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NY commissioners: Working with farmers to ensure climate resiliency for the future

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Sunnyview

State government officials recently toured Sunnyview Farms in Cayuga County.

America’s farmers have long pioneered conservation measures in response to environmental challenges. Now farmers are on the frontlines in our battle against the climate crisis.

Unprecedented, climate-driven severe weather across America and in New York has delivered some major blows over the last decade: Widespread drought. Devastating flooding. Debilitating heat and cold, and the migration of invasive pests.

These dramatic changes have impacted all New Yorkers, but are often felt most acutely by those tending the land. Climate change increases the risks of soil erosion, reduces soil quality, and exacerbates pollution that threatens agricultural productivity. This raises major questions about the future of food security.

New York’s farmers are fighting back and leading. Working with the State, County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Cornell Cooperative Extension, USDA-NRCS and non-profit partners, they are deploying the latest agricultural strategies, sustainable practices, critical soil and water conservation efforts, and carbon reduction strategies designed to improve the health and resiliency of the State’s farms, ecosystems, and communities.

It is a shift in momentum decades in the making that will prove critical to preserving our natural resources and achieving our aggressive, nation-leading climate targets.

We witnessed this leadership firsthand this summer at the 1,400-acre Greenfield Farms in Skaneateles, NY.

Greenfield Farms, recipient of this year’s prestigious New York Leopold Conservation Award for its extraordinary environmental protection efforts, uses healthy soil practices that enhance water quality and strengthen carbon sequestration. The Greenfield Family has established a proven model for other farms by partnering with County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, non-profits, and the State to position itself at the cutting-edge of best agricultural environmental practices at a time when our planet demands them most. It works for the planet and their bottom line.

New York State is at the forefront of giving the agricultural industry and the State’s farmers, like Greenfield Farms, the tools they need in our shared fight against climate change.

Take, for instance, New York State’s innovative Climate Resilient Farming Program championed by Governor Kathy Hochul. This program assists farmers who proactively tackle climate concerns by providing cost-shared grants to incentivize transformative management practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and increase carbon storage in soils and woody plants. At the same time, it helps protect at-risk agricultural land across the State.

Two hundred farms have received $12 million in grants awarded under the program. Farmers planted an estimated 26,000 acres of cover crops, reducing carbon dioxide by 6,845 metric tons. And Climate Resilient Farming projects have sequestered or reduced approximately 320,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

With more than 6.9 million acres of agricultural lands across the State, maximizing the potential for carbon sequestration is critical toward helping New York State achieve its goal of net-zero emissions across all sectors of the economy by 2050, as set by the State’s ambitious and nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).

Over the last decade, New York State’s agricultural community has made significant advances in environmental sustainability and efficiency with the assistance of new and expanded initiatives to cut emissions and increase carbon sequestration. Employing the innovative Agricultural Environmental Management framework, as overseen by New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the New York Soil and Water Conservation Committee, and delivered by County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, will continue helping farms use best management practices to conserve our resources and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Greenfield Farms is testament to that. These collaborative approaches work.

All this progress with climate-focused agriculture has positioned New York’s farmers to take advantage of the historic funding now made available under President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA provides $19.5 billion for conservation agriculture through various programs including Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), among others. As many of these funding programs are competitive, the New York agriculture community can thank itself for its proactive and visionary commitments.

Working with farms to reduce emissions and improve resiliency through these approaches will assure New York achieves its ambitious climate goals, protects the environment, preserves farmland, and grows sustainable agriculture, resources, and technologies statewide for future generations.

For more information on agricultural conservation in New York, visit the Soil and Water Conservation Committee website at https://agriculture.ny.gov/soil-and-water/soil-water-conservation-committee.

Basil Seggos is the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and Richard Ball is the commissioner of state Department of Agriculture and Markets. Seggos is also co-chair of the state’s Climate Action Council, and Ball is a member of the Climate Action Council.

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