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New budget gives ag programs a 6 percent boost

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North country legislators have lauded an increase from last year of $526,000, or 6 percent, in funding for agriculture programs in the 2014-15 state budget, along with a new $1 million “Young Farmers NY” initiative that will offer grant funding for expansion projects.

Compared with fiscal year 2013-14, overall funding toward agriculture programs administered by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets in the budget increased from $8,169,000 to $8,695,000.

That funding doesn’t include $1 million for the new “Young Farmers NY” program crafted by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Patricia A. Ritchie, which includes a “beginning farmer fund” that will offer grants of up to $50,000 toward agribusiness expansion projects. The initiative also includes $100,000 to go to student loan forgiveness for agriculture college graduates who commit to farming careers.

The $1 million “Young Farmers NY” initiative, however, does not include a $5 million revolving loan fund that was part of the original proposal approved in the Senate’s budget. That fund would have issued loans to help new farmers buy land and equipment.

Nonetheless, Mrs. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, praised the budget’s final outcome in a statement released Sunday.

“The lifeblood of agriculture in New York is the family farm,” Mrs. Ritchie said in the release. “And the funding and incentives included in the new budget will help encourage young farmers to continue that tradition and strengthen family farming.”

But while legislators have touted funding for ag programs, not all agriculture leaders in the north country are pleased with the outcome.

The state Farm Viability Institute, which funds critical research to develop commodity crops across the state, received much less than it requested. The budget’s appropriation of $1.1 million toward the program is a decrease of $600,000, or 35 percent, from last year’s $1.7 million. And it’s a far cry from the $3.2 million requested by the institute, which would have established a $1 million fund that would have offered matching grants to provide up to 50 percent for research projects led by organizations, according Ronald C. Robbins, a member of the institute’s board of directors.

“That was additional money that we felt we needed to effectively serve the industry through grant proposals we receive,” Mr. Robbins said. “And so obviously, this is significantly under where we felt we needed to be.”

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