Ortt, state legislators in GOP continue to press governor, DOL not to lower OT threshold for ag

Provided photo – From left include Pat McCormick, Board Member of the New York State Farm Bureau; Jim Bittner, President and GM of Bittner-Singer Orchards; Assemblyman Angelo Morinello; Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt; Assemblyman Mike Norris; Janette Miller, President of Niagara County Farm Bureau; and local vegetable and dairy farmer Maureen Torrey.

Posted 20 May 2022 at 4:19 pm

Press Release, State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt

APPLETON – Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, Assemblymembers Mike Norris, Angelo Morinello, and industry stakeholders today called on the Governor and NYS Department of Labor to reject the Farm Laborers Wage Board’s recommendation to reduce the overtime threshold for farms from 60 hours per week to 40 hours per week.

“Our family farms and farmworkers play an incredibly important role in our society. The farming industry is a unique system that works much differently than corporate 9-5 jobs,” Ortt said. “This burdensome mandate will cause farms to go under, cut worker’s hours, and jeopardize the future of New York’s agriculture industry — adding to the exodus of people leaving our state. The Governor and NYS Department of Labor MUST reject this proposal for the future of our farms and economy. Bittner Singer Orchards is one of the many farms that fear the effects of lowering the overtime threshold. I’ve traveled across the district and heard the concerns of our farmers. I will continue to be their voice in Albany and advocate for the ones who know what’s best for our farms: our farmers and farm workers.”

In January, the Farm Laborers Wage Board recommended the reduction of the overtime threshold for farm laborers. Ortt called out the disastrous decision by the unelected Albany bureaucrats as  “jeopardizing the future of New York’s agriculture industry.”

Several Economic Development and Business Organizations have come out and urged the Governor to maintain the 60-hour overtime threshold, including the Grow NY Farms Coalition, the Business Council of New York State (BCNYS), the National Federation of Independent Businesses of New York (NFIB), and Upstate United.

For years, Ortt and the Senate Republican Conference have listened to and stood with family farmers and local New York farms and have advocated against burdensome Albany mandates, like the lowering of the overtime threshold. Last year, Ortt and the conference sounded the alarm, multiple times, on the negative effects this policy would have on farmers and farmworkers alike.

“Farms across the state have been besieged by rising costs, including energy prices, various taxes, and rising labor costs as well as the addition of costly mandates from the state leading many farms, particularly small, family-run farms to close, consolidate or downsize operations,” said Assemblyman Mike Norris. “As the Consumer Price Index has risen more than 8 percent in the last year, New Yorkers, like all Americans, are struggling to make ends meet in the face of inflation. Families are having to make tough choices and I, for one, think our nation, and this great state, can do better. We have people who want to work, are willing to work and there’s work to be done. This is not the time to limit hard work, entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity by putting farmers and farm workers alike out of business.”

“The idea that a week’s work on a farm can be completed within just 40 hours is entirely divorced from the weather-dependent reality of farming, where putting in extra hours is needed to either complete a harvest or save crops from the natural threats they face throughout the year,” Hawley said. “If the farm laborer overtime threshold is reduced to 40 hours, it has been projected by Farm Credit East that farmers’ labor costs could rise by as much as 42% over the next several years. Most farms already operate on razor-thin profit margins, so that spike in their expenses is one that could make the difference between maintaining their viability and making the hard decision to shut down their operations,” said Assemblyman Steve Hawley.

“The wage board process has been a frustrating one,” said Jim Bittner, President and General Manager of Operation at Bittner-Singer Orchards. “The farm community had an uphill battle going in, but at the same time we had hoped that the Department of Labor would at least listen to the people who actually farm and our employees. But in the end, all of that testimony fell on deaf ears. The Department of Labor did not even play all the submitted videos from both farmers and farmworkers nor take any time to deliberate or review all of the submitted material before making a recommendation. Most importantly, testimony highlighted how farmworkers are concerned about losing hours and income, said they would have to get a second job or look for jobs on farms out of state. The very people the policy claims to help, will lose in the end.”

“We appreciate the recently enacted overtime tax credit for farmers in this year’s state budget.  It is clear, however, from the wage board hearings that farm workers and farmers alike believe the current overtime threshold works. Farmers and farmworkers are key to food security in New York State especially as we continue to see negative impacts from Covid-19 and the economic downturn. Thank you to Senator Ortt and his legislative colleagues for continuing to highlight this critical issue,” said Jeanette Miller, President of Niagara County Farm Bureau.

“We cannot afford these changes. I lost a worker because I had to cut his hours back. I know other farms who have lost workers because they are only allowed to work 60 hours. Lowering the threshold to 40 hours is going to make it harder to find labor in an already tight labor market. The Governor must also remember that farm work is very time sensitive – meaning many of our workers are only here during harvesting time,” said Pat McCormick, a dairy farmer and board member of the New York State Farm Bureau.

Students compete at Niagara-Orleans Envirothon

Posted 7 May 2022 at 7:49 am

Provided photos: This group of students competed in the Niagara-Orleans Regional Envirothon at Bond Lake Park Nature Center in Lewiston.

Press Release, Soil & Water Conservation Districts in Orleans and Niagara counties

LEWISTON – Six teams of high school students competed May 5 at the Niagara-Orleans Regional Envirothon held at Bond Lake Park Nature Center in Lewiston.

Teams of five students in grades 9-12 were tested on wildlife, aquatics, forestry, soils/land use, and a current environmental issue. This year’s current issue was “Waste to Resources” – bringing to light ways to reduce waste and how to continue to do so in the future.

“Envirothon helps students get a hands-on knowledge of our environment and to understand how better to protect and manage the resources around them,” explained Dave Reckahn, Niagara County SWCD Natural Resource Technician.

This group won from Orleans County, representing the Orleans Career and Technical Education Center.

Congratulations to the winning teams, Niagara Career and Technical Education Center and Orleans Career and Technical Education Center. Both teams will move on to represent their county at the NYS Envirothon later this month at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

“Envirothon is a great environmental competition to get students interested in different aspects of the outdoors” said Scott Collins, Niagara County SWCD RAP Coordinator and former Envirothon winner.

The Niagara-Orleans Regional Envirothon is a yearly event coordinated by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Niagara and Orleans counties. Essential support is provided by schools and community advisors, as well as local specialists in each field.

A special thank you to the event’s sponsors GM Foundation, NewRoyal Orchards and Orleans Poverty Hill Farm.

For more information about Envirothon visit or

To participate next year please reach out to our offices at 716-434-4949 ext. 4 for Niagara County students and 585-589-5959 ext. 5 for Orleans County students.

This is the winning Niagara County team from Niagara Career and Technical Education Center.

Pigs, goats and more bask in attention at Albion Mini Farm Day

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 May 2022 at 9:13 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Albion FFA members Alyson Knaak, left, holds a piglet named “Porkchop” and Jamie Penna holds “Bacon” during today’s Albion FFA Mini Farm Day.

Several hundred elementary students stopped by the FFA shop to see the farm animals and tractors in the parking lot.

“This is the most fun we have,” Knaak said.

Scott Oldenburg, the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor, said the students look forward to the Mini Farm Day.

“It’s the Albion FFA giving back to the elementary kids and educating them about the different animals on a farm,” he said.

Max Bentley shows this class of third graders a John Deere track tractor that was brought to the school by Panek Farms.

This dairy calf named “Jelly Bean” was brought to the Mini Farm Day by FFA member Samantha Basinait, who also brought an 1,100-pound Hereford steer.

Jeffrey Brown introduces students to Theo, a 5-year-old Norwegian Elkhound that loves bread, walks, bones, treats and belly scratches. The dog hates thunder, Jeffrey said.

Simon Ellison holds a Harklen cross rabbit. He is joined by Leah Pritchard, who introduced the students to a goat named Matilda in the pen.

Aiden Brien shows the class a Case IH speed tiller made available by Mathes Farms.

Taylor Soule holds a 3-legged goat named Jack that was very popular with this group of third-graders.

Austin Narburgh of the Albion FFA sent in this drone photo of the livestock area and tractors in the parking lot from the Mini Farm Day.

CCE’s Seed Bank project returns to local libraries for first time since 2019

Photos courtesy of Orleans County CCE: Master Gardener volunteers sorted seeds to fill the Seed Banks back in March.

Posted 2 May 2022 at 3:02 pm

Press Release, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County

The Seed Bank at Lee-Whedon Library is stocked and available to the public.  Seed Banks will be available at the other county libraries after May 9.

KNOWLESVILLE – Local libraries will soon house Orleans County CCE’s Seed Banks for the first time since 2019.

The program was a huge success in its inaugural year, with educational classes and free seeds offered to the public at Orleans County libraries.

Orleans CCE has not been able to offer the program the past two years because of a lack of supplies. But thanks to a donation last fall, and the dedicated support of the Master Gardener program, the Seed Back project is back for the 2022 season!

The Seed Banks consist of a small chest of drawers that contain various fruit and vegetable seeds available free to the public while supplies last.

“We had to refill those little drawers so many times the first time we offered the Seed Bank program!” said Katie Oakes, Horticulture Educator at Orleans County CCE and coordinator of the Master Gardener adult volunteer program. “We had so many new gardeners emerge from pandemic eager to try growing their own food at home, and we just are so happy we can help support them by getting seeds into their hands at no cost.”

The Seed Bank program launched in Medina last week at the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library with a “Read and Seed” seed starting class led by Oakes and Master Gardener volunteers Mark Tucker and Melissa Greean.

The class highlighted best practices in starting seeds at home, as well as how to transition seedlings to the outdoor environment when weather conditions are right. Participants were able to browse the free seeds in the Seed Banks as well as try their hand at “Soil Blocking,” an innovative technique in planting seeds that reduces waste and produces stronger transplants.

“I like starting plants from seeds because it allows me to choose what I will grow,” said Tucker, a Master Gardener since 2019. “There are so many amazing plants that cannot be found at local nurseries. The chance to try foods that would normally be too expensive or in short supply is an added plus. The Seed Bank project provides a chance for people to try, at no cost, growing items such as herbs, vegetables and flowers.”

Photo courtesy of Lee-Whedon Memorial Library: Katie Oakes and Master Gardener Mark Tucker demonstrate how a Soil Blocker works.

Growing food at home can offer many different benefits aside from just fresh produce. Research shows that gardening can provide beneficial physical exercise, stress relief and emotional support, cost savings, and much more.

“One successful plant is usually worth more than the cost of a packet of seeds, so there is a real opportunity to stretch the food budget,” Tucker said. “These Seed Banks provide a potential source of food at little to no cost, and when combined with local supports, such as Master Gardeners, can almost guarantee success.”

There will be an additional seed starting class called “Seeds, Seeds, Seeds!” offered at the Hoag Library on Monday, May 9, at 6 p.m. Following that class, the Seed Banks will be available to the public at all four libraries within the county – Lee Whedon in Medina, Hoag Library in Albion, Yates Community Library in Lyndonville, and the Community Free Library in Holley. In addition to the small chest of drawers containing food crop seeds, each library will have a flower pot with a large selection of free flower seeds. Free seeds will also be available at the Orleans County CCE office building – inside the “Buzz Hill” Education Center and in the Free Library Box outside in the Honor Garden in front of the CCE building.  Seeds are available only while supplies last.

For information on starting seeds at home, vegetable gardening, or any other general gardening questions, contact the Master Gardeners or Katie Oakes at 585-798-4265 or

The Seed Banks will be accompanied with large flower pots full of various free flower seeds.

Orleans has first confirmed case of avian flu in backyard flock

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 April 2022 at 11:43 am

Orleans County has its first confirmed case of the avian influenza. It was detected in a backyard flock, said Robert Batt, executive director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orleans County.

There are no other details about what type of bird, how many tested positive and the location.

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets on March 25 announced the spread of avian influenza among fowl and said it would ban all live shows and exhibitions in the state with chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.

The state will reassess the status of the ban in May, at which time the Extension will be able to determine if fowl will be included the annual 4-H Fair in late July.

The current outbreak of avian flu is rapidly expanding nationwide, Ag and Markets said on March 25. It has also been detected among snow geese and wild ducks.

“People can still protect their flocks by getting them under cover and avoiding outside contamination,” Batt said. “There’s a possibility of prevention with some urgency and diligence.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these recent avian flu detections in birds do not present an immediate public health concern. No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been found in the United States.

Ag and Markets advised commercial and hobby poultry farmers to increase their biosecurity measures to help prevent the spread of the disease. Poultry owners should keep their birds away from wild ducks and geese and their droppings. Outdoor access for poultry should be limited at this time.

Jacobs says change in U.S. energy policies would bring down ag input costs

Posted 5 April 2022 at 2:02 pm

Press Release, Congressman Chris Jacobs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Chris Jacobs (NY-27) joined 96 colleagues in calling on President Biden to reverse his anti-American energy policies and take steps to bring down the cost of fertilizers for farmers.

“Most common fertilizers are petroleum-based,” Jacobs said. “With prices skyrocketing and foreign supplies becoming less accessible, it is critical action is taken to bring down fertilizer costs for farmers.

“Farmers are struggling under increased fuel costs, labor shortages, and inflationary pressures on inputs. If we do not act now, it could spell even higher prices for American consumers. The President could take immediate steps to bring prices down across the board.

“His policies have been destructive to the U.S. energy industry, and in turn, our farmers. The President must allow for increased U.S. oil and gas production, take steps to allow for easier access to alternative fertilizers, and ensure critical minerals are made part of the Department of Interior’s mission.”

Recently, Jacobs also co-sponsored numerous pieces of legislation designed to restore American energy independence and bring fuel costs down for farmers and the American people as a whole.

“Farming is an industry of incredibly narrow margins – any action the President can take immediately to lower the inflationary pressures facing our farmers, in large part due to his bad policies, must be a priority,” Jacobs said.

The full text of the representatives’ letter to President Biden:

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to express our serious concern regarding record-high fertilizer prices impacting American farmers going into the spring planting season. Fertilizer is a primary input and major expense for producers across the country, and price increases will have a significant effect on farm profitability and the prices of food and consumer products.

Since January 2021, according to the most recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture, the prices of key fertilizer sources have substantially increased as follows: anhydrous ammonia (by 203%); urea (by 141%); liquid nitrogen (by 162%); monoammonium phosphate (by 74%); potash (by 125%); and farm diesel (by 95%). Ongoing supply-chain bottlenecks and the rising cost of energy are among the factors sending fertilizer prices soaring, and disruptions stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will only compound the problem. As a result, Americans will pay more at restaurants, grocery stores, and elsewhere.

We are therefore urging your administration to review all available options to lower the cost of fertilizer, including but not limited to: eliminating the cross-border vaccine mandate for transporters of essential commerce; urging the USDA to use its existing authorities under the food supply chain and pandemic response resources to provide support for farmers facing financial difficulties; ensuring agricultural minerals like phosphate and potash are part of the Department of the Interior’s crucial mission; increasing U.S. gas production; and approving pending export permits at the Department of Energy for liquefied natural gas.

Quickly undertaking such measures is the most immediate – and perhaps only – near-term opportunity to partially remedy the high costs of fertilizer hurting American farmers and, ultimately, American consumers. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Jacobs joined by state senator, assemblyman in pressing governor to reject lower OT threshold on farms

Posted 19 March 2022 at 9:37 pm

Press Release, Congressman Chris Jacobs’ Office

Provided photo: Congressman Chris Jacobs, center, is joined by Assemblyman Steve Hawley, left, and State Sen. Ed Rath today at the Oakfield Community Center.

OAKFIELD – Congressman Chris Jacobs (NY-27), State Senator Ed Rath (R,C,I – Amherst), and State Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) held a press conference this morning to call on Governor Hochul to reject the NYS Farm Laborers Wage Board’s decision to lower the overtime threshold from 60 hours a week to 40 hours.

“Farming is already a business suffering from labor shortages with incredibly tight margins, if the Governor were to accept this decision it would have disastrous impacts on the viability of agriculture in our state and the security of our rural economies,” Jacobs said. “Lowering the threshold would force producers and workers out of our state, and bankrupt generation family farms. I urge the Governor to reject this decision – made at the expense of our farmers – our region’s future prosperity depends on it.”

“The decision by the Farm Laborers Wage Board to lower overtime hours from 60 to 40 hours is fatal to our farms. As the largest industry in New York, agriculture is a vital part of our Upstate community. With this overtime change, many family farms will not survive. I have spoken with countless farmers and farmworkers who have shared their concerns with this hour reduction. I remain deeply troubled by this decision and the impact it will have, not only in my district but across our State,” Rath said.

“Our state’s agri-businesses and rural communities are staring down the edge of a cliff as they eagerly wait to see whether Gov. Hochul will stand up for them, or for the special interests who’ve been pushing this policy through the bureaucratic process,” Hawley said. “Farmers, lawmakers, farm laborers and experts alike have made clear the devastating consequences this decision will have on agriculture. In this moment, Gov. Hochul has the power to save agriculture in New York state, or put it down a path that will cause it to become something completely unrecognizable. Having represented a rural part of upstate New York in Congress, I sincerely hope she understands how dangerous this decision would be not just for farmers, but for rural communities throughout the state.”

Jacobs recently joined the New York Republican Congressional Delegation in sending a letter to Governor Hochul outlining the disastrous impacts of this recommendation from the wage board and urging her to reject it.

French company commits to new yogurt and dairy plant in Batavia, creating up to 135 new jobs

Photo from Genesee County Economic Development Center: This photo shows the land  for La Fermière's new 45,000 square-foot yogurt and dairy desserts production facility at Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park in Batavia.

Posted 16 March 2022 at 12:31 pm

Press Release, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Office

BATAVIA – Governor Kathy Hochul today announced that La Fermière, a family-owned French yogurt and desserts company, will establish its U.S. production operations in New York State.

The company has committed to constructing a 45,000 square-foot yogurt and dairy desserts production facility at Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park in Batavia, with plans for future, additional expansion. As a result, La Fermière, expects to create up to 135 New Jobs in the region.

Additionally, the company will utilize millions of pounds of milk provided by New York dairy farmers to create its globally renowned dairy products. Agribusiness is a core pillar of the locally designed Finger Lakes Forward plan, a comprehensive plan that is working to revitalize and grow the regional economy.

“We’re proud to welcome La Fermière to Genesee County, bringing jobs and opportunity to the Finger Lakes region,” Governor Hochul said. “This investment shows that our bold economic recovery plan for the Finger Lakes is working, attracting new businesses and helping communities across the region grow and thrive.”

Founded in Marseille, France in 1952, the company was purchased by Groupe Tarpinian in 2002. In the mid to late 2010’s, La Fermière began working with a New York state based co-packer in an effort to bring its sustainably packaged French yogurt to the U.S. market. The company had considered site locations throughout the country for its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility but selected New York, thanks to the focused support from both the State and its regional economic development partners.

“We are very excited to launch this project of building our very first yogurt and dessert production facility in Batavia, New York,” said La Fermière President and CEO Jean-Jacques Tarpinian. “The great support of the state and GCEDC team really helped us in our decision. The Batavia site meets our main requirements for success: quality milk and large cream supply, logistics hub and work force availability. Being close to local farmers, at the heart of milk production, was key for us, as we will use up to 6 million gallons of milk every year. Our five-year presence in the U.S. market expanded beyond our expectations. This state-of-the art facility will help us achieve our very ambitious goal in the U.S. market, which offers large opportunities by manufacturing the best all natural yogurts and desserts, with innovative recipes and process.”

Steven G. Hyde, President and Chief Executive Officer for Genesee County Economic Development Center said, “La Fermière’s decision to locate their U.S. operations in Genesee County demonstrates that investing in shovel-ready sites like the Genesee Valley Agribusiness Park draws great companies to New York. We are excited to work with La Fermière to see this project to success as we continue to grow our food and beverage-manufacturing workforce. Thanks to Governor Hochul’s leadership, businesses are finding the right sites and ready communities in New York for their growth.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “We are proud to welcome La Fermière to New York State as they expand their business in Genesee County, a major win for dairy in New York State. By choosing New York, La Fermière has highlighted the strength and diversity of our state’s dairy industry, which continues to attract new businesses and produce delicious, world-class dairy products for all to enjoy. Having La Fermière’s U.S. production facility located in New York will create new jobs and increase demand for New York dairy farmers’ milk, which is certainly a win-win for our dairy farmers and our communities. We look forward to partnering with La Fermière as they put down roots here and look forward to the continued success and expansion of the Genesee Valley Agribusiness Park.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley said, “The arrival of La Fermière into the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park in Batavia is another sign that our region is truly a burgeoning agri-business hotspot within New York State. The Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park’s ability to enable manufacturers to make use of our high quality, local dairy has helped springboard our rural economy into the next generation, getting more of our farmer’s product into grocery stores nationwide and providing jobs to our highly skilled workforce. It’s been an incredible asset to the development of our rural economy, and its success is a testament to the quality of what our farmers are able to offer to companies seeking to produce specialty products at a massive scale.”

Genesee County Legislature Chair Shelley Stein said, “Thank you to Governor Hochul for guiding La Fermière to Genesee County and building another opportunity for great careers for our youth. La Fermière, and recent investments by O-AT-KA Milk Products, Dairy Farmers of America, HP Hood, Upstate Niagara Cooperative, and Yancey’s Fancy show that Genesee County is the ideal place for dairy processing growth. These investments have a tremendous positive impact for our farm families, highly skilled and dedicated farm workers, robust agricultural economy and welcoming communities.”

Roy-Hart celebrates success of K-12 ag education program

Posted 2 March 2022 at 7:31 pm

Press Release, Roy-Hart Central School

Provided photo: Fourth-grade students from Royalton-Hartland Elementary School are excited about the results of their agricultural study project on worms that was a display at a district-wide celebration of the K-12 Agricultural Center of Excellence. The students now have a better understanding of how worms can add fertility to soil and help grow crops. Participating in the project are (from left to right) teacher Jessica Monaco and students Sylas Jones, Chloe Carpenter and Mason Heideman.

MIDDLEPORT – The Royalton-Hartland School District community came together today to celebrate the achievements made in the past four years and future plans for its innovative K-12 Agricultural Education Center of Excellence Program.

School Board leaders, teachers, students, Agriculture Foundation board members, government representatives and community volunteers participated in a celebration event that included tours of the newly-renovated Small Animal Care, Food Science and Agri-Science Labs, an overview of ongoing Farm-to-School activities at the Elementary, Middle and High Schools, accomplishments of the FFA, and future plans for the Ag program.

“With the leadership of the District’s Board of Education and many dedicated partners, we have made great strides in providing opportunities for our many students to explore agriculture and the environment, ultimately pursuing them in college studies with the hope many return to Niagara County to contribute to the local agriculture industry,” said Dr. Hank Stopinski, Roy-Hart superintendent of schools.

“Many event attendees Wednesday saw first-hand the momentum that is building behind agriculture education and career preparation, how engaging and innovative our programs have become and the tremendous dedication driving it on a staff and community-wide basis,” he said.

Roy-Hart High School students have more reason now to pursue a higher education in agricultural sciences with the opening of the three new labs, which in further detail are:

  • Small Animal Care Lab: This lab is designed to support the animal science curriculum and provide hands-on learning opportunities for students. Grooming, health exams, sanitation and other small animal concepts are taught in this area.
  • Food Science Lab: The lab/classroom space features the latest instructional technology and can serve up to 30 students. It is equipped with multiple workstations for the preparation and processing of food. The lab will be used during the school day in support of the Food Science class, in the evenings and weekends for adult continuing education and special immersion/enrichment experiences for students.
  • Agri-Science Lab: This large classroom/lab is designed to allow students to have hands-on learning applications for multiple agricultural education concepts that include, but are not limited to large animal care, aquaponics, hydroponics and floral design.

The Roy-Hart Agricultural Education Center of Excellence Program has also seen the creation of an Outdoor Learning Lab at the Roy-Hart Elementary School, a STEM lab at the high school, and the infusion of a Farm-to-School studies program in the middle school curriculum.

Primary financing for the labs came through funds made available by FMC Corporation to be requested by the Royalton-Hartland School District for qualified projects under the Environmental Benefit Projects Policy of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), in accordance with a 2019 Order on Consent between FMC and NYSDEC.

Additional funding for the program also came from the Grigg Lewis Foundation, with the support of the non-profit Royalton-Hartland Agriculture Foundation, State Farm and ExxonMobil.

Roy-Hart also received an $87,419 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service Farm-to-School Program to further support the high school Food Science Lab with kitchen equipment and stipends for teachers to implement the Food Science curriculum, as well as the build-out of the middle school’s Family and Consumer Science Lab.

OC Farm Bureau president says lowering OT would deter workers, change local landscape

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 February 2022 at 10:27 am

Farmers would likely to turn away from labor-intensive apples, cabbage and squash for grain and processing crops

Photo by Tom Rivers: Orleans County Farm Bureau President John Kast speaks at Wednesday’s County Legislature meeting when he asked the county officials to oppose lowering the overtime threshold in agriculture from the current 60 hours. Kast said the change would hurt seasonal workers who would see smaller paychecks with reduced hours and fewer jobs as farms would likely shift to more mechanization.

ALBION – Orleans County farmers each year welcome about 1,500 seasonal workers to bring in labor-intensive crops, from apples, cabbage, squash and cherries. Many workers are also needed each spring to plant onions on the muck in Barre and Clarendon.

Those workers are critical to Orleans County’s biggest business of agriculture, which totaled $155.3 million in 2017 federal ag census. That put Orleans as 14th among the state’s 62 counties.

But John Kast, president of Orleans County Farm Bureau, said the agriculture sector faces a big threat to its long-term viability with a strong push to lower the overtime threshold from 60 hours a week to 40.

“The decision to lower the overtime threshold will dramatically increase a farm’s operating cost with no way to adjust to recoup those costs,” Kast told the Orleans County Legislature on Wednesday. “Farms do not have the ability to set prices on our commodities. We are at the mercy of our buyers and futures markets. Unlike many other businesses that can raise prices or make other adjustments like adding self-checkout systems or kiosks for ordering, we must absorb the extra cost which is unsustainable.”

A three-person Farm Labor Wage Board voted on Jan. 28 to gradually reduce the overtime threshold in agriculture from 60 hours a week to 40 hours. The reduction in the OT threshold would be phased in from Jan. 1, 2024 to Jan. 1, 2032.

The County Legislature on Wednesday passed a formal resolution, asking Gov. Hochul not to follow the Wage Board by adopting the new threshold. Farmers have many cost factors out of their control and can’t pass on the increased costs due to a commodities market where prices are set due to global demand, legislators said.

The change in NY also puts NY farmers at a competitive disadvantage where there would be a different wage structure for workers. Many of those states already have a much lower minimum wage than in New York.

The seasonal workers, however, earn more than the minimum wage, Kast said.

The workers in the federal H2S program will be paid $15.66 an hour in 2022, Kast said. And farms also cover the visa costs, all travel costs to the local community and then back to their home country. The farms also must provide transportation and housing during the workers’ time here, Kast said.

“Our housing facilities are inspected by the local health department and are maintained under strict requirements from the New York State Department of Labor and Department of Health,” Kast told legislators. “Which is more than most apartments and condos are required to do. All of which provides additional benefits to our workers and adds additional costs to our farms.”

The Wage Board adopted a reduced threshold that would begin in two years with the threshold down to 56 hours a week and then would drop 4 more hours every two years until it’s at 40 hours a week on 2032.

The change would force farmers to either try to stay under the overtime cap and get as much work done as possible, or switch to less labor-intensive crops.

“Either option means less hours, less opportunity and less money for seasonal workers,” Kast said. “There are states all around that do not have overtime rules for agriculture and many of our workers have told us that if they will earn less money here and cannot work as much as they are able to, they will go elsewhere where they can.”

Kast said the very landscape of the county would change if the OT threshold drops, with fewer apple orchards and fields of cabbage and squash.

Kast said the seasonal workers, who often come from Mexico or Jamaica, have been with the same family-run farms for many years.

“Our workers are like family to many of us,” Kast said. “Often workers have been coming up for many years and in some cases multiple generations. We want them to enjoy working for us while being able to provide a good living wage for their families.”

County Legislature to oppose lowering 60-hour overtime threshold in agriculture

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 February 2022 at 9:50 pm

‘It would be devastating if it goes through (and is approved by state)’ – Legislator Bill Eick, retired dairy farmer

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature plans to go on the record Wednesday, opposing a push to lower the overtime threshold in agriculture from 60 hours a week to 40.

That change would be particularly difficult for farmers in Orleans County who need workers for intensive hand labor with fruit, vegetable and dairy operations.

Local farms would likely have to curtail overtime to keep labor costs down. That would result in smaller paychecks for workers. Many of the workers would likely go to other states where their work weeks wouldn’t stop at 40 hours, said County Legislator Bill Eick of Shelby, who is a retired dairy farmer.

“These workers will go somewhere else where they can get the hours they want to work,” Eick said this evening during a meeting of Orleans county, village and town officials at the Black North Inn.

A three-person Farm Labor Wage Board voted on Jan. 28  to gradually reduce the overtime threshold in agriculture from 60 hours a week to 40 hours. The reduction in the OT threshold would be phased in from Jan. 1, 2024 to Jan. 1, 2032.

Many on the agriculture community, including New York Farm Bureau, are pleading with Gov. Kathy Hochul to reject the Wage Board’s decision.

“It would be devastating if it goes through,” Eick said.

Lyndonville Mayor John Belson also said he is concerned for wineries, which are growing in the region since the Niagara Wine Trail was established about 20 years ago. Three from Orleans are on that trail.

“It will crush the wineries,” Belson said.

Eick said many other counties around the state have officially opposed lowering the overtime threshold in agriculture. Genesee County voted last week on the measure, stating it was “emphatically” opposed to lowering the threshold.

The Orleans County Legislature, in a draft of the resolution, say farmers face many problems outside their control including climate change, land management policies, foreign market competition, livestock and crop diseases, natural disasters and cost increases of feed, fuel, equipment and labor costs.

“Farmers cannot pass on these increased costs as they operate in a commodities market where prices are set according to global demand,” the resolution states. “Many farmers in agriculture rely on migratory workers during the short growing season in Western New York, as they have a limited window to get the work done.”

Gov. Hochul signs bill to fast-track adult-use cannabis program

Posted 22 February 2022 at 9:33 am

NY creates conditional adult-use cannabis cultivator license for hemp farmers to grow cannabis

Press Release, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Office

Governor Kathy Hochul today signed legislation creating a new Conditional Adult-use Cannabis Cultivator license, establishing a pathway for existing New York hemp farmers to apply for a conditional license to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season for the forthcoming adult-use cannabis market.

Gov. Kathy Hochul

Under the law, conditionally licensed cannabis farmers must meet certain requirements, including safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly cultivation practices, participation in a social equity mentorship program, and engagement in a labor peace agreement with a bona fide labor organization.

“I am proud to sign this bill, which positions New York’s farmers to be the first to grow cannabis and jumpstart the safe, equitable and inclusive new industry we are building,” Governor Hochul said. “New York State will continue to lead the way in delivering on our commitment to bring economic opportunity and growth to every New Yorker in every corner of our great state.”

With a conditional adult-use cannabis cultivation license, farmers can grow outdoors or in a greenhouse for up to two years from the issuance of the license. It also allows them to manufacture and distribute cannabis flower products without holding an adult-use processor or distributor license, until June 1, 2023.

Cultivators are limited to one acre (43,560 square feet) of flowering canopy outdoors or 25,000 square feet in a greenhouse and can use up to 20 artificial lights. They can also split between outdoor and greenhouse grows with a maximum total canopy of 30,000 square feet as long as greenhouse flowering canopy remains under 20,000 square feet.

The Office of Cannabis Management will be developing a license application process and opening the program as soon as possible. To qualify for an Adult-use Cannabis Conditional Cultivator License an applicant must have been an authorized industrial hemp research partner for the Department of Agriculture and Markets, cultivating hemp for its non-intoxicating cannabinoid content for at least two of the past four years and in good standing as of December 31, 2021, when the research program ended.

Holders of the license must also participate in a social equity mentorship program where they provide training in cannabis cultivation and processing for social and economic equity partners, preparing them for potential roles in the industry. Growers will also have to meet sustainability requirements to ensure the cannabis is grown in an environmentally conscientious way.

The Governor’s action today builds on the quick work she and the OCM have undertaken to bring the new cannabis industry to life in New York. In January , the Governor’s Executive Budget proposed a $200 million program that will use industry licensing fees and revenue to provide support to eligible applicants from communities impacted by the overcriminalization of cannabis during its prohibition. The Governor and the Legislature also moved quickly to appoint the Cannabis Control Board and OCM leadership within weeks of the start of her administration. Since the Board held its first meeting on Oct. 5, the OCM has:

• Launched the Cannabinoid Hemp Program, putting in place protections for the public and provisions to help New York’s CBD businesses compete;

• Vastly expanded access to the Medical Cannabis Program, including empowering health care providers to determine if medical cannabis can help their patients, lowering costs by permanently waiving patient fees and allowing the sale of whole flower, and growing the list of providers who can certify patients; and

• Launched its first wave of community outreach events with 11 regional events, including one in Spanish, that’s already engaged more than 5,000 attendees; and

• Developed a pipeline of talented professionals to join the Office’s growing team and built the infrastructure to support the office.

Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Chris Alexander said, “I can’t thank Governor Hochul and the Legislature enough for providing us with the tools to make up for lost time while also keeping equity and inclusion at the center of the new cannabis industry we’re building in New York. With this bill, we’re putting New York farmers, not big corporations, at the forefront of our industry while protecting public health by delivering safely grown products. We are immediately getting to work implementing the bill so that our farmers can start planting this spring.”

Decision from governor and DOL on farmworker OT threshold could be months away

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 February 2022 at 9:07 am

Ag advocates urge governor, DOL commissioner to keep overtime at 60 hours a week

Provided photo: Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Batavia speaks at a press conference with farmers, agricultural advocates and other Republican members of the Assembly in Albany on Tuesday.

It may be months before there is a decision from the Department of Labor and Gov. Kathy Hochul on whether the overtime threshold in agriculture will be reduced from the current 60 hours a week.

The New York Farm Bureau, an agricultural coalition called Grow NY Farms and many Republican state legislators on Tuesday again tried to rally support against lowering the OT threshold.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday said she met with Farm Bureau leaders and heard their concerns. The group has said lowering the OT threshold from 60 to 40 hours would dramatically increase farms’ operating costs. It would likely force them to cut hours for employees, which would upset workers and could push that workforce to other states where they could earn more by working more hours.

Many farms would likely be forced to move away from intensive hand labor – fruit, vegetables and dairy – and go with crops like corn and soybeans where machines do most of the work. Already many dairies are switching to robotic milkers. Ag advocates say an OT change will push many farms out of business.

“We are looking at it closely,” Hochul said in a news conference, responding to a question from a reporter. “Agriculture is an essential industry for us. We need to have industry be strong and viable.”

A three-person Farm Labor Wage Board voted on Jan. 28  to gradually reduce the overtime threshold in agriculture from 60 hours a week to 40 hours. The reduction in the OT threshold would be phased in from Jan. 1, 2024 to Jan. 1, 2032.

“It will be a long roll out,” Hochul said. “There will be plenty of time to adapt to it.”

The Wage Board called for a phase in with overtime threshold dropping to 56 hours a week beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, then down to 52 hours on Jan. 1, 2026; 48 hours on Jan. 1, 2028; 44 hours on Jan. 1, 2030, and then a 40-hour threshold to take effect Jan. 1, 2032.

If the threshold is reduced, Hochul said the state should consider offering tax relief to help farmers with the added labor costs.

The Wage Board hasn’t yet submitted an official report to Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. When the report is submitted, the commissioner has 45 days to review the recommendations and announce a decision.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Batavia, a former farmer and Genesee County Farm Bureau president, spoke at a news conference in Albany at the state capitol. Hawley worries that the increases in labor costs will force many farmers out of business.

“The end of farming as we know it in New York would be one of the greatest tragedies our state has ever seen, but it is one that would be entirely preventable,” Hawley said. “Gov. Hochul and Commissioner Reardon have been made very aware of the consequences the decision to lower the overtime threshold would have, and the power now rests in their hands to decide whether they stand with our farmers and rural communities or the special interests who’ve worked to advance this proposal.”

Hawley urges governor, DOL commissioner to not lower farm labor OT threshold

Posted 1 February 2022 at 8:20 pm

Press Release, Assemblyman Steve Hawley

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia), a former farmer and member of the Assembly Committee on Agriculture, has written a pair of letters to Gov. Kathy Hochul and Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon urging them to stop the implementation of a reduction in the farm labor overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours.

Last Friday, the Farm Laborers Wage Board voted 2-1 to lower the threshold. Power now rests with Gov. Hochul and Commissioner Reardon to enact the overtime threshold reduction.

“Farmers from all corners of our state have spoken about how dangerous this policy would be for them, for their families, and for their communities alike,” Hawley said.

“The time has come for Gov. Hochul and Commissioner Reardon to decide whether they stand with farmers or the special interests who’ve worked behind the scenes to advance this proposal,” Hawley said. “As the consequences of this decision have clearly been laid out for them, I sincerely hope they’ll recognize how disastrous this decision would be for farming as we know it in New York and take action to prevent its implementation.”

Lamb Farms recognized with Environmental Stewardship Award

Posted 1 February 2022 at 9:50 am

Courtesy of New York Beef Council

LIVERPOOL — The New York Beef Council has recognized a local dairy farm with the 2021 Environmental Stewardship Award.

The recognition is given annually to a beef producer with outstanding stewardship practices and conservation achievements.

Lamb Farms, a family dairy operation owned and operated by the Lamb and Veazey families, was honored for their stewardship.

The farm was founded in Oakfield in 1966. Ten years later, Leslie and Gordon Lamb added Jim Veazey as a partner on the farm. The farm continues operating under the management of both families.

Lamb Farms consists of five farms in New York and one farm in Ohio. The farm raises crops for feed on approximately 13,000 acres. Lamb Farms milks 6,500 cows and raises 7,500 heifers.

The home farm and satellite farm in Oakfield each have a rotary (carousel) milking parlor, and both are popular sites for visitors. Lamb Farms has had two methane digesters installed in recent years. This gas is captured and piped off-farm.

The operation produces feed for the cattle on their farm, growing acres of corn and alfalfa.  The farm is continuously improving its tillage and crop rotation practices to reduce soil erosion and eliminate nutrient runoff. A prime example is their use of a zone builder which through GPS technology only tills the soil exactly where the corn will be planted.

“Farmers are caretakers of their animals and the land. We care about implementing sound environmental practices that will allow future generations the same opportunities that we have had,” farm owners said in a statement. “Dairy farming is a natural way of recycling nutrients to produce a delicious product. The cows make manure, which we use to fertilize the crops that we grow to feed the cows. We work with a certified environmental planner to ensure that this is done in an environmentally responsible manner.”