New York Farm Bureau will push the state to fund efforts that would mitigate labor expenses and expand research at a time when commodity prices have dropped without a corresponding decrease in costs..
The Farm Bureau’s 2018 state legislative priorities seek to address a significant loss in farm income across the state. The overall goal is to help make costs more manageable and assist with long-term planning.
Many of the legislative goals this year will also focus on how the state can invest more in important farm programs, expand market share in local schools and expand its focus on research needs.
New York’s farms continue to suffer from low milk and commodity prices. The value of agriculture products in New York has dropped yet again to $5 billion in 2016, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. That is more than a billion dollars less than it was in 2014.
A lot of that is because the federal milk price is low for the fourth straight year.
“The state can’t do anything about dairy prices, and they can’t do anything about the price farmers get paid for any commodity,” said Jeff Williams, New York Farm Bureau’s public policy director.. “What they can do is reducing the cost of doing business in the state, which New York has lagged behind every other state for a number of years.”
Net farm income took an even steeper dive. In 2016, the most recent numbers available, farms earned $568 million. That is about a third of where net farm income stood in 2013. Moreover, with continued low prices and higher production costs, 2017 numbers are not expected to be any better when they are released.
“This is why we need to continue to find ways for the state to make necessary investments, reduce the cost of doing business and improve market opportunities for our farmers,” said David Fisher, New York Farm Bureau President, in a press conference call last month. Fisher is a family owner of Mapleview Dairy in St. Lawrence County.
The first priority for the organization is to double the minimum wage tax credit for farms, from $30 million to $60 million. The second step of the wage hike climbed at the beginning of the year on its way to $15 for farms on Long Island and $12.50 for upstate farmers. New York Farm Bureau opposed this hike, but it was successful in securing a tax credit per employee during the rollout. However, that tax credit only covers a fraction of what it is costing family farms to implement the wage hike.
New York Farm Bureau would like to see that tax credit doubled from $300 this year to $600 for each employee. By 2021, the final year of the roll out, the $600 tax credit would double to $1,200.
Minimum wage increases have pushed up all wages up across the board, including for those who currently make well above the minimum, according to the Farm Bureau. The average farm wage in New York is around is around $13 an hour, according to labor statistics.
“Farmers cannot just increase prices to absorb these added labor expenses like most businesses,” said Fisher. “They are at the mercy of market prices. If the state is going to force a higher wage on farms, they should be prepared to offer greater assistance to offset the costs, especially at such a challenging time for farmers.”
Securing state funding for critical farm programs is also a top priority for New York Farm Bureau.
Fisher said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo included a number of positive things in his budget plan, which will be beneficial to agriculture. This includes strong funding for the Environmental Protection Fund, which will assist farms with water quality, conservation and farmland protection programs.
However, many of the programs funded last year received no allocations in the executive budget, as is typical in the budget process. This money supports research, technical assistance and promotion for many of the diverse commodities grown and produced by New York farmers.
“We know this will be a tough budget year as the state grapples with a potentially $4 billion deficit, but New York Farm Bureau will work with the legislature and governor to restore this important funding,” said Fisher.
In fact, research money is essential for farmers in this state. It is becoming increasingly competitive for the state’s land grant university, Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to maintain and recruit experts in their fields. New York Farm Bureau is advocating for an additional $2 million in the state budget to serve as seed funding to help attract much needed faculty and research.
In addition, the organization is supporting efforts to secure $3 million in state investment to go toward a capital fund at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This would update critical infrastructure to allow key research and extension work to continue.
“This support is vital for our agricultural community,” said Fisher. “The information and expertise that comes out of Cornell to our farms helps us plan for the future, implement best practices on our farms and address pressing pest and weather related challenges that can be harmful to farms that aren’t prepared.”
The New York Farm Bureau’s leader is is pleased to see that Cuomo continues to make strides in state procurement efforts and support for marketing programs like Taste NY. His latest budget ask includes $10 million in the education budget to expand the school lunch reimbursement program for districts that purchase at least 30 percent of their food that is grown, produced or processed in New York. The lunch reimbursement rate would jump from six cents a meal to 25 cents.
“We will advocate for this funding in the legislature so it makes it in the final budget. Not only would this provide a new market opportunity for farmers, but it will also support students across the state who will have more fresh, healthy food to eat,” said Williams.
Finally, at New York Farm Bureau’s State annual meeting, farmer members put forth new policy to support efforts to combat tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease. New York Farm Bureau is supportive of increasing funding for both enhanced detection of tick-borne illnesses as well as for vaccine development. The Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick Borne Diseases put forth a series of recommendations last year to address these needs and we will be advocating for support during the legislative session.
“Anecdotally, our farmers are telling us that they have seen more ticks and cases of Lyme moving from eastern New York into the western part of the state. It has become a major public health issues for the general public, and especially for farmers and their employees who work outside and are more likely to come into contact with ticks,” said Jeff Williams, public policy director.
New York Farm Bureau will advocate for these and other issues during the current legislative session. This effort will include hundreds of farmers who will visit the Capitol in Albany to meet with legislators during the organization’s annual Taste of New York Reception and Lobby Day, March 5-6, 2018.
New York Farm Bureau establishes its priorities every year. Members of 52 county Farm Bureaus voice their opinions and vote on public policy resolutions at the county level. Those make their way to the state annual meeting each December where farmer delegates cast their votes that determine the organization’s positions on legislative issues. The state board of directors then establishes the priorities for the year.