Members of and advocates for New York’s farming industry came to Albany this week to outline their legislative priorities, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted that farm income in the US will decline by record levels in 2024.

“Agriculture and Markets is the industry’s economic development arm, there are so many things in the governor’s executive budget that farmers rely on,” said Jeff Williams, director of public policy for the New York Farm Bureau.

He said the budget process is a crucial opportunity to let lawmakers know what the industry needs. 

One thing the bureau is pushing for this session is expanded funding for Nourish NY. It’s a program that sends surplus food from farms to people who are struggling with food insecurity.

“The idea we can provide our excess food to people who need it and deserve it is just a slam dunk,” he said.

The push comes following a comptroller’s report last fall that criticized the program’s oversight and suggested that more people could be seeing benefits.

The Department of Agriculture and Markets who oversees the program in partnership with the Department of Health said that improvements to the program are ongoing, and have been since its creation.

“The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Markets are committed to providing the training, technical assistance, oversight, and monitoring to ensure compliance with legislative intent and successful outcomes for Nourish NY. Prior to the Comptroller’s report, the Department proactively began improvement efforts in these areas as part of the process of transitioning Nourish NY from a Governor’s Executive Order emergency COVID response to a permanent program established in state law,” they told Spectrum News 1 in a statement.

Greg Sullivan, CEO of the Westside Campaign Against Hunger, came to the Capitol this week to advocate for $75 million for both Nourish NY and the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program. He says it’s critical to improve the reach and functionality of these programs. 

“So that we can go back to some of the groups that didn’t receive funding previously, and we need to make sure that funding can go directly and indirectly to organizations in need,” he said.

Ranking member on the state Senate Agriculture Committee George Borrello says a desire to improve the program is bringing together legislators on both sides of the aisle.

“A bipartisan call for us to restore some sanity to the Nourish NY program and that will be a big priority for us and we’re also having discussions about how we can address that legislatively,” he said.   

State Assemblymember Donna Lupardo, chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, meanwhile stressed the need to ensure the effectiveness of the Soil, Health and Climate Resiliency Act by enhancing soil protections amid solar development, a concern shared by Borrello.

“We want to not only protect farmland but one of my interest is protecting farmers, especially cannabis farmers who really lost their shirts in terms of those initial crops,” she said, adding that more assistance is needed for farmers who grew crops only to be hindered by the state’s troubled cannabis rollout.

Also related to the state’s climate policy, Williams says, is concern from the New York Farm Bureau and some lawmakers about the state’s electrification goals.

“Right now there is no commercially available tractor available for use in New York state, and if there were, how heavy would it be with a huge battery, and where do you charge a tractor,” he said.