Maloney, farmers, discuss post-pandemic agriculture issues

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GOSHEN – Representative Sean Maloney (D, NY-18) joined with Orange County farmers and agricultural advocates, Tuesday afternoon, to announce the proposal of the Relief for Small Farmers Act and to discuss post-pandemic issues facing local farms in the region.

Local farmers described the agriculture system as “breakable” and that the financial challenges from the pandemic made the cracks in the system very evident. 

The low cost of food, which they estimated to be approximately 10 percent of annual household income compared to Europe’s approximately 50 percent of household income spent on food, left very little wiggle room. 

Local farmers also cited overhead, storage, and distribution costs, along with an issue of finding good help with competitive wages creating a continually difficult situation for their operations. 

Many local farms had taken on USDA FSA loans to make ends meet either prior to, or during, the pandemic to continue operations throughout COVID-19.

Co-founder of Wagon Wheel Farm in Goshen, Jason Touw, said although these loans were crucial to maintaining such operations, the debt from them is looming overhead.

“Without that program from the USDA I don’t know that we’d be sitting here today, any of us for that matter; but, the continued cost and taxing upon us is heavy. I can’t think about it too much or it might keep you up at night, so to speak,” said Touw.

The Relief for Small Farmers Act aims to alleviate the debt from the USDA FSA loans. It includes a one-year application window and tax-free debt forgiveness of up to $250,000 for those loans.

Maloney said within the scope of all the moving parts of the local agriculture industry there are many challenging variables, but debt forgiveness can go a long way to helping secure the operations of these local farms.

“They’re already at a disadvantage going up against these big operations and then you add into that things like the cost of labor in countries overseas that they’re competing against, or even the exchange rate with the Canadian dollar- I mean, farmers deal with a lot; but, if you can focus on the things we do control, like lowering their debt payments, that means they have more economic capacity to weather some hits on the other side of the equation,” said Maloney.

Maloney has already jointly introduced the legislation with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and said they are currently seeking bi-partisan support, but there is a high level of confidence that the bill will pass.