ITHACA, N.Y.—Sen. Kristen Gillibrand made a brief visit to Cornell University Monday afternoon, celebrating the passage of the Democrat-supported Inflation Reduction Act through Congress and the resulting agriculture funding that should help New York farmers.

According to an announcement of the visit, the bill will bring $3.1 billion to the agriculture industry as a whole, aimed at easing farmers’ implementation of more sustainable practices in their businesses.

Gillibrand joined with Tompkins County Legislators Shawna Black, Dan Klein, Amanda Champion and Veronica Pillar, as well as Cornell University officials Joel Malina and Ben Houlton and Professors Neil Mattson, Matt Ryan and Virginia Moore.

The group toured the Guterman Greenhouse facility on Caldwell Road on Cornell’s campus, a wide-ranging research building. It’s not clear how much money, or if any at all, will be going toward research projects directly housed at the school, but the visit was meant to represent the general momentum that sustainable agriculture research has, further fostered by the newly passed bill.

“Sen. Gillibrand has been a fierce advocate for us in upstate New York,” said Black during a subsequent press conference. “She’s fought for and supported legislation at the federal level that has made us stronger, more connected and more resilient.”

Gillibrand with Tompkins County legislators after the tour. Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

Nicholas Kaczmar, a research support specialist at Cornell, said there’s a few different initiatives underway at Guterman and elsewhere on campus that deal with sustainable farming practices and which could be examples of the types of projects that will receive money from the bill. One of them, as mentioned at the Monday presser, has to do with cover crops, which pose a wealth of benefits to farms (though they are costly), while Kaczmar’s focus is greenhouse lighting, which can be a significant cost for a farming company.

“If you’re a lettuce, tomato, strawberry producer in the state and you’re just starting off, you’re looking at these high-efficiency LED lights that are like $1,000 per light, that’s a pretty big barrier to entry,” Kaczmar said. “If you can get financial assistance from the government to reduce that cost instead of going for more conventional technologies, which aren’t as energy-efficiency, something like the EQUIP program really lowers that barrier to entry.”

“Energy-efficient” is a slightly vague term, especially for those not in the field, but Kaczmar said the technology has come far enough to legitimately give farmers more bang for their buck to choose the sustainable route. He added that if he was a farmer just starting their business now, he would go for the more energy-efficient option as it’s become a far more practical and even beneficial option financially.

“Ten years ago, there would have been no choice, we would have just gone with conventional lighting since it’s cheaper and equally as efficient,” he said. “Now we’re at a point where we’re almost twice as efficient in lighting, and they’re still going to improve.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com