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U.S. Rep. Bill Owens says Farm Bill provisions benefit north country ag producers

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The north country has unique circumstances to take advantage of, because of the many farmers in the region that have excess production, excess land and the capacity to start thinking about the integration of community-supported agriculture U.S. Rep. William Owens told attendees at Forest, Farm & Fork: An Opportunity Symposium at Paul Smith’s College on Monday.

“I think we are uniquely set up for the growth of the CSA, particularly in this district. I have been seeing vineyards developing, orchards expanding, maple syrup production expanding and a regeneration in the dairy industry,” the Plattsburgh Democrat said.

The symposium was sponsored by Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Franklin County and Paul Smith’s College to discuss the 2014 Farm Bill and the opportunities the bill holds for the north country.

Owens said he was happy to be invited to speak at the symposium and one of the reasons was because there are many provisions in the Farm Bill that he believes can be helpful to local communities.

One such provision encourages food pantries to figure out a way to expand the availability of fresh foods in their respective communities, Owens said.

Another provision would encourage farmers to either sell or lease their land to a new farmer using incentives contained in the Farm Bill. The bill establishes loans and grants to help new farmers get into agriculture. It also calls for new farmer to enter into contracts with farmers markets or food pantries to sell their produce directly to these entities.

According to Owens, another of the Farm Bill’s accomplishments was enabling food stamps users to double the amount of fresh food they can purchase at farmers markets using their benefits.

Owens said he has had many interesting conversations with growers in Northern New York.

The growers are seeing crops that they could never grow 20 years ago that are now becoming substantial crops for the growers. Owens said this will increase the growers’ productivity throughout the year.

Owens said the bill was initially hard to pass due to issues related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program –– formerly known as food stamps –– and that most of the farm issues had been resolved when the time came to pass the bill.

Republicans had proposed cutting SNAP by at least $39 billion over 10 years, but House and Senate negotiators ultimately agreed to cuts totalling about $8 billion, or 1 percent of the SNAP budget, by closing a loophole that several states and the District of Columbia were using to increase SNAP payments to low-income households.

“From my perspective there are always places you can take a little from, but $40 billion was simply ridiculous,” Owens said.

Owens said moving forward with the provisions of the bill will create lots of opportunity, especially in this area, to grow farms and effectively grow the region’s economies through that process.

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