Guest Spot: Selling wine at supermarkets could help save farming

06/01/2011 12:33 PM |

It’s hard to think of something more evocative of summer than one of our local farm stands. After all, Suffolk County ranks No. 1 in the market value of its crops. Suffolk also tops the list in the Empire State in terms of the number of acres dedicated to nurseries and sod production. Suffolk is even king when it comes to raising ducks.

Farms are also important to Long Island because, as our friends at the Long Island Farm Bureau put it, they also provide a buffer against suburban sprawl and maintain the traditional rural character of the East End while providing the landscape and scenic beauty that help promote tourism.

However, the days of the East End as a leading agricultural region may be numbered, unless we get serious about protecting farms here and around New York State.

Over 613,000 acres of New York farmland have been lost to development in a single decade, and now a farm disappears every three and a half days.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farms in Suffolk County decreased by 10 percent between 2002 and 2007. While total farmland acreage has remained stable for now, smaller farms under 50 acres — the vast majority of all farms — are the ones most likely to be hurt by the effects of skyrocketing fuel costs.

We need to strengthen the safety net for Long Island’s farms before this situation gets any worse. That is why Albany needs to help protect farmers and promote New York State products by allowing for the sale of wine in grocery stores.

These issues may seem unconnected. However, New York League of Conservation Voters and our partners at the American Farmland Trust have persuaded lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate to include provisions in the recently submitted Wine Industry and Liquor Store Development Act to help New York’s farms and wineries at the same time. Let me explain.

New York State currently has a Farmland Protection Fund that gives grants to municipalities to purchase development rights from farmers. Farmers can then re-invest the funds to maintain their facilities, buy more land, upgrade their equipment and stay economically viable (rather than succumb to development pressure).

The Farmland Protection Fund, however, has been battered and bruised through years of budget cuts and now receives just over $10 million a year, a meager 6 percent of the estimated need.

Besides being underfunded, the Farmland Protection Fund has actually made promises it can’t keep. The fund has a backlog of $75 million and a long list of farms that were promised help but never received it. This list includes farms in Jamesport, Southold, Calverton, Shoreham and Riverhead.

If all of our farms are going to survive, we have to look to new, creative ways to protect them.

There has been talk about allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores for several years. But for the first time, this issue is being connected with helping our farms in three ways.

First, if the sale of wine in grocery stores is allowed, East End wineries can dramatically increase their market presence in the Empire State. That will strengthen Long Island’s $65 million viticulture industry and the 4,000 jobs it provides.

Second, by dedicating a percentage of the tax revenues from the sale of wine to farmland protection, the state can begin to clear the backlog of projects and honor future commitments.

Third, by protecting farms from development, we can retain the East End’s rural character and protect precious open space. As we all know, undeveloped land is critical for the environment because it protects our drinking water and provides wildlife habitat.

The economic stakes for the East End could not be higher. Suffolk County farms constitute a $201 million industry that employs thousands of people. By allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores today, our elected leaders in Albany can help keep this economic engine running for good.

Residents of the East End will also be able to continue to enjoy those amazing farm stands every summer, as will our children and our children’s children.

Ms. Bystryn is president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. She resides in Remsenberg.



22 Comment

  • How will this bill that will lead to the closure of local wine stores that sell and market East End wines and replace them with a wine section in an already crowded box store strengthen Long Island’s $65 million viticulture industry and the 4,000 jobs it provides? Sounds silly to me.
    Also why is something as important as farmland protection being tied to this bill? A Bill most agree is a bad idea and one that NY wineries are overwhelmingly against? Sounds very fishy to me. Why would someone from a group called “New York League of Conservation Voters” be a proponent of a bill that will shutter local wine stores, hurt local wineries and cause more cheap wine imports? Sounds fishy as well.

  • The author’s willingness to destroy one of the last viable, locally owned businesses in New York, family owned wine and liquor stores, because she THINKS selling wine in every bodega, convenience store gas station and drugstore is going to benefit farms is a blatant lie and shows ignorance and malace.

    First of all, if you follow the history of the WIGS’ attack on the enemy business (wine and liquor stores) it never originates from a public outcry for it. It is always voiced by the grocery stores who are interested in the profits that wine sales can give them. These grocers have schemed to hide their greed behind a fake concern for New York farms, grape growers and small wineries. No one should give this claim any credence. The only reason grocers sell fresh locally produced vegetables IN SEASON is because it is more profitable than imports due to low transport and storage costs. The moment the cost per ear of corn goes over the cost of buying it from out-of-state they drop the local like a hot potato. Look to see where your grocer gets his apple juice and grape juice from. It will not be New York! Most likely from China, Chili or Brazil.

    Over 95% of the grapes grown in New York are Labrusca: Concord, Niagara and Catawba. These grapes are not considered good wine grapes like the Vinifera: Cabernet, Chardonnay, Rriesling and Pinot Noir. You could sell 100 times more wine in New York and it wouldn’t save one farm from extinction; the global market doesn’t want those grapes! Small New York wineries, on the other hand, are popping up like toadstools. Why? Because they are growing grapes that are in global demand, that’s why. Selling wine in grocery stores will save farms is a LIE. I know it, the NYLOCV knows it and now YOU know it.

    Meanwhile, let’s not forget that the wine and liquor store system in New York was initially implemented to CONTROL a potentially dangerous product and PROTECT New York’s citizens from the high social costs of widely available and low priced alcohol. Read this report from a disinterested third party to see why letting grocery stores sell wine is bad for you, your family and the state: Get the facts and then make up your own mind.

  • I donate to NYLCV & am usually a fan…but these arguments seem bogus.

    Absent major new marketing efforts–likely much more costly in supermarkets–the transfer of sales by East End wineries from liquor stores to grocery stores will “increase their market presence” only if this change BOOSTS WINE CONSUMPTION. From a public health standpoint, this would be bad policy.

    If wine sales do not markedly increase, then this bill would simply benefit large grocery chains at the direct expense of mostly independent wine & liquor stores. Also bad policy.

    The idea of dedicating a portion of the tax on wine sales to protecting farmland is great…but this can obviously be done regardless of where the wine is sold. This argument does NOT support grocery sales.

    BTW–I’m not a wine maker or seller…just a consumer, who’s VERY skeptical that supermarkets would do a better job of selling pricey local products over cheap table wines, made elsewhere. I’d wager that the proposed bill would increase wine sales, but that East End vineyards would actually lose market share.

    If legislators are hell-bent on doing this, pick a test county & monitor results for a year to gauge the impact. Don’t increase alcohol consumption & put merchants out of business on a whim.

  • Trek25: Let’s not forget King Kullen, who touts their “locally grown produce” that tastes like cardboard.

    This is a bad idea. It will hurt rather than help most vineyards.

  • Wow!, Talk about hitting the nail on the head. Great article. Wineries are not opposed to this bill. If the public wants it, 67% do, then they should have it. If we allow 8,000 new outlets to sell wine, how can it hurt local wineries? We now have only 2,500 stores left where we can sell our wine, if they let us that is. Nice monopoly, this is America? Ted Marks Atwater Estate Vineyards

  • Strange that you, of all people, should talk about monopoly. I believe Atwater has a New York Farm Winery license, does it not? Then you are a government protected monopolist using the police powers of the state to keep the competition out just like the following:

    Real Estate Agencies
    Auto Dealers
    Beauty Salons
    Child Care
    Courier Services
    Day Care Centers

    and hundreds more.

    I think it’s a little like the kettle calling the pot black for Atwater to claim a foul when you bask in the same government protected monopoly as liquor stores do! Give up your license and then come back and talk. But then you will be out of the protected farm winery club and you wouldn’t like that, right?

    You see, your partner, the state of New York, wants to be sure you are profitable so they can tax you for their share of the profit. They grant you a licence (monopoly) to help you keep your profits up so their share is bigger. What would you do if the farm up the street started to sell wine and didn’t have a licence (monopoly)? Why, I think you would call your partners at the state liquor authority and ask them to put the low life competitor in jail. Yep, that’s what I think.

  • It is surprising the the Times Review would allow the prominent publication of such an article without doing some basic fact checking. There are 55 wine producers here and they employ less than 1000 people in total. If we employed 4000 people, generating $65 million would be on average $16500 per employee. That would not be viable as it does not support the salaries that these people would draw. These are frivolous numbers. That is below the poverty line and clearly not the case. Also at 4000 people that would be around 72 persons per winery. Ours is one of the larger wineries and we have in season about 20 employees.

    If grocery stores were going to save the farms of the east end, would they not already show their ability to do so by selling local farm produce? I never see locally grown produce, fruit or local duck in our stores but plenty of imported produce and fruit. Why would they suddenly be selling our wines?
    Would selling wine in new outlets create greater demand? I wonder. If barber shops sold tooth paste would tooth paste consumption increase? Probably not. It might help if new outlets would be restricted to selling NY produced wine, but that is not legally viable.

    The need to preserve land is an issue we can all agree on. The method to doing so is not going to be easy. A tax was already enacted but the economic downturn which has caused a collapse in the real estate market, has virtually eliminated it as a source to replenish the funding. At the same time that same downturn has slowed development. My guess is that the pressure is off, temporarily at least. This should give us enough time to come up with a better researched and more factual proposal than this “out of left field” idea that was allowed to be published.

  • Yours is a most credible voice. Thanks for speaking out on this well-meaning, but thoroughly misguided, legislative effort.

  • All of those occupations you cite are licensed in order to maintain a standard. I’m sure you would agree that not everyone ought to be able to hang a “chiropractor” sign out in front without actually have a license to practice.

  • The real purpose of a professional or business license is to allow you to charge for your good or service. Anyone can manipulate your back muscles with impunity, but they better not do it for money unless they have a license to do so. Now if you want to believe the state is doing this licensing so they can maintain a standard that’s your right, but the truth of the matter is they want to protect their ability to collect taxes from the person that does the muscle manipulation. So, to summarize: No license, no ability to enter into the market for the good or service; de facto monopoly protection from unlicensed competitors.

    Now, if the state (which controls number of licenses issued) allows for too may Chiropractors then the market will become saturated, individual chiropractor profits will fall and the state will take in less taxes overall. The state has vested interest in keeping prices of goods and services as high as possible. Ten Chiropractors earning $100k each is better for the state than fifty earning $20k.

    Honest, I’m not lying to you, the only real concern the state has in professional and business licenses is to protect their economic interest. You just don’t hear about it in public school. Instead they teach us that “I’m from the government and I’m here to help/protect you!” People need to start thinking outside the box when it comes to what government SAYS and what it DOES. Any license equals a state granted monopoly. Whether the licensee wants the monopoly or recognizes the monopoly is not germane.

    That’s what this WIGS issue is all about. Which legislative reality equals more money for the state! The grocers say theirs will (jobs, fees) and the wine stores/ small wineries say theirs will (net job loss, greater social costs). The state couldn’t give a rats’s behind over consumer convenience, drunk drivers, wine customer education or anything else for that matter. Just one thing: how much MONEY is in it for ME.

  • Hey they even charge a fee to be a winemaker. The state makes money from licensing fees. You can consider those a tax. But your argument that if there were a glut of chiropractors the state would lose money is not correct. The state actually makes more if there are 20 chiropractors paying $100 each than 10. If there aren’t enough patients to go around, it’s the chiropractors who will lose money, there are still the same number of patients, but double the fees. The state makes $25 every 2 years for a real estate license. A few years back there were many more real estate agents than today, now the state collects less fees. The number of agents doesn’t affect the number of houses sold. I don’t think that aspect of your argument holds water. I don’t see the state limiting how many people hold a particular license, are you aware of any instances?

    Whether or not the government is “helping” or not is irrelevant. If someone needs to be licensed in order to be paid, it’s a higher standard (one hopes, sometimes not).

  • I bought Schmidt farm spinach in King Kullen Riverhead…

  • I feel that becoming state licensed ensures a certain minimum requirement of skill/knowledge in order to provide goods/services to our public. Similar to a college degree, membership in professional organizations, awards, honors, etc… All of which utilize some degree of revenue stream. The sole fact that money is made does not indicate greed.

    I sometimes share your frustration with the powers that be, but remember, everyone has to make their paper… Even the state. I know a civics lesson is really far down on everyone’s list, but it’s important to remember that the state literally paves the way for wine enthusiasts to access the wine country and preserving their land, among countless other public services. This money has to come first, and it’s the same throughout the world. It’s really nothing personal. And it doesn’t matter if they give a “rat’s ass” about you or not. If the state wasn’t collecting, you’d be paying off the mob/drug lord/fascist regime and “not giving a rat’s ass about you” can take on a whole new meaning in that world. In comparison, paying taxes and fees as a responsible citizen of our state with democratically elected representatives seems like a pretty good deal to me.

    Liberal enough for ya!

  • That’s great! I have never been happy with some of the items there. The string beans especially come to mind as being particularly cardboard-like.

  • The #1 problem facing Goldsmiths Inlet is the presence of the non-functional jetty. First built in the 1960s, it continues to clog the entrance and erode the eastern side of the inlet. It has damaged the inlet and the county park area ever since it was constructed, and should be dismantled. Taxpayers have contributed huge sums of money to repeatedly dredge the inlet entrance–something that would have otherwise been unnecessary.

    You can’t “save” Goldsmiths Inlet without removing that jetty. It’s as simple as that.

  • After reading the update to this article, I am even more dismayed. Hugh Switzer and the Suffolk Times may have good intentions, but they have a rather poor understanding of how erosion works and how sand moves along a beach. Along this part of the Sound, the longshore drift continually moves sand west to east, and a large disruption such as a jetty interrupts this flow. Sand will build up on the west side of the jetty (as it has at Goldsmiths Inlet), and erode sand swiftly on the east side. Compounding the problem is that this particular jetty is ‘loose,’ and allows a certain amount of the accumlated sand to sift through to clog the entrance to inlet.

    I encourage everyone to simply check out the entrance to the inlet on Google maps, which will graphically illustrate my point. Huge amounts of sand have built up on the west side of the inlet, while the east side continues to erode. Now, if you were to look at an older photo (or topographic map) from before the 1960s, you would see that Goldsmiths Inlet was functioning in a healthy fashion, with no jetties. Prior to the jetty, there is no artificial buildup of sand on the west side, and the entrance to the inlet is wide open–as it was for generations. Up until the jetty was built in the 60s, there was no need for expensive dredgings–it’s presence ensures that we are locked into an expensive cycle of repeated dredgings. And for what? The jetty serves no function!

    And it is just incorrect to say that because there is only one jetty, ” sand will repeatedly return to the inlet during winter nor’easters”. Having two rock walls will only make things worse, along with accelerating the erosion on the east side of the inlet. Again, it is the jetty that caused this problem to begin with, and it absolutely should be removed. The jetty was built as part of a marina project that never materialized, and therefore it has never had any function, other than to disrupt the natural flow of sand, and damage the entrance to the inlet.

    I have been going to Goldsmiths Inlet for over 30 years, and I can safely say that have never seen that inlet, or the county park beach area in worse shape. The last dredging, far from being “the best,” was
    actually one of most ill-advised in recent memory. Not only did the dredgers not replace the sand that had eroded along the Goldsmiths Inlet County Park to the east (they did place some much further down the beach), they actually placed much it on the WEST side of the inlet! This is exactly where the sand is already accumulating and washing through the loose jetty into the mouth of the inlet. Because of this, the storms this past winter severely eroded the beach at Goldsmiths Inlet County Park–to the point where the foundations of the old summer homes (formerly many meters back from the Sound) where exposed.

    In order to deal with the problems at Goldsmiths Inlet, we at least have to have a proper understanding of what these problems are, and how they were caused. If not, there is no chance to solve things. The health of this inlet, and enormous amounts of taxpayers dollars depend on getting this right.