Find us on Facebook

agriculture

County adds nearly 400 acres to ag district

Photo by Tom Rivers: A field with bales of straw is shown earlier this week on Gaines Basin Road in Albion.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 August 2019 at 8:30 am

ALBION – The Orleans County Agricultural District will grow by about 400 acres, pending final approval from the State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The County Legislature last week held a public hearing and then approved adding 384.4 acres to the ag district. That brings the total acreage in the district to 116,703 acres.

Each year, property owners have the opportunity to be included in the district, which provides eligible operations right-to-farm protection, among other benefits. Property owners can petition to remove land from the district once every eight years.

The additions include:

• 10.80 acres on East Lee Road in Clarendon, owned by George D. Mathes

• 74.80 acres on East Lee Road in Clarendon, owned by Gary Germeo

• 9.20 acres on Roosevelt Highway in Carlton, owned by Louis P. Lustumbo, Jr.

• 6.60 acres on Kenmore Road in Kendall, owned by Jeffrey Cole

• 1.70 acres on Kenmore Road in Kendall, owned by Jeffrey Cole

• 30.00 acres on Crandall Avenue in Kendall, owned by Jeffrey Cole

• 16.00 acres on Kenyonville Road in Gaines, owned by Steven Fox

• 22.10 acres on Albion-Eagle Harbor Road in Albion, owned by Young Enterprises of Medina

• 119.60 acres on Oak Orchard Road in Carlton, owned by Young Enterprises of Medina

• 17.70 acres on County Line Road in Ridgeway, owned by Reah Johnson

• 75.90 acres on Beals Road in Ridgeway, owned by Patrick L. Kelly

The entire ag district will next be up for review in 2024, when property owners will have the option of both adding and subtracting acreage from the district. Until then there will be annual opportunities to add land to the district.

Return to top

Onion growers on muck honored for pest management, environmental-friendly practices

Photo courtesy of Dan Starowitz: The Elba Muck Donut Hour is a 20-plus year tradition. It is the “heart” of Cornell vegetable onion programming. From left to right: Leo Starowitz Jr., Onion specialist Christy Hoepting, Emma Long, Matt Mortellaro, Chuck Barie, Guy Smith and Max Torrey.

Posted 31 July 2019 at 10:24 am

Press Release, Cornell University, NYS Integrated Pest Management Program

ELBA – Local onion growers – Matt Mortellaro, Guy Smith, Chuck Barie, Emmaline Long and Mark and Max Torrey – received an Excellence in Integrated Pest Management Award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program.

The six are muck onion farmers in Elba who meet weekly during the growing season for what is known as Muck Donut Hour, to discuss crop protection tactics. The state’s IPM develops sustainable ways to manage pests and helps people use methods that minimize environmental, health and economic risks. The award honors individuals who encourage the adoption of IPM in their businesses, schools, communities, and farms, and who develop new tools and tactics for sharing these practices.

Onions grown in muck soil—organically rich former swampland where production practices are unique and intense—are one of the most valuable crops in New York, with an average value of $34.6 million. In the Elba muck and surrounding pockets in Orleans, Genesee, and Livingston counties, eight farms produce 40 percent of the New York onion acreage on 3,000 acres. Mortellaro, Triple G, CY, and Big O (Torrey) farms account for almost 75 percent of that production.

In 2005, onion thrips infestations were nearly uncontrollable in New York. Populations of the vegetable-loving insect were resistant to multiple insecticides, and the hot and dry conditions created a worst-case scenario, causing crop losses exceeding 30 percent.

The Elba muck growers helped Cornell researchers conduct dozens of research trials and host large-scale demonstrations on their land, in an attempt to understand the biology, ecology, and management of thrips.

“The result culminated in a practical thrips management program, which includes regular scouting of onion fields followed by sparing use of insecticides designed to minimize resistance,” said Brian Nault, Professor of Entomology at Cornell AgriTech.

The Elba growers are now able to successfully manage their thrips infestations. They average between 1- 4 fewer insecticide applications and have saved an average of $113/acre, which is approximately $6,000-$226,000 per farm per year. In addition to regular scouting, the other key tool in the IPM arsenal is information exchange and discussions at the Muck Donut Hour, which Christy Hoepting, Senior Extension Associate with the Cornell Vegetable Program, describes as a way she keeps her “finger on the pulse” of the pest complex each year.

A CCE tradition for over twenty years, the Muck Donut Hour is held weekly during the growing season. There growers and researchers discuss the latest research findings, scouting and spray reports. Hoepting notes the willingness of the muck onion farmers to entrust their crops to Cornell’s research, and their transparency in sharing spray records.

“The Elba growers are undeniably brave,” Hoepting said. “To so wholeheartedly adopt IPM practices demonstrates the extent of their faith in Cornell’s research on their farms. The risk of a pest spiraling out of control in a high-value onion crop is frightening. Clearly, these growers believe in solid science and go above and beyond to support it.”

Steven Beer, Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University, says, “without the cooperation of the Elba onion growers, it is not likely that so many IPM-themed tactics would have been adequately tested under real grower conditions. They set the standard for other growers.”

The Elba muck onion farmers are: Matt Mortellaro, a third generation muck farmer and co-owner of G. Mortellaro & Sons, with his brother Paul.

“Matt is a fearless leader in adopting IPM strategies,” Hoepting said. “He is committed to sustainable onion production and environmental stewardship, and is a strong advocate of onion IPM.”

Guy Smith, a fourth generation muck farmer, owns Triple G Farms with his brother Greg and nephew Gary. Guy represents the Elba growing region on the board of directors for the New York Onion Research and Development Program.

Chuck Barie and Emmaline Long are Crop Production Managers for CY Farms LLC, which grows 120 acres in Batavia and Elba. Chuck has been responsible for planting, spraying, irrigating and harvesting the onions for over twenty years. Emmaline joined the farm in 2014 after graduating from Cornell. She scouts CY’s entire onion acreage weekly, including counting thrips, to implement IPM. Together, she and Chuck make pest management decisions. CY has the ability to micro manage every 5-20 acre onion field based on each area’s precise pest management needs.

Mark and Max Torrey are a father and son onion growing duo, and 11th and 12th generation farmers with Torrey Farms Inc. Max serves as the General Manager for Torrey’s onion operation, Big O Farms. As the largest grower in Elba, the Torrey’s pest management practices affect everyone.

“Their commitment to implementing resistance management strategies and following IPM spray thresholds has been instrumental in preserving the longevity of insecticides remaining effective against thrips,” Hoepting said.

The award was presented to the growers during their Muck Donut Hour on Tuesday.

Ortt: Farm labor bill will hurt NY agriculture

Staff Reports Posted 18 July 2019 at 8:35 am

Press Release, State Sen. Rob Ortt

State Sen. Robert Ortt issued this statement after Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday signed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which takes effect on Jan. 1.

The legislation grants collective bargaining rights to farm laborers; requires employers of farm laborers to allow at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week; provides for 60-hour work week for farm workers with the overtime rate at one and one-half times the normal rate

“Today’s signing of the Farmworker Labor Act marks the end of local and family farming as we currently know it in New York State,” Ortt said. “Instead of choosing to sign the Farmworker Labor Act in a rural upstate community, Gov. Cuomo chose a Manhattan newsroom as his backdrop, surrounded by legislators from Manhattan and Queens.

“If this legislation was so beneficial to those in the farming community, Gov. Cuomo and the bill’s sponsors should have had the courage to sign this legislation on a farm upstate. The fact they could not find a farm to host them speaks volumes. Not only will these new regulations drive hundreds of small, family-owned farms out of business, but they will also drive jobs and hard-working employees out of our state. With New York State farm closure rates already triple the national average, support of these overbearing and industry-killing regulations by New York Democrats further displays their disconnect from the upstate communities tasked with feeding their regressive New York City base.”

Return to top

Agriculture groups want state to fix 4 flaws in farm labor bill

Posted 17 July 2019 at 4:10 pm

Press Release, Grow NY Farms

For months, hundreds of farmers and farmworkers spent countless hours seeking to find a balance with elected officials on measures that will change working conditions on farms across New York State. However, the measure that ultimately passed the Legislature and was signed by the Governor today did not address the challenges and needs of farmers and farmworkers.

This measure does not create a path that will assure an economically viable New York agriculture industry, and the four fixable flaws within this bill will likely drive more family-owned farms out of the state or out of business. Worst of all, farmworkers will feel the impacts the most because their work hours will be restricted and their income reduced.

Grow NY Farms has been seeking to correct four fundamental flaws contained in the new legislation (Assembly Bill No. 8419 and Senate Bill No. 6578). Modifications include:

• Applying a standard wage rate for farmworkers who decide to work on the prescribed day of rest.

• Expanding the family farm definition to include close relatives such as aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.

• Modifying the composition and timeline of the wage board.

• Preserving secret balloting for both farmworkers and farmers.

“New York’s farmers have been at the table from the beginning asking for a workable solution, a bill that would provide the balance agriculture would need to sustain itself as an important job creator and food provider in this state,” said David Fisher, New York Farm Bureau president and dairy farmer in Madrid, NY.

“Common ground should have considered what farms can afford and the opportunities our employees will lose as a result of this law,” Fisher said. “In the end, our reasonable requests were cast aside, even though there was support for a moderated bill from legislators on both sides of the aisle. What was also dismissed by many of New York’s leaders is the dignity and respect our farm families have long provided to the men and women we need and work alongside every day. While the final legislation signed by the Governor is certainly better than the original version of the bill, it will still lead to significant financial challenges for farmers and the continued erosion of our rural communities.”

“It is upsetting that state lawmakers have placed rural New York at a serious disadvantage in our ability to compete in the market place and provide economic opportunities for our employees. This new law failed to take common sense into account, and in turn, will place upstate further behind in its ability to grow our farms and economy. Our farms and farmworkers deserved better for all that they provide this state,” said Brian Reeves, of Reeves Farms in Baldwinsville, NY and President of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association.

• Karl Novak, President of the Long Island Farm Bureau: “Long Island has a proud tradition of being a source that New Yorkers turn to for fresh food, wine, flowers, landscape plants and more.  Our farms have also provided good, quality opportunities for our employees to get job experience and support their families at home and abroad and have the potential to advance their careers. Sadly, those days are numbered as the farm labor bill will force dramatic changes on agriculture as we know it. It won’t just be our farm families and employees who will suffer, but our customers who value what it means to buy “Grown on Long Island.” Unfortunately, by the time that the legislators who voted for this misguided bill realize the damage they have done to the agricultural industry on Long Island and the rest of the State of New York, it will be too late.  This is a sad day for all of us.”

• Jon Greenwood, president of Northeast Dairy Producers Association and dairy farmer in Canton: “Dairy represents New York’s largest agricultural industry. Our farms must operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in order to care for our cows and produce fresh, nutritious milk. We certainly appreciate that legislators who listened to the many voices expressed by stakeholders in trying to negotiate a bill fair to everyone, but we were disappointed in language added in the final hours that has the potential to both negatively impact the long-term viability of our farms and the earning potential and livelihood of our workers,” said

• Sarah Dressel of Dressel Farms in New Paltz and chairperson of the New York Apple Association’s Board of Directors: “My family has a long history of supplying fresh fruit to our Hudson Valley community every year, and we have seen our business diversify into building a cidery, but we are worried that the tradition we have built is now in jeopardy with the signing of this legislation. We are proud of our workforce and the benefits we provide them, but the massive increase in labor costs coming down the pike because of this new law will make it difficult to sustain the business that has lasted for generations and one that I hoped to continue. I’m afraid this could be the breaking point for our orchard and many like ours across the state.”

• Jose Iniguez, vice president of Lamont Fruit Farms in Waterport and former farmworker: “Today’s job market is competitive, and many farmers provide their workers with optional days of rest, sick and holiday pay, and other benefits. I appreciate New York’s effort to ensure all farms are doing this, however, by limiting worker hours, we are taking away opportunity that many are seeking. Employees do not want to work simply to live – they enjoy farming and want to save for their families and their future. This bill does not include fixes that are needed to help our farms and farmworkers thrive. The reality is clear, our workers will pack their bags and seek opportunity in another state.”

• David Zittel, president of Amos, Zittel and Sons in Eden: “This spring, New York’s family farms faced some of the toughest planting conditions we’ve seen in years, and continue struggling to compete against regional and national competitors. Our challenges have been compounded due to recent actions by state officials who have endorsed policies that are fundamentally changing our businesses and threatening the viability of New York’s farm community. We are urging the Governor to fix several flaws in the Farm Labor bill in order to support the future of New York’s growers, harvesters and dairy producers.”

• Dale-Illa Riggs of The Berry Patch in Stephentown and president of the NYS Berries Association: “The Farm Labor will bring about unintended, yet devastating changes to our state’s agriculture sector. The farmworkers who work side-by-side with farm owners and their families want to see this industry continue to grow and diversify, and they understand they are big part of each of our farms’ success. However, this legislation will force many growers and dairy producers to lay off workers or cut hours in order to remain competitive. Far worse is that some will make the difficult decision to cease farming – and New York’s consumers will see prices increase and their source of fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products diminish. We want to grow our farms, employ more staff, and continue providing the best workplace possible for our workers. The Governor must fix several flaws in this legislation in order to support the more than 30,000 farms across upstate and on Long Island – and without action, he will be sacrificing those who were counting on him the most.”

Return to top 

Cuomo signs farmworker bill providing OT, collective bargaining

Posted 17 July 2019 at 2:17 pm

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed the Farm Workers Bill, which establishes the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act to protect farm worker rights and ensure equitable housing and working conditions. The bill grants farm workers overtime pay, a day of rest each week, disability and Paid Family Leave coverage, unemployment benefits and other labor protections. The bill will take effect on January 1, 2020.

“This new law is not just a great achievement in terms of the effect on the human condition, it’s also a milestone in the crusade for social justice,” Governor Cuomo said. “By signing this bill into law, 100,000 farmers and their families will have better lives and will finally have the same protections that other workers have enjoyed for over 80 years. This powerful and practical achievement is even more significant in the era of President Trump who continually diminishes workers’ rights, attacks labor unions, disrespects the disenfranchised and has made divide and conquer, rather than unify and grow, the credo of America.”

The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which recognizes agriculture is a unique industry, includes:

• Grants collective bargaining rights to farm laborers;

• Requires employers of farm laborers to allow at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week;

• Provides for 60-hour work week for farm workers;

• Requires overtime rate at one and one-half times normal rate;

• Makes provisions of unemployment insurance law applicable to farm laborers and reduces costs to farmers for ineligible workers (H-2A);

• Ensures sanitary codes apply to all farm worker housing, regardless of the number of occupants;

• Removes a payroll threshold for requiring farm labor employers to obtain workers’ compensation coverage;

• Allows farm laborers to receive disability and Paid Family Leave benefits; and

• Requires reporting of injuries to employers of farm laborers.

Senator Jessica Ramos said, “Today we are recognizing farmworkers as the backbone of New York’s multi-billion dollar agricultural industry and acknowledging the dignity in their work. With the Governor’s signature on this bill, we are finally granting farmworkers a day of rest, overtime pay, the right to collectively bargain, and recognizing them as workers under the Labor Law.”

Assembly Member Catherine Nolan said, “Our Assembly Majority has a proud history of passing workers’ rights legislation, a tradition which has continued with the passage of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act. I am very proud to have carried this legislation for many years, and I am thankful for all the work done by so many in the effort to see this bill be signed into law. My thanks to Speaker Heastie and my colleagues,  Senator Ramos and all our Senate sponsors through the years, Governor Andrew  Cuomo, the RFK Center for Human Rights, the Hispanic Federation, the ACLU, the Rural & Migrant Ministries Coalition, NYSUT, RWDSU, the entire AFL-CIO, and so many individuals and community groups for their advocacy, support, and tireless work. I also want to recognize our late Governor Mario Cuomo and State Senator Olga Mendez, who, along with Denis Hughes, Ed Donnelly, Alan Lubin, Rich Winston, Rev Richard Witt and Geri Reilly introduced me to this issue.  This law represents a huge victory for the farmworkers of our great state, for their families, and for everyone who fought to end the injustices that our farmworkers faced; their efforts are realized today.”

Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO said, “Today, Labor’s family is whole. After a decades-long fight, the lives of tens of thousands of hardworking men and women who perform demanding and dangerous work on farms all across this state will improve with the Governor’s signature. Farmworkers are finally getting basic labor rights including the right to organize a union, a mandatory day of rest, and the right to overtime pay. I thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership on this critical issue and for signing this historic bill into law, as well as the sponsors Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Senator Jessica Ramos for their tireless efforts. It is fitting that this bill is signed at the Daily News whose relentless editorial support has shone a light on the deplorable working conditions on New York farms. Most of all, I commend the countless farmworkers who have fought over the years for justice with incomparable perseverance and courage.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act will help build a stronger and fairer agricultural industry throughout New York State. The legislation signed today will stand up for farm laborers and ensure they have the rights and protections that other New York workers have access to. I applaud Senator Jessica Ramos for championing this bill, and holding hearings and visiting farms throughout the state to better address the priorities and concerns of farm laborers and the agricultural industry.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, “For more than two decades, the Assembly Majority has fought to protect farmworkers from unfair labor practices for the physically taxing, oftentimes dangerous work they do to fuel our agricultural sector and put food on our tables. These hardworking men and women are vital to the success of New York’s farms, and they deserve the same employment rights afforded to workers in other industries across the state. With this legislation, this essential workforce will finally be granted the protections they need and deserve. I would like to thank longtime sponsor of this legislation Assembly member Cathy Nolan, Labor Chair Marcos Crespo and the many members of the Assembly Majority for their tireless commitment to seeing this legislation through to the finish line.”

Return to top

New slow-moving vehicle law takes effect on June 26

Posted 24 June 2019 at 5:35 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: A combine is shown on Oct. 12 in Barre on West Barre Road during the harvest season.

Press Release, NYS Department of Motor Vehicles

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles today informed drivers and operators of slow-moving vehicles to be prepared for a new law that takes effect June 26.

Under the new law, farm, construction and other machinery designed to operate at speeds greater than 25 mph and less than 40 mph will now be required to display a Speed Identification Symbol (SIS) and the “slow-moving vehicle triangle.”

The SIS must indicate the vehicle’s top speed and operators will also be required to carry documentation from the manufacturer indicating the maximum speed the vehicle was designed for.

Today, the DMV and the Department of Agriculture and Markets also urged motorists to watch for slow-moving vehicles during the spring, summer and fall when they are most likely to be on the road. Motorists are reminded it is illegal to pass slow-moving vehicles in a no-passing zone even though they are traveling at slower speeds.

“This time of year, it is very common to see farm, construction and other slow-moving vehicles on the roads and motorists should be ready to respond appropriately,” said DMV Commissioner and Chair of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee Mark J.F. Schroeder. “These vehicles are incredibly important to New York’s farming community, to the workers who fix our roads, and many other construction crews. Please respect their operators and do not try to recklessly pass them.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “It’s critical that drivers be on the lookout for slow-moving vehicles, especially as farm activity increases this time of year. Tractors and farm equipment cannot easily maneuver out of the way of traffic or speed up like other vehicles. So, we urge everyone to be aware and look out for the safety of our farmers.”

When motorists encounter a slow-moving vehicle on the roadway they should:

• Slow down immediately

• Increase following distance to create a safety cushion

• Be alert and watch for unexpected turns

• Pass with care only when it is safe and legal to do so

• Be aware that animal-powered vehicles may make unanticipated movements

• Be aware that equipment in tow may sway on the road

• Remember slow-moving vehicle operators may have poor visibility due to loads and equipment in tow

Operators should be aware that the slow-moving vehicle triangle should be placed in the center of the back end of the vehicle, located two to six feet above the road and kept clean and replaced when faded. The SIS should be displayed next to the triangle. Each piece of agricultural equipment, whether self-propelled or used in combination, must separately display the required emblems. It is illegal to put slow-moving vehicle emblems on stationary objects – such as mailboxes or driveway posts.

Under state law, self-propelled agricultural equipment can be used on public roads after dark and when visibility is less than 1,000 feet when it has two white head lamps, one red tail light on the rear as far left as possible and two amber lamps at least 42 inches high and visible from the front and rear.

Vehicles drawn by animals should display on the rear either a slow-moving vehicle triangle or a lighted lantern with a red lens at least four inches in diameter, with the center of the lens to be 42 inches above the ground, the lantern to be near the left edge of the vehicle. The vehicle also should have 72 square inches of a high quality white or whitish-gray reflective tape.

Return to top

Farm Bureau says ‘significant problems’ with new farmworker legislation

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 June 2019 at 7:43 am

Photo from Grow NY Farms: These farmworkers and farmers are pictured in Albany on June 12 during a rally where farmers and workers shared concerns that a proposed farm labor law could reduce hours and ultimately the paychecks for workers, while putting New York farms at a competitive disadvantage with other states and countries.

New York Farm Bureau is reacting this morning to the passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act on Wednesday by the State Assembly and State Senate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he supports the bill with provides overtime for farmworkers after 60 hours worked in a week, collective bargaining, and a right to a day off each week. (If a farmworker chooses to work on an off day, the farm needs to pay time-and-a-half.)

“Last night was a difficult day for agriculture as a flawed labor bill passed the NYS Legislature,” Farm Bureau stated on its Facebook page this morning. “The entire farm community worked incredibly hard this session to educate and work with majority lawmakers who controlled the bill. We thank everyone who did all they could to try to mitigate the original proposed legislation. While we moved away from a 40 hour overtime threshold and obtained a no strike clause, there were still significant problems.”

Farm Bureau is part of the Grow NY Farms coalition which includes the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, Northeast Dairy Foods Association, Northeast Dairy Producers Association, New York Apple Association, New York Kitchen, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, New York Association of Agricultural Educators and Unshackle Upstate.

Grow NY Farms  released this statement following on Wednesday after the legislation was approved in the Assembly and Senate:

For months, New York’s agriculture community worked with a purpose to meet a fundamental goal of developing farm labor legislation that would protect the combined interests of farms and farmworkers. We negotiated in good faith with many majority lawmakers who were interested in hearing from those who would be directly impacted by the legislation. Political realities meant we had to come find a middle ground that was mutually beneficial.

We thought we had achieved that goal with a bill that while posing significant challenges for a struggling Industry, it was a vast improvement than where we started. Unfortunately there were some flaws thrown into the legislation in the final days of this legislative session that made the bill unacceptable. Despite the passage of this flawed legislation (S.6578/A.8419), we have not given up on finding a way to fix those flaws.

These flaws include:

• A requirement that wages paid on the seventh consecutive day of work – are based on an overtime rate – if a farmworker waives their right to a day of rest.

• The definition of family fails to recognize the role of close relatives such as aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins – and would make their participation in farm activities subject to the new statute.

• The creation of a wage board lacks New York’s key agency expert on agricultural issues – the State Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

• Elections involving the ability to form a union lack the integrity of a secret ballot.

• At this time, we believe it is in the interest of all parties to continue working together to address these flaws and move forward with legislation that farmers, farmworkers and the labor community can mutually embrace and reflect the spirit of the dialogue and discussion that has taken place in recent months.

It is also important to note the significant role played by all the farmers, farmworkers and lawmakers who worked to build consensus on this issue.

Return to top

State Senate also passes farm labor bill; Governor supports OT for farmworkers

Photo by Tom Rivers: These tractors are pictured on Densmore Street in Albion today after workers earlier were tending to a vegetable field.

Staff Reports Posted 19 June 2019 at 10:57 pm

ALBANY – The State Senate followed the State Assembly and has passed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act to grant collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation, and unemployment benefits to farm laborers.

This legislation, S.6578, sponsored by Senator Jessica Ramos, will address the standards of working conditions and include a measure to require overtime pay after 60 hours in one week. The Fair Labor Practices Act also provides unemployment insurance, 24 consecutive hours of rest each week, and a sanitary code for all farm and food processing labor camps intended to house farm laborers.

“The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act has lingered in this body for 20 years, with 7 sponsors on both sides of the aisle,” Ramos said. “I am proud today to be the 8th and last sponsor of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. I have traveled to seven counties in New York, visited 14 farms, talked to countless farmworkers, and held three hearings on this bill. There are 80,000 to 100,000 farmworkers that are the backbone of New York’s multi-billion dollar agricultural industry. Today we are correcting a historic injustice, a remnant of Jim Crow era laws, to affirm that those farmworkers must be granted rights just as any other worker in New York.”

Ramos said farm laborers have historically been excluded from basic labor protections under the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement tonight, supporting the legislation.

“With the passage of this legislation, we will help ensure every farmworker receives the overtime pay and fair working conditions they deserve,” he said. “The constitutional principles of equality, fairness and due process should apply to all of us. I am proud that, with the help of my daughters’ years-long advocacy on this critical issue, we got it done.”

State Senator Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, serves on the Senate’s Agriculture Committee. He said the legislation will hurt many farms, and have a negative effect on farmworkers who will see their hours cut each workweek.

“Tonight’s passage of the Farmworker Labor Act is disappointing and further displays the disconnect between state Democrats and western New Yorkers,” Ortt said. “For months, I toured farms across western New York and spoke about this legislation with hundreds of workers, employees and community residents. Employers and employees alike pleaded that this bill would destroy small family farms.

“With New York State farm closure rates already triple the national average, this legislation will grow the closure rate and devastate the number one economic driver in New York. My chief concern when Democrats took over the entirety of state government was that upstate would be ignored. Incredibly, it has gone further than that and upstate is now being attacked by radical New York City regressives. Their willing accomplices include Democrats from the rest of the state, the Business Council, and the State Farm Bureau, who – sadly – should have all known better.”

Return to top

NY Assembly passes farm labor bill, allowing OT after 60 hours

Staff Reports Posted 19 June 2019 at 9:36 pm

Hawley, Norris fear legislation will hurt struggling ag industry

ALBANY – The State Assembly today passed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act allowing overtime after 60 hours worked in a week.

The legislation also grants collective bargaining rights, a day of rest and expansion of workers’ compensation benefits, as well as other worker rights and protections to all farmworkers.

“Here in the Assembly Majority we pride ourselves on standing up for the rights of the hard working men and women across New York,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “Farmworkers deserve proper protections for the physically taxing, sometimes dangerous work they do that fuels our agricultural sector and puts food on our tables. They are vital to keeping New York’s farms working and play a pivotal role in the health and well-being of our residents.”

Two Assembly members whose districts include parts of Orleans County opposed the legislation, calling it well-meaning but ultimately weakening the agricultural sector, which could result in fewer hours and less weekly pay for farmworkers.

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, is a former farmer and president of the Genesee County Farm Bureau. He now runs an insurance business.

“I know these new mandates will devastate New York’s family farms and disrupt the industry beyond repair – an industry that generates $4.8 billion in annual revenue,” he said in a statement. “Agriculture is a unique industry where production and success are contingent upon steady and reliable labor, and implementing more handcuffs on our farm owners and restricting the availability of that labor while increasing its costs will be devastating.”

Hawley said mandating time and a half overtime pay for any hours over 60 in a week “is just not practical.”

“Our farmers are constantly fighting flooding, drought and unpredictable weather patterns that often require unpredictable work hours, which is ultimately necessary to achieve success in the business,” Hawley said.

He called the legislation “authoritarian overreach” by New York City lawmakers, whose districts represents “virtually no family farms,” Hawley said.

“What’s more troubling is the establishment of a new board, headed by big-labor special interests, to further examine farm labor,” Hawley said. “The board wrongly excludes the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets and will undoubtedly heap mandate upon mandate and cost upon cost upon our family farms.”

State Assemblyman Michael Norris, R-Lockport, issued this statement: “This legislation is another example of downstate’s progressive agenda being out of touch with the realities of upstate, particularly our agriculture industry. Farmworkers know that this work is seasonal and dependent on the weather. New York state farms are already struggling to make ends meet. The mandates that will be imposed by this bill will make matters even worse for farmers, cripple the agriculture industry and drive up the cost of food and products for everyone. I am outraged and voted no.”

Return to top

Hawley joins farmers in rally at state capitol

Posted 13 June 2019 at 2:53 pm

Press Release, State Assemblyman Steve Hawley

Provided photo: Assemblyman Steve Hawley meets with Maureen Torrey, center, of Elba and Shelley Stein of Le Roy, both from Grow-NY, at Wednesday’s New York Farm Bureau Rally in Albany.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) met with supporters at a rally in Albany on Wednesday organized by the New York Farm Bureau and Grow-NY regarding the concerns of allowing farm workers to unionize.

Hawley, the former owner and operator of Hawley Farms in Batavia, is a longtime member of the Assembly Agriculture Committee and has been outspoken on the damaging effects labor regulations would have on the family farming industry.

“I was proud to stand with dedicated farmers, activists and producers yesterday in Albany as we push back against labor regulations being advanced by New York City politicians,” Hawley said. “Our family farms are already struggling under suffocating minimum-wage mandates and low commodity prices, and to regulate an industry which thrives off the necessity to operate unique hours at different times would be devastating.”

Net farm income is down 50 percent from just a few years ago and farmers have little to no control over the prices they receive for what they produce, unlike most manufacturers who can set their own prices. According to a 2019 report from Farm Credit East, mandatory overtime would increase labor costs on farms by almost $300 million and decrease net farm income by almost 25 percent.

“We know what works best for our family farms and that is the ability to regulate their own labor to produce the best results,” Hawley said. “I will continue to stand in the way of harmful farm mandates as session nears its end next week.”

Return to top