U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, has introduced legislation to expand and promote the maple syrup industry.
The bill, and others he introduced making it easier for farmers to get loans and dropping an inspection requirement for bulk apples going to Canada, are needed because Congress failed to pass a new farm bill last year, Owens said Friday.
“It’s to make sure they are included in the 2013 farm bill discussions. It’s a way to highlight them,” he said in a conference call from Plattsburgh.
He described himself as “cautiously optimistic” that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will bring a new farm bill to the floor this year, after failing to do so when the previous farm bill expired in September.
The maple syrup bill, which Owens co-sponsored with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., would offer incentives for more landowners to open their land to the tapping of maple trees. Owens represents the 21st Congressional District, which under redistricting that took effect in January now includes the northern half of Saratoga County.
He said he would like to see state land opened to maple production and also see some of the large land parcels owned by private conservation groups opened to sugaring.
The bill was introduced as the upstate maple season is in full swing, with many maple sugaring operations holding open houses this weekend.
Donald Monica, owner of Maple Valley Farm in Corinth, said landowners already qualify for a lower agricultural-value assessment on their land if they allow tapping, and what he really needs is access to grants to buy equipment.
“We have people who want us to tap their trees, but the expense of equipment to expand is outrageous,” Monica said.
Maple Valley Farm has been in business 51 years and had a terrible year last year, as did other producers, when temperatures rose into the 70s in mid-March, too warm for production.
“This year so far is very encouraging,” Monica said. “If the weather stays the way it is, we could have a bumper crop.”
Maple syrup production in New York state was 564,000 gallons in 2011, second in the United States only to Vermont’s 1.1 million gallons.
Owens said his proposed legislation would do nothing to address the impact climate change could have on the maple industry, though he acknowledged it. “Clearly I think everyone is aware we are having significant changes; we’re all seeing it,” he said. “It will cause changes in many agricultural industries.”
The apple export inspections at the Canadian border should be dropped as unnecessary, the congressman said. His district includes large apple orchards in the Champlain Valley that send apples to Canada for juice.
“This is an annoyance and an expense, several hundred dollars per load, but more importantly, it’s a delay,” Owens said. “It has outlived its usefulness.”
The inspection system comes from a 1933 law that required that apples and pears be inspected. The inspection requirement for pears was dropped in 1999.
The proposed farm credit expansion bill would allow farms that use various incorporation methods to provide for multigenerational ownership to qualify for federal credit programs they can’t now get.
“Like any small business, family farmers need the flexibility to structure their operations as they see fit without forfeiting critical access to capital,” Owens said. “This legislation provides that flexibility so family farms in New York can continue to grow and drive economic development in the region.”