One of the big new expenses Long Island's farmers face in the next few years is the cost of installing double-lined tanks to store pesticides, the result of renewed enforcement of a state measure designed to protect groundwater from leaks.
Farmers attending the Long Island Agricultural Forum at the eastern campus of Suffolk County Community College Thursday were told that local agencies are seeking funds to assist 21 farms in installing those tanks, which cost up to $12,000 for a large 1,000-gallon tank. The state grants would cover 80 percent of the expense.
The State Soil and Water Conservation District serving Suffolk has already given aid to several dozen farmers to replace their pesticide tanks, according to Joseph M. Gergela III, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. "The pressure on ground water protection is very high, and a lot of the pressure is on growers," he said, estimating that 150 farmers will eventually have to install new tanks.
About 300 farmers are attending the two-day forum, which covers everything from pesticide recertification to potential new markets for Long Island crops to the federal crop insurance program to how to best use the National Weather Service forecasts.
Friday will feature specialty workshops in nitrogen management, weed control, ethnic vegetables, floriculture and garden center landscaping.
New County Executive Steve Bellone was a surprise guest Thursday, stopping by briefly to tell the farmers that he considers agriculture an important part of the county's economy.
Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) amplified Bellone's comments, saying he would be happy to work with the Democrat on farming issues, including the continued purchase of farmland development rights and the growth of the new agricultural consumer science center expected to be completed this summer at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. The 8,300-square-foot facility is being built at the Stony Brook University incubator center.
Romaine also proposed a new program to work with state officials to get fresh fruits and vegetables into school lunch programs, possibly leading to the opening of seasonal farmer's markets in poorer communities where it is difficult to buy them. "You can't have a successful school lunch program without a distribution center," Romaine said.
The forum gives farmers a place where they can discuss such issues as new government programs, crop insurance and the need to set up a family trust to deal with future tax problems.
The forum has been run for 31 years by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk.