NYS Ag Society Forum reveals greener planet ideas

by Troy Bishopp

After 190 years, the New York State Agricultural Society’s Annual Forum looked pretty different as the audience was asked to consider what actions are necessary to grow a greener New York and what implications agriculture will be challenged by as the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) is rolled out. Will you be ready for decarbonization?

The Ag Society began the year with a new mission statement: “To build a robust future for New York’s food, agricultural and natural resource industries by providing networking and educational opportunities for its strongest advocates, decision-makers and aspiring leaders.” This trajectory also includes the tradition of recognizing peers for outstanding achievement with annual awards for Business of the Year, Century & Bicentennial Farm, Ag Promotion, Distinguished Service Citation, Farm Safety, Ag Journalism, Next Generation Farmer and the coveted NYS FFA Chapter of the Year.

The morning keynote by A.G. Kawamura, California produce grower and founding co-chair of the nonprofit Solutions from the Land, described his vision of a 21st century rebirth. “There has never been a greater need for an agricultural renaissance. The many voices of farmers, echoing across centuries of scarcity and abundance, challenge us to find new ways forward, paths that produce abundance for expanding populations while rejecting wasteful destruction of resources. We must seek these new ways to collaborate and innovate together,” he said. He took the audience on a journey through his company’s quest for farming land in urban settings, expensive water resources and high labor costs to deliver nutrient-dense foods to customers. His innovations are outlined at solutionsfromtheland.org/reports/renaissance-report.

In a “What’s Happening in NYS” panel discussion on the new CLCPA draft scoping plan, speakers Suzanne Hunt of Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport, NY, Brian Steinmuller, assistant director of the Division of Land and Water Resources within the NYS Department of Ag & Markets, and John Noble of Noblehurst Farms Inc. of Linwood, NY, rolled out what agriculture could expect to see and comment on. The plan serves as an initial framework for how NYS will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve net-zero emissions, increase renewable energy usage and ensure climate justice.

Hunt described how her winery “can literally taste the changes of climate” and has actually branded some wine selections as “uncharted terroir.” She talked about practices like using LED lighting, renewable power, geothermal heating, recycled flooring, car charging stations, composting and adding biochar to vines to become more efficient and carbon neutral in a “circular economy.”

NYS Ag Society Forum reveals greener planet ideas

(L – R) Tinia Pina from Re-Nuble Inc., Stephanie Castle from American Farmland Trust, Tristan Brown from SUNY ESF and Patrick Hooker discuss agricultural decarbonization opportunities at the NYS Ag Society Forum. Photo by Troy Bishopp

The afternoon panel mapped out scenarios in which NYS agriculture plays a part of a statewide decarbonization effort for the next 30 years. SUNY ESF Associate Professor Tristan Brown, American Farmland Trust’s Stephanie Castle and CEO of Re-Nuble Inc. Tinia Pina told the audience how the overall CLCPA would affect the state and how they are working to create opportunities for farmers and customers alike within a “regenerative context.”

The CLCPA was signed into law in 2019 as one of the most ambitious climate laws in the world. The law created the Climate Action Council, which is tasked with developing a draft scoping plan that serves as an initial framework for how the state will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve net-zero emissions, increase renewable energy usage and ensure climate justice.

On Dec. 20, the council voted to release the draft scoping plan for public comment. Jan. 1 marked the beginning of a 120-day public comment period to receive feedback from the public as the council works to develop and release a final scoping plan by the end of 2022. To get educated on this extremely important plan for agriculture and the citizens of New York and provide comment, visit climate.ny.gov/Our-Climate-Act/Draft-Scoping-Plan.

Ag Commissioner Richard A. Ball delivered his State of Agriculture address which highlighted the many actions that NYS’s ag industry is taking to mitigate the effects of climate change, including through the Climate Action Council’s Agricultural and Forestry Advisory Panel, the Climate Resilient Farming Grant Program and more. He also addressed the continued impact of COVID-19 on NYS agriculture and the state’s efforts to ensure a strengthened food supply chain through several programs and initiatives, such as the Nourish New York program, the Restaurant Resiliency Program and the Food Supply Resiliency Report.

Ball heralded Gov. Kathy Hochul for her work to “increase the Workforce Retention Tax Credit, which the state will double the yearly fixed dollar amount of the non-refundable tax credit per eligible employee and extend the program to 2025; create a new overtime tax credit, in which the state will create a permanent, refundable tax credit on overtime hours for any size farm in New York State; and increase the Investment Tax Credit for all New York farms, allowing farmers to purchase new equipment that can help further automate their farms.”

“Another great boost to farmers and a success story in our state is our Farm-to-School program,” said Ball. This program has dedicated $6.8 million to help schools source local, healthy foods from our farmers. “But we can and we will do better. Our students in every school district should know about agriculture and should be eating fresh fruits and vegetables provided by their local farmer.”

To better connect schools and farmers and support local production, the state will transfer the administration of the National School Lunch Program from the State Education Department to the Department of Ag & Markets, said Ball.

Finally, the commissioner spoke about the department’s ongoing activities to maintain its essential functions to protect public health and the food supply; ensure animal and plant health; protect consumers and businesses; and promote New York’s farmers and agricultural products.

Ball concluded, “As Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Prize, observed: ‘The first essential component for social justice is adequate food for all mankind.’ Even though only 1% of us are involved in production agriculture, we need to continue to feed the other 99%. There is tremendous power in doing the right thing and that is the right thing.

“We in New York have great resources, good land, access to water, great farmers – some of the best in the country – the best land grant system for ag education, the ability to grow and produce over 30 commodities nationally and the opportunity to participate in the 13th largest economy in the world. It is incumbent upon us to continue to feed our world. Our agricultural community faces challenges every day – from weather to markets and more. You have proven yourselves to be essential in the face of great challenge, and essential means that you are heroes. Heroes look like ordinary people but they do extraordinary things. They help people without strings attached. They take responsibility for their own lives and we need them now more than ever. We must continue our work because this generation, and those to come, need heroes,” he stated.

The NYS Ag Society has provided the full 2022 forum experience for your viewing on their YouTube channel. For more information, contact Ann Noble Shephard at ann@nysagsociety.org.

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