NYS Lawmaker Introduces Carbon Farming Tax Credit Bill

Feb 15, 2017

A New York state Assemblywoman has introduced legislation on carbon farming that she says is the first of its kind. The idea is to promote environmentally friendly farming practices while, at the same time, putting money back into the pockets of farmers.

Democrat Didi Barrett has sponsored a bill that creates a carbon farming tax credit. Barrett, who represents portions of Columbia and Dutchess Counties, says the plan will give farmers a new tax break while helping the state reach its climate change goals.

“This would make New York state the first in the country,” Barrett says. “And I’m very excited about something that really is a win-win for our environment and for our farmers and have New York be the lead on it.”

The 2014 Farm Bill gave USDA authority to provide technical assistance to farmers and land owners in support of their response to climate change. Barrett says that while other states like California have also begun to develop programs with similar aims, New York’s carbon farming tax credit would be the first of its kind to create a tax break for farmers who use climate-smart methods. Barrett says she had been speaking with farmers over the past few years about whether they thought such a tax credit would be beneficial.

“In continuing this conversation, in the midst of one of them, I said, do you think that if we created a tax credit for practices that put carbon back in the soil and obviously therefore take it out of the atmosphere that farmers would find that attractive,” says Barrett.

And these conversations led to her crafting the bill. Barrett, who sits on both the Assembly’s agriculture and environmental conservation committees, says there are items that still need to be worked out, such as metrics, or figuring out how to measure carbon in the soil. She says metrics on the USDA web site are a good place to start. 

“What we need to work on next is really figuring out how we measure the changes,” says Barrett. “At one point, you start, and then you measure what the carbon content of the soil is, and then, after a particular cycle, measure again to see the change and the increase, and then develop a tax credit based on that.”

Steve Ammerman is spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau.

“It’s a very interesting concept and addresses a lot of conservation practices that more and more farmers are already using, things like no till and the use of cover crops in planting off season,  some really great environmental stewardship opportunities that our farmers are using,” Ammerman says. “In terms of this specific bill, to tell you the truth, we really don’t have a position on it yet. Because it is something that’s new, we have no member-approved public policy on this. This is something that our farmers haven’t talked about in relationship to what’s called carbon farming and tax credits. So we’re going to be talking more with the assemblywoman about the bill, get more specifics on how it’s going to work. And our state board of directors will be meeting again in April and, more than likely, this is something that they’re going to take up and talk about the bill.”

Chris Pawelski is an Orange County onion farmer and executive director of Farmroot, an organization that advocates for specialty crop family farms.

“Well, obviously anything that promotes, in particular, cover crop use, saving of soil, is very important,” says Pawelski.

He says a carbon farming tax credit that monetarily supports such practices is a good idea.

“And, right now, even though it’s a good practice, there is not a lot of financial incentive to do it, and it can be, to be honest, very expensive, to pay, especially, in terms of the seed to put out for the cover crops, in particular,” Pawelski says. “So something that encourages that obviously is a good thing.”

With federal agencies facing the threat of being downsized, and the potential of losing assistance and programs to farmers, Barrett says state action is even more critical.

“We want to be sure that New York continues to be a leader and has both by passing something like this kind of tax break  but also making sure that the resources are there for the soil resilience and the increased productivity that will help us in just in general agriculture because the bottom line is this is where our food comes from,” Barrett says.

So far, the bill has 11 co-sponsors and four multi-sponsors. Barrett says she will soon reach out to state senators to introduce a companion bill in that chamber.