Last Monday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., held an agricultural listening session in Westfield. I was most impressed, indeed amazed, with the depth and breadth of her intimate knowledge and concern for the multitude of diverse issues facing New York State's vast agricultural enterprise.
This is not my first experience observing Gillibrand. She held a Senate Dairy Sub-committee Hearing in Batavia in August 2009, and an agriculture listening session in Niagara County last September. What was a departure from those occasions and last Monday's was the absence of the congressman representing the district where Gillibrand was holding her hearing.
Yes, noticeably absent was Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. Higgins' 27th District encompasses southern Erie County and all of Chautauqua County.
Sadly, I was not surprised. When the subject turns to agriculture, Higgins can be counted among the "missing" more often than not. In this he does a huge disservice to the 27th District.
In a press release issued several years back, Higgins noted that in 2006, sales of farm milk alone had contributed more than $80 million to the economy of the 27th District. Given the incremental increase in milk prices since 2006, this figure would easily exceed $100 million today.
This does not factor in the substantial financial contribution that the district's other important farming enterprises, (grapes, tree fruit, berries, beef cattle, vegetables, hay, field crops, other livestock, timber and maple products) add to the local economy. In total, the 27th District's farm sector would seemingly garner somewhere between $150 million and $200 million annually.
The resulting economic activity of most of this money percolates through the local economy several times before it moves on to the wider world. This agricultural money also has a unique facet lacking in most of the rest of the money circulating in this nation's predominantly "service" economy.
Before local farmers market their production, the value it represents does not exist. These farmers are not just producing food and fiber; they are creating wealth. With the sorry financial state the nation is in, every cent of that created wealth is absolutely essential to our national financial recovery.
Farming in the 27th District is a big deal -- a very big deal! Big enough that it deserves a little respect, attention and support from our member of Congress.
Given their contribution to the local and national well being, the farmers of the 27th District deserve far better than anything Higgins has shown them to date. The debate and implementation of the 2012 Farm Bill is looming; the 27th District cannot afford a representative who is looking out the window or phoning in his participation.
Higgins needs to pick up his game on agricultural issues or relinquish his seat to a true advocate for the 27th District's economy.
Nate Wilson is a retired dairy farmer with 40 years' experience from Sinclairville, in Chautauqua County.