The New York Farm Bureau's 2013 priorities will look to strengthen state farms and its economy.
On Wednesday, New York Farm Bureau officials revealed their 2013 priorities during a media conference call. The call included Dean Norton, New York Farm Bureau president; Julie Suarez, public policy director; and Jeff Williams, public policy deputy director.
''We're primarily focused on economic issues affecting New York state growers and farmers,'' Norton said. ''We want to find common goals among lawmakers. By working together we can grow New York's farm economy and rural economy. We're focusing on economic development in rural New York using agriculture as that tool.''
Norton said one area of focus was transitioning family farms to the next generation. He said the average age of a state farmer is 56, according to the 2007 agriculture census. One way of passing farms on to the next generation is by increasing the tax exemption on a farm's estate tax to match the federal level. Norton said, nationally, the tax exemption threshold is $5 million, but it's only $1 million at the state level.
''The federal government has approved the move to $5 million. We will work with the New York state Legislature to move our exemption to $5 million,'' he said.
Suarez added the New York Farm Bureau will also be working to protect farmers from natural disasters and poor weather conditions. She said one way is to create a farm savings account similar to those that help fund a child's future college education.
''We can have tax-free savings accounts, and farmers can withdrawal from it during tough crop years or weather disasters,'' she said. ''It is a risk-management tool at no cost to the government ... that would assist farmers in bad years, helping them grow in the future.''
Suarez also discussed that some farmers are worried about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to increase minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75. She said the farm bureau is proposing to have a training pay rate for high school and college students working on farms.
Williams spoke about new spending for a program to increase hops production, capitalizing on the state's growing farm-based breweries. He said the program will hopefully lead the state back to being the largest hops producer in the country.
Also, Williams said the Farm Bureau supports expanding access to New York grown and made products through the newly established Taste of NY program.
''This goes with our vision of agriculture and marketing in the state,'' he said.