Saying “this is our time,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that the state would loosen restrictions on dairy farmers to boost milk production to meet the state’s booming yogurt manufacturing.
At the state’s first Yogurt Summit among state officials and farmers, Cuomo said the state plans to allow farmers to have up to 300 cows without needing a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations permit. The costly permit had been required for any farm with more than 200 cows, and farmers complained that the regulation was limiting them from expanding to meet the yogurt factories’ needs.
“Changing those CAFO regs, I think, is going to send a different signal that we are serious about this and we get it, and we get the role of the state,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo hailed the yogurt boom in upstate New York. Major yogurt producers such as Fage and Chenango County-based Chobani have rapidly increased production in rural counties. PepsiCo has launched a joint venture with a German company to open a manufacturing facility in Batavia, Genesee County.
“This is one of the best private sector market opportunities upstate New York has had in 30, 40 years,” Cuomo said in his closing remarks. “I don’t know when we get another one. I really, really don’t. And that entrepreneurial spirit is when you see an opportunity, grab it and make it happen.”
While the yogurt industry has grown rapidly in upstate, Gannett’s Albany Bureau reported Monday that state permitting has stifled dairy farmers from meeting the milk demand. Chobani is expanding in Idaho, in part because the state has more milk available.
Gannett reported that the state Department of Environmental Conservation had been in discussions with environmental groups and farm advocates over regulations. Cuomo and his top aide, Larry Schwartz, said the change announced Wednesday came after discussions with interested parties.
Currently, 501 farms in New York hold a state CAFO permit, according to the DEC.
The CAFO cost to individual farmers, according to New York Farm Bureau, can be from $50,000 to $150,000.
The Yogurt Summit, which was filled with samples from the yogurt companies, was announced earlier this month by Cuomo, who has sought to build the industry as a way to combat decades of manufacturing decline in parts of upstate.
Cuomo said the state has 49 yogurt plants already.
Among those in attendance are dairy farmers from Genesee, Wyoming and Livingston counties, as well as representatives from Fage, Chobani and PepsiCo. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and the chairmen of the Legislature’s agriculture committees also addressed the crowd.
“We are committed to make sure this industry thrives in New York State,” Silver said.