A sense of excitement and pride is rushing through Schoharie County following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nomination of Schoharie farmer Richard Ball as state agriculture commissioner.
And Ball, who had little time to chat Friday morning, said accolades have been streaming in.
“It’s been very heartwarming,” said Ball, who operates Schoharie Valley Farms on Route 30 with his family.
Most farmers in and around Schoharie County know Richard Ball and some on Friday said his appointment is heartening.
“He’s an excellent businessman and a good farmer. On top of it all, he has been so involved with the Farm Bureau, not only on a local and state level but also on the national level,” said Middleburgh farmer Denise Lloyd of Maple Downs Farm. “I’m kind of proud of the fact that I know him and that he’s from Schoharie County.”
Cobleskill dairy farmer John Radliff described Ball as “down to earth.”
“He’s a blue-collar farmer. He’s not an academic. He’s not a suit,” Radliff said. “That’s what we need. We’ve had enough suits, and we’ve had enough academics. What we need is somebody who actually earned his income from the toil of the soil, if you will.”
Not surprisingly to those who know him, Ball was busy attending a meeting of the New York State Agriculture Society when Cuomo made the announcement. Friday, he was hurrying out the door to catch a plane to San Antonio, Texas, to make it to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 95th Annual Convention.
Ball said he has some ideas on what he wants to accomplish, but he wants to get settled in the office and speak with people in the department before setting any goals.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to hopefully do something,” Ball said.
He’s not a politician. Ball said he got a call from somebody on the “second floor,” referring to the governor’s office, asking if he’d consider the position.
“I’m not politically involved other than paying attention to agriculture,” Ball said.
He said his children are already doing a lot of the work on the Schoharie farm and he’ll still be involved there.
“The kids will step up a lot more, and we’ve got a great crew there,” Ball said.
Ball’s nomination isn’t the final step. He’ll have to meet with the expectations of the New York State Senate, which holds confirmation power over the appointment.
State Sen. James L. Seward, R-Milford, is a member of the Senate’s Agriculture and Finance committees, both of which will get Ball’s resume.
“I very much look forward to helping shepherd Richard’s confirmation through the state Senate,” Seward said. “He’s an outstanding choice for commissioner of agriculture and markets. He has a long history of involvement in agriculture issues, as a working farmer and activities with the Farm Bureau,. He’s very thoughtful. He is soft spoken, but when he does speak, you want to listen because he has something important to say.”
Ball would not be the first agriculture commissioner to hail from Schoharie County. J. Roger Barber was appointed agriculture commissioner in 1975 and served in the position until 1983, according to the state Agriculture and Markets Department website.
“We are delighted, we couldn’t be happier,” said Cindy Barber, the former agriculture commissioner’s daughter-in-law and co-owner of Barber’s Farm south of Middleburgh.
The Barbers are close friends with the Ball family.
“Richard is a bright, articulate, thoughtful, hardworking person,” said Cindy Barber, whose husband, Jim, serves as the New York director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. “The respect you hear that people are giving him is so well deserved.”
The position pays $120,800, according to department spokesman Joe Morrissey.
State law basically describes the commissioner as in charge of all the department’s work — and it’s a long list. There are 15 divisions in the Department of Agriculture and Markets, including Agricultural Development, Animal Industry, Fiscal Management, Food Safety and Inspection, Kosher Law Enforcement, Milk Control and Dairy Services, Weights and Measures Bureau and the State Fair.
Dairy farmer Radliff, a longtime Farm Bureau member and former Schoharie County Farm Bureau president, said there are some big issues on the desk of the agriculture commissioner.
“I don’t envy him his job this year,” Radliff said.
He’ll have to ensure that downstate markets have easy access to what’s grown upstate — a situation that could change with new leadership in New York City, Radliff said.
And there’s ongoing discussion about organized labor targeting agriculture for its next movement.
And Radliff said the yogurt boom is taking a hit because a major yogurt producer is moving much of its production to Idaho.
Despite the challenges, Radliff said Richard Ball is the right person to handle them.
“He can find middle ground from opposing viewpoints and come up with a workable solution. That’s what I respect about him. He keeps his cool when I lose mine, and he makes you think,” Radliff said.