Markets Division of Land and Water Resources came to hear about opportunities and find ways to work on priorities that bolster New York agriculture. “The governor has charged us with making state government a lot more local and being more attentive to details. It’s an honor to work for you,” said Ball. “It was the soil and water folks that made me appreciate the gravity of conservation and how their professionalism helped us recover during the historic floods in the Schoharie valley floods and beyond.”
“The Department of Ag and Markets and the State Soil & Water Conservation Committee are invariably linked for the good of New York agriculture,” said Stein. “With the advent of a new climate resiliency program that sequesters green-house gases, builds soil health and retains water on the land, we want to position our farmers to help themselves as much as possible while helping their communities.”
Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga, Oswego SWCD staff and board directors voiced their support for the AEM program and Environmental Protection Grant Funding for helping farmers implement financially and environmentally important conservation practices. They urged the state leaders to support the Pride of New York Program and young farmers, Right to Farm laws, make grant programs less cumbersome and more flexible and provide leadership to increase cover crop and watershed level buffer initiatives by working closer with the state’s federal conservation partners.
Commissioner Ball said, “We’re pleased to have met with our Soil and Water Conservation Districts to discuss how we can better help them meet their local conservation priorities. Central New York is home to numerous lakes and watersheds that need to be protected and the local Conservation Districts are our boots on the ground helping to ensure conservation efforts in the region. We look forward to our continued partnership with the Districts to address the critical issues of water and soil quality across the Central New York.”
On Oct. 4, Commissioner Ball announced $164,855 in funding has been awarded to Soil and Water Conservation Districts across New York State to address soil quality in their counties. Seven Conservation Districts will receive grants of up to $25,000 through the Ecosystem Based Management Soil Health Grants program to develop initiatives that will encourage greater crop yields and protect water resources from pollution.
Soil quality has become a leading concern for the agriculture industry on a national level. Healthy soils hold the potential to produce greater crop yields while protecting water resources from polluted runoff. In addition, crops growing in healthy soils require less fertilizer and are better able to withstand both floods and droughts.
Through the Soil Health Grants program, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts can develop their own programs to increase the adoption of healthy soil practices. These programs can range from soil health testing to cost assistance for farmers prepared to try new practices. The Soil Health grants are designed to allow the flexibility needed to establish programs that will have long-term residual impacts on the adoption of soil health practices.
Farmers interested in soil health should contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District to learn about the many opportunities available to improve soil quality in New York at www.nys-soilandwater.org/contacts/county_offices.html .