by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
LIVERPOOL, NY — Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY, is on the grow. Organized as a LLC, the Binghamton, NY-based organization is accredited by the USDA to certify organic farmers and processors in the U.S. The association also holds the position as the state’s largest organic certifying body.
During lunch at the recent Organic Dairy & Field Crop Conference, Bethany Wallis gave attendees food for thought as she presented a snapshot of the organization’s progress. She said NOFA-NY boasts more than 2,000 active members. As of 2017, NOFA-NY has certified more than 1,000 of the state’s organic producers, representing 11 percent growth from 2016.
NOFA-NY’s presence in social media has helped spread the word. Marketing through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and eNews aids in generating interest — and, hopefully, new members.
NOFA-NY also reaches out to the community the old-fashioned way. Presenting at events such as New York Farm Show, Empire Farm Days, New York Agriculture Society events and through neighborhood Share Program cultivates the public knowledge of organic produce in general and also NOFA-NY.
“Last year, we had 1,038 attendees at the Winter Conference,” Wallis said.
More than just promotional events for the organization, these programs provide farmers with education on topics such as high tunnels, food safety, dairy transitions, price index, technical assistance, and more.
For 2018, NOFA-NY hopes to affect numerous policies related to agriculture, including driver’s licenses for undocumented farm workers; health care for farmers and their employees; support for the National Organic Standards Board (NOP); stronger enforcement of organic integrity by the NOP; share cannabis production among many family scale farms; rapid adoption of renewable energy; no organic certification for hydroponic crop production; and organic checkoff.
Currently, 55 percent of all certified organic operators in New York are certified through NOFA-NY. Twenty-seven dairies are in transition to organic and 95 have grass-fed certification, a program which began in 2015 as demand for grass-fed dairy cattle took off.
“Those are really great numbers,” Wallis said. “We’re grateful for farms certifying with NOFA-NY.”
NOFA-NY certifies numerous types of organic operations, including farms, wild crops, livestock, maple, greenhouses, processors, handlers, restaurants, distributors and auction houses.
Wallis earned an Associate’s Degree in Agricultural Business from SUNY Morrisville and a Bachelor’s Degree in Dairy Science from Cornell University. She joined NOFA-NY in 2006 and now serves as the Education Director.
Following Wallis’ presentation, Fay Benson, South Central New York Dairy & Field Crops of Cornell Cooperative Extension agent, offered a brief presentation on the New York Crop Insurance and Risk Management Project.
“It’s not a money-making government program,” he said, “but it’s an insurance program.”
USDA has targeted New York as a state that’s a low user of crop insurance.
“It’s a bit like car insurance,” Benson said. “You pay a premium to buy a policy. If something bad happens, you file a claim.”
The insurance covers any sort of loss of revenue, including crop failure or sales loss.
On average, producers receive back $1.40 for every $1 they spend on crop insurance; however, Benson said it may take a decade to see that happen. He said for a time, his wife tried convincing him to drop the plan, but she quit when a claim during a catastrophic year more than repaid the amount they had paid in premiums over the years.
Benson explained the Whole Farm Revenue Protection plan.
“You insure that you will take in a certain amount of revenue,” Benson said. “It’s not yield, as in other crop insurance products. There’s no liability, as in the liability insurance that would help you settle a lawsuit. It’s not for property, as in property insurance, which would help you replace damaged stuff.”
If weather, pests or market prices — effects outside the farmer’s control — prevents a farmer from making the projected revenue, he can file a claim.
Eighty percent of the premium cost is subsidized by the government at most coverage levels for Whole Farm Revenue Protection. The plan covers up to $8.5 million in revenue.
A program for new farmers — those with fewer than five years of insurable interest in a farming operation — subsidizes an additional 10 percent, equaling a 90 percent subsidy. Farmers may use three years’ tax records instead of the usual five.
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The 7th Annual Organic Dairy & Field Crop Conference was hosted by NOFA-NY.