WASHINGTON — Twin County agriculture stakeholders were chosen to advise U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado on issues affecting farmers in the 19th Congressional District.
Delgado, D-19, announced Monday members of his new 19th Congressional District Agriculture Advisory Committee to help him better serve the farmers who live and work within his district. Delgado was appointed as a member of the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee in January.
The 19th Congressional District is ranked as the eighth-most rural district in the nation, according to Delgado’s office, with more than 5,000 farms and more than 8,000 farm operations.
Taste NY Market Manager Shaylyn Decker, who runs the Welcome Center at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties, is one of 40 members from across 11 counties in the 19th District named to the advisory committee.
Decker, who has a background with farming vegetables, is concerned about the expense to small to mid-sized farmers for certifications that can make their products more valuable to a new age of clients.
“I would like to see a wider range of organic certifications because those certifications provide farmers a higher value for their products,” Decker said. “Organic certifications can be expensive for small to mid-sized farmers to maintain because of all the work it takes and the strict qualifications.”
Decker wants to educate Delgado about naturally grown certifications having broader qualifications that are more clearly spelled out for consumers.
Such a certification is more affordable for farmers, Decker said, because it leaves room for farmers to use practices better suited to the land they are working and leaves inspections to be performed by other local farmers rather than government agencies.
“The public needs to be better educated about the foods that are produced and this way is more transparent for consumers,” Decker said. “Not all conventional farms are evil, and not organic farms are perfect.”
Decker also wants to see the representative address soil erosion and diminishing available valuable farm land as populations increase, she said, adding that farmers will face diminishing yields in the next five years.
Decker expressed concern about environmental issues, arguing that the Twin Counties have seen the wettest seasons on record in the last couple of years.
“What infrastructure will be provided to farmers to survive these changes in the environment,” Decker said. “Farmers are burning out. I stopped farming two years ago and it was not an easy decision. Farmers are the backbone of our communities.”
New York Farm Bureau Vice President Eric Ooms, co-owner of A. Ooms and Sons Dairy Farm in Valatie, will serve on the advisory committee.
“I am hopeful we will be able to establish a dialogue,” Ooms said. “I think that is important when you have a new Congress and in particular a new member. [Delgado] strikes me as willing to listen and have a positive dialogue.”
Ooms is sure there will be discussions on topics such as dairy farming, which has hit hard times in recent years as prices have remained low, and immigration policy.
“We all have dreams of big policy solutions, but sometimes you get a couple of little policies and that adds up,” Ooms said. “These issues are important to the district and to Mr. Delgado.”
Also named as members of the advisory committee are Columbia County Farm Bureau President Jim Davenport, who owns Davenport Family Farm in Stone Ridge, and Greene County Farm Bureau President James Van Orden.
“All over our district we’ve got small, local farms that are so vital to our way of life in upstate and to our economy,” Delgado said. “The best ideas on how we can empower farmers come not from Washington but from those who actually live and breathe these issues every day in our district. We can’t work through solutions to the challenges that family farms are facing without conversations like the ones I’ll be having with this Advisory Committee at the local level.”
*Editor's note: This story clarifies an earlier version that did not include the number of people appointed to the advisory committee.