The Cornell Pro-Dairy program is facing elimination following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, which could end funding for the program. The New York State legislature is expected to vote on the budget before April 1.
“Our mission is to enhance the competitiveness of the dairy industry in New York,” said Prof. Tom Overton, animal science, director of the Pro-Dairy program.
Pro-Dairy works to accomplish its goal through research focused on the dairy industry, discussion groups, educational programs and financial analysis. Several industry members argued that the program is vital to the success of New York dairy and said they are lobbying the state government to prevent the cuts.
Although Overton said he was notified by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets that Pro-Dairy’s budget will been eliminated, Jessica Ziehm, the director of communications for the Department of Agriculture and Markets, said the program’s funding has not been finalized.
“We will not make any final decisions regarding Pro-Dairy until the budget is approved,” Ziehm said.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, which provides the entire Pro-Dairy budget, faces a 10-percent reduction in Cuomo’s proposed budget, according to Morris Peters, spokesman for the New York State Division of Budget. Peters said that the commissioner of the department has full control over how this cut is distributed.
Still, Overton said the program’s funding will be eliminated.
“We have no money beyond March 31,” Overton said. “As of right now the entire budget has been cut.”
According to Overton, the 22-year-old program’s budget last year was $822,500 and all of it came from the Department of Agriculture and Markets.
However, the dairy industry is taking action to restore funding for the program to the state budget.
The Northeast Dairy Producers Association organized a conference call with several of New York’s dairy leaders to brainstorm ways to support the program.
“We came up with a letter that we can take to the legislature as a group to say not just NEDPA but all these organizations in dairy throughout the entire state support Pro-Dairy” said Pete Dueppengiesser ’86, a dairy farmer from Perry, N.Y., and the chair of NEDPA.
In addition to the efforts to convince the legislature to restore Pro-Dairy funding in the upcoming budget, Overton said there are ongoing discussions to obtain “small-term funding sources.”
However, Overton emphasized that most of the work to keep the program going beyond March 31 is focused on getting New York State to finance Pro-Dairy.
Working under the assumption that the cuts will pass, Pro-Dairy administrators have informed their employees of potential lay-offs.
“There are nine specialists that have all received layoff notices and will be directly affected by this if we are not successful in getting funding restored,” Overton said. These Cornell employees focus on the implementation of the services and programming Pro-Dairy provides.
But if efforts to fund Pro-Dairy are successful, these employees will not lose their jobs, Overton said.
If the budget is approved without Pro-Dairy funding included, on March 31 all programming and services provided by the program will cease immediately, he said.
Dueppengiesser lamented the proposed cuts.
“Especially from the environmental point of view, [the cuts] would have a dramatic effect,” Dueppengiesser said.
He added that farmers must manage all nutrients on their farms under the New York State Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations regulations, which are strict and detailed.
Specialists through Pro-Dairy help farmers comply with Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations regulations, Deuppengiesser said.
He added that with the specialists laid off as part of the proposed cuts to the Pro-Dairy program, “it will be a real challenge to comply.”
Michael Boerman ’14 took part in a Pro-Dairy program called Junior Dairy Leader from October 2008 to August 2009. The program exposes high school students to dairy production by taking them on tours of farms and factories, to large dairy conferences and to expositions and workshops.
“It’s shaped what I want to do with my life now, as well as got me really interested in Cornell and coming to school here,” Boerman said. In addition, he said that the 30 to 40 students in the class of 2014 who also participated in Junior Dairy Leader felt the same way.
The services available to the New York dairy industry apart from those provided by Pro-Dairy are “not at this level or quality,” Overton said. “They might be coordinated locally, but we supply the expertise.”
When asked if he would be able to find services like those provided by Pro-Dairy, Deuppengiesser responded, “It’s really difficult. There are some scattered here and about but not to that magnitude or intensity. Not at all.”