Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, on a "clean energy tour" of the state, scouted input on agriculture and sustainable energy alternatives to petroleum-based fuel sources from Cattaraugus County's farming sector Thursday in Olean.
"I already knew about the dairy [milk pricing] compact issues, but I heard new stuff," said Paterson, after he met for an hour at the Olean campus of Jamestown Community College with representatives of the Farm Bureau, Cooperative Extension of Allegany and Cattaraugus Counties, and Farm Credit of Western New York.
The group requested reform of the timber tax to prevent patchwork property assessments, fragmentation of agricultural properties and widespread clear-cutting as an avoidance measure by owners.
They also pointed out the region is not likely to see many jobs or economic advances led by ethanol production plants burning corn from the Midwest. And Cattaraugus County's clay-based soils don't produce excess corn crops for ethanol or even supply all the necessary livestock feed. But the anticipated demand for ethanol production has doubled or tripled local feed corn prices and creating a hardship for farmers.
Soils and climate also work against switchgrass production in Cattaraugus County as a warm-season cellulose-based crop that would require $75 to $100 per ton as an incentive for farmers to grow. They suggested incentives for farmers to grow reed canary grass, a cold-season grass that can be successfully established here. But they also warned that before growing it the farmers need to see there's a harvest mechanism and market for the crop, a place to store it and process it, and a production system to make use of it.
"The market will grow if there are incentives," said Douglas R. Ploetz, an appraiser with Farm Credit of Western New York in Hornell.
The group also pointed out it is difficult to pass farmlands along from one generation to the next or to new cash-poor farmers because development pressure is lower and cash incentive programs are scarce unlike other parts of the state.
"They don't trust the intermittent changes in milk pricing and they are suspicious of biomass [alternative fuel] forms," said Paterson after the talk. He was referring to comments about overgrown experimental willow plots, grown in Western Cattaraugus County and in Chautauqua County for a demonstration of biomass fuel use in the Dunkirk coal-fired power plant. These plots have become "almost a noxious weed" after federal aid was cut before they were harvested, said the meeting participants.