From WatertownDailyTimes.com, Sarah Haase, Times Staff Writer, 2 Sept 2011.
GOUVERNEUR — Sitting on hay bales in a hot barn swarming with flies, more than 50 farmers, beekeepers and other agriculture producers talked with Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand about how the agriculture industry could be improved.
The Democratic senator is traversing the state asking for input and suggestions from people in the agriculture industry as Congress prepares to debate the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill. On Thursday, she traveled to two north country farms — one in Gouverneur, one in Carthage — where she was greeted by people involved in all aspects of the farming industry.
“We want to make sure that when we write the farm bill our voice is heard loud and clear,” she said. “We have an opportunity over the next year and a half to really set federal policy on how we should look at the farm bill. I want to hear from you what your priorities are, what the most urgent issues are for your farms.”
Her tour of the north country took her to a farm in Gouverneur owned by Robert G. Andrews and his wife, Diane.
Mr. Andrews is a fourth-generation farmer and chairman of the St. Lawrence County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board.
“I was tickled to death with the knowledge base she has,” Mr. Andrews said. “She seems to be up on what’s going on and she impressed me greatly with her working knowledge of what the current agricultural situation is. We need a real strong and good farm bill for the future because we cannot afford to sell our milk for less than the cost of production.”
Milk prices and creating a more transparent system that includes the price of production in the equation was one of many topics brought up by farmers. Other topics included immigration reform, market expansion opportunities, elimination of corn and ethanol subsidies, access to financing and grant opportunities, and renewable energy options.
“As you know, agriculture policy is not Democrat versus Republican; it is regional in nature. So it is the Northeast versus the Midwest versus the West Coast and the different kinds of farming done in different parts of the country,” she said.
She also visited a dairy farm in Carthage owned by Glenn T. and Emily J. Beller and their son and daughter-in-law Jonathan G. and Taren Beller.
“Having the senator here certainly illustrates the fact that she is involved and interested in what the folks want,” Glenn Beller said. “She really has an interest. It’s really a privilege to have her here.”
Some farmers at the Carthage meeting said immigration reform is the most pressing concern to them. She said the reform is an ongoing issue and although there are no answers yet, it is a priority.
“We have such a challenge in this state right now to make sure we have the work force we need to help us farm,” she said. “The visa requirements are not well suited for dairy in particular, but we also have a need for a guest worker program that is viable and is streamlined. We’ve had a real political challenge getting any immigration reform passed in Congress. We’re going to need to really build some advocacy over the next year on how to get that done.”
Sen. Gillibrand is the first New Yorker to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in 40 years.