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.”

Farm Bureau priorities for 2022 include alternative to OT change, more processing plants

Posted 1 February 2022 at 8:38 am

Press Release, New York Farm Bureau

New York Farm Bureau released its 2022 state legislative priorities on Monday that address the needs and challenges of the state’s diverse agricultural community in New York State. This included reaction and next steps to address Friday’s Farm Labor Wage Board decision to lower the overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours over the next decade.

Overtime Threshold Decision

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher, who is on the Department of Labor’s Farm Labor Wage Board, expressed his serious concerns with the 2-1 decision passed late Friday that will begin dropping the threshold in 2024. He said it will be extremely difficult for farmers and farmworkers to absorb and will change the face of New York agriculture.

He also questioned why more of the submitted video testimony was not played for the full wage board to hear and consider.

“In the end, the decision was made with little deliberation or reflection of the testimony. I would have hoped my fellow board members would have considered more of the impacts that this will have on agriculture,” said President Fisher.

About 70-percent of the testimony was in favor of keeping the overtime threshold at 60. Many farmers and farmworkers testified that anything lower will hurt farmworkers. It will mean fewer hours, less income and force those wanting to work more to find a second job or leave New York State for employment. New York State can’t afford to lose its skilled workforce. Fisher also expressed on the call how this will negatively impact farms operating under thin profit margins as well as New York’s food system and access to local food.

“We saw how important that was in the pandemic for consumers and food banks. We heard testimony that labor will be too expensive, and hours will be limited so there won’t be that excess product to give away,” he said.

New York Farm Bureau is asking Gov. Hochul to find an alternative to the wage board’s recommendation. The organization appreciates that she is looking for a creative solution by proposing a tax credit to offset overtime pay, but many farmers have expressed concern over having to cash flow the high overtime costs before they could see any income from the tax credit, potentially a year later. New York Farm Bureau is asking for more discussion around this with the governor and legislature.

“So much is at stake. This is a priority issue for New York Farm Bureau and all of agriculture. We have worked closely with our partners in the Grow NY Farms coalition and will continue to fight forward together,” said Fisher.

Food Processing

Farmers are still feeling the repercussions from the pandemic with market disruptions, supply shortages, and inflation that has increased the costs for many things needed to farm.

Another NYFB priority aims to alleviate some of the pressure farms experienced when national supply chains were disrupted. While New York State has some outstanding dairy and food processing plants, there is a lack of processing for some commodities, including meat processing.

Nearly all of the USDA certified processing facilities in this state are small scale. While they are critical to the state’s food infrastructure, many times it takes farmers months to secure slots to process livestock, often turning to larger facilities out of state.

“New York Farm Bureau recognizes that there are no easy answers, but it is clear that there is a demand. New York Farm Bureau is asking the state to continue the discussion, perhaps bring interested parties together in a round table to look for needed solutions. This could address supply chain issues that will undoubtedly happen again in the future,” said Eric Ooms, NYFB Vice President.

State Budget

The New York State budget will be a major focus for NYFB as well. The spending plan put forth by the governor is truly one of the best NYFB has seen in years. She fully funds a number of important animal health, promotion and research programs. The governor also is doubling the workforce retention tax credit from $600 to $1,200 which would offset some rising labor costs that continue to put New York farms at a competitive disadvantage. The governor is also proposing to increase an investment tax credit to 20 percent for farms to recoup some expansion costs if they qualify with a tax liability to take it. NYFB is asking for that to be a refundable tax credit.

The governor is also proposing a record $500 million in spending for the Environmental Protection Fund. This includes $2 million more for farmland protection and nutrient management programs, $4 million dollar increases for both Soil and Water Conservation Districts, that help administer sustainability efforts, and invasive species programs. There is also $17 million earmarked for climate resilient farming initiatives.

“This funding addresses another of our major priorities to support farmers in their efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change. These programs will fund critical programs that will help farmers to continue to invest in soil health practices and support on-farm renewable energy to meet the state’s net-zero climate goals. Farmers are actively involved in reducing carbon emissions, and this funding recognizes that those efforts are working,” said Jeff Williams, NYFB’s Public Policy Director.

The State Senate has already advanced another one of our priorities for the session. It passed Senator Anna Kaplan’s bill (S.6791A) that adjusts how much employers contribute to the unemployment insurance program.

“Because of the need during the pandemic, employers had to pay increased unemployment taxes which can be challenging for farms that operate under thin profit margins.  The bill looks to replenish the trust fund without overburdening the state’s small businesses,” said Ooms.

Direct Sales for Farm Beverages

NYFB is prioritizing legislation allowing for direct-to-consumer shipping for all New York produced farm beverages, including beer, cider, and distillates. There are several proposed bills in both the senate and assembly addressing the issue. The Covid-19 Pandemic was extremely challenging for the farm beverage industry.

Tasting rooms were shut down for a time, and these businesses suffered a loss in revenue, like many small businesses. Providing direct-to-consumer sales for craft spirts, hard cider and beer would be a new market opportunity for the industry, provide safe, contactless transactions, and put them on parity with the state’s wineries.

Extended Producer Responsibility Legislation

NYFB is concerned about the Extended Producer Responsibility legislation. This bill looks to pass the cost and responsibility of recycling packaging away from the consumer and to the source of the product, in this case farms and food processors who need things like milk containers, wine bottles and food packaging to sell what they produce. This puts an extraordinary financial burden on to the state’s farms and businesses, a burden that they cannot pass on to consumers, according to the bill.

“Farms may not have been the target of this legislation, but they are among the unintended casualties should it pass without addressing the problem. We are asking lawmakers for an exemption for agriculture,” said Williams.

“In the end, it is imperative that we all work together to expand opportunities and capitalize on what we do well in New York. We have one of the most diverse agricultural sectors in the country. It is worth it to each of us to maintain that strong connection to food and farm production,” said President Fisher.

Wage Board votes to reduce farmworker OT threshold from 60 to 40 hours a week

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 January 2022 at 10:00 pm

Overtime changes to gradually be phased in from 2024 to 2032

Photo by Tom Rivers: A farmer plows a field on March 26 to get the land on Gaines Basin Road in Albion ready for spring planting.

A three-person Farm Labor Wage Board voted today 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 in the farming community testified at hearings this month the decision would actually hurt workers, who would see smaller paychecks due to working less hours each work. Many farmers said they would be looking to grow less labor-intensive crops.

The decision this afternoon from the Wage Board was called a “disastrous policy” by State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, whose district includes many farm and agricultural operations in Orleans, Niagara and Monroe counties.

“By lowering the overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40, unelected bureaucrats – empowered by Albany Democrats – are jeopardizing the future of New York’s agriculture industry,” Ortt said. “This decision is the result of the 2019 passage of the so-called Farm Labor Act, sponsored by a New York City Senate Democrat who doesn’t have a single farm in her district.

“Everyone agrees that family farmers and farmworkers deserve to be treated fairly,” Ortt said. “With this new burdensome mandate, they will be added to the exodus of people leaving our state. Today will be remembered as the day that family farming died a slow death in our state – and it was radical, out-of-touch Senate Democrats who killed it.”

Grow NY Farms issued the following statement:

“The Farm Laborers Wage Board voted two-to-one to recommend lowering the overtime threshold to 40 hours a week over the next decade, despite 70% of the testimony made by farmers and farmworkers who asked for overtime to stay at 60. It is disingenuous and irresponsible that the data, research, and comments made from those who know agriculture best were cast aside by the majority of the Wage Board. Changing the overtime threshold to 40 hours a week for farmworkers in New York means that these workers will be limited to 40 hours, due to simple farm economics. This is not a win for farmworkers that self-proclaimed worker advocates will claim.

“Agricultural production, diversification, and job availability will suffer. That is no scare tactic. We have already seen farmworkers leave the state for more hours of work and production shift to less labor-intensive crops since the farm labor legislation was enacted in January 2020. Further collapse of New York agriculture is on the hands of those who spread falsehoods and look to destroy the livelihoods of farmworkers they say they represent. This is also a loss for New Yorkers who enjoy and depend on access to local food, something that was highlighted during the pandemic.

“New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher voted against lowering the threshold, simply asking for more time to study the economic impacts of a lower threshold. Governor Hochul and Commissioner Reardon must now do what is right and let the facts be their guide. If this administration cares about the future of upstate New York, Long Island and urban access to locally produced food, they must put a stop to the constant regulatory assault on agriculture.

“Grow NY Farms would like to thank everyone who testified this year. The care and respect they have for their employees were clear from the beginning. No wage board decision can take that away. We all value essential farm work and want the very best for farm employees, that includes the ability to earn a livelihood in the profession they have chosen.”

Jacobs, Hawley and Rath hear from farmers about supply chain issues, labor shortages

Posted 28 January 2022 at 10:20 am

Provided photo: Pictured from left, fruit farm operator Jim Bittner, vegetable and dairy farm operator Maureen Torrey Marshall, Sen. Ed Rath (R,C,I-Amherst), Congressman Chris Jacobs (NY-27) and Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) discuss the impact of vaccine mandates on farms and agriculture on Thursday.

Press Release, Congress Chris Jacobs

GENESEE COUNTY – Congressman Chris Jacobs (NY-27), State Senator Ed Rath (R-Amherst), and State Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R-Batavia) met with local farmers and agricultural leaders on Thursday to discuss the impact of President Biden’s vaccine mandate at the Northern border, and the current supply chain issues and labor shortages facing the agricultural industry.

“Representing our farmers on the House Agriculture Committee is a job I take very seriously, and right now their livelihoods are at stake as a direct result of President Biden’s vaccine mandates,” Jacobs said. “Farming is a round the clock industry that has no room for delays or logistical blockades, yet that is exactly what the President has created. His mandate that just recently went into effect is causing trucking delays, which seriously impacts our farmers and hurts our ag-focused economy in New York’s 27th District. I have fought against these mandates, and I will continue to do so to ensure our supply chains remain intact and our farmers are supported.”

Jacobs is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. In December, he sent a letter with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik to President Biden warning of the disruption his vaccine mandate at the border would cause in the supply chain. The President ignored this warning.

“Our New York farmers have been taking hit after hit,” Rath said. “Many are already struggling with staffing shortages and supply chain issues, at no fault of their own. Jeopardizing their available workforce is irresponsible and inconsiderate of the overwhelming pressures that farmers are facing. I have advocated for simplifying the countless mandates to help our farms and businesses. I will continue to fight for our agriculture community.”

“Vaccine mandates issued at any level of government only serve to cripple our response to the very pandemic such mandates seek to improve,” Hawley said. “For farmers in particular, disruptions in the supply chain could mean the loss of crop yields, the death of livestock animals and critical equipment remaining in a state of disrepair for long periods of time when out of order. When the operations of our farms slow down, the economies of our rural communities slow as well. And across our nation, the restocking of grocery store shelves will continue to be a spotty process. Mandates that stifle the efficacy of our supply chain will only prolong the suffering brought about by this pandemic, and I remain committed to combating their implementation in any broad capacity.”

State legislators meet at Toussaint Farms to share concerns about lowering OT threshold

Photo courtesy of Rob Ortt’s Office: Assemblyman Steve Hawley, State Sen. Ed Rath, Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, Assemblyman Mike Norris and State Sen. George Borrello speak at Toussaint Farms today in Ridgeway on Culvert Road.

Posted 13 January 2022 at 3:44 pm

Press Release, State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt’s Office

MEDINA – Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, along with Senators George Borrello, Ed Rath, and Assembly Members Angelo Morinello, Stephen Hawley, and Mike Norris today urged the Farm Laborers Wage Board to vote against the reduction of the overtime threshold below the current 60 hours established in the Farm Laborer Fair Labor Practices Act (FLFLPA) of 2019.

“The farming industry is vastly different from other work industries,” Ortt said. “Late last year, I and members of my conference sent a letter to the Farm Laborers Wage Board urging board members to vote against the reduction of the overtime threshold. Farmers here have advocated their concerns loud and clear: lowering the overtime threshold will jeopardize their livelihoods.”

This month, the New York State Farm Labor Wage Board will revisit the threshold set in 2019 and make a determination on whether to lower the threshold to 40 hours. Ortt said 96 percent of farms in New York State, most of which are family-owned, are unable to cover the costs of paying time and a half; a threshold reduction would result in less hours for employees to work and smaller paychecks. With farms being local economic engines, this Albany mandate would have devastating effects on communities across New York State.

In a letter sent by members of the Senate Republican Conference, legislators cited a recent study conducted at Cornell University. The study found that if the overtime threshold was lowered to 40 hours, two-thirds of our dairy farmers would have a negative impact on their operations, including leaving the industry or investing out of state, and half of fruit and vegetable farmers indicated they would decrease their operations or exit the industry.

“Despite all the obstacles that New York State has put in their paths, every farmer I know is dedicated to their work, to their farm and employees, and to producing high-quality products,” said State Sen. George Borrello, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “As difficult as it has been for most to implement the new requirements of the Farm Labor Law, they’ve done what they always do in hard times: sacrifice more, work harder and adapt. However, if the overtime threshold were lowered to 40 hours, this already-strained industry would reach the breaking point, as a recent study by Cornell affirmed. With their ‘extra’ already depleted by burdensome and costly policies, even the most resilient of these New Yorkers would be forced to relinquish labor-intensive dairy or crops operations, relocate to other states or abandon agriculture entirely. I urge the members of the Wage Board to listen to researchers as well as those on the front lines, including farm workers, and reject any overtime changes. The future of farming and food security in our state hangs in the balance.”

“I have spoken with and toured numerous farms, farmers and farm workers do not want this change to be made,” said State Sen. Ed Rath. “They have made it very clear that this would not only negatively impact the farmers but the farm workers as well.  Our agriculture industry is already struggling, these overtime changes would only exacerbate the issue. I am hopeful that the voices of the farmers and workers will be heard in Albany and this disastrous change will be stopped.”

“The farmers I have met have great respect for the people who they employ,” said State Sen. Patrick Gallivan. “Like all small businesses, they value their employees’ commitment, work ethic, and the partnership it takes to get the job done.  Reducing the overtime threshold will have a devastating impact on the industry and does not accurately reflect the needs of farm workers or the needs of our farm families. Many family farms are already struggling economically.  We need to support them and the entire agriculture industry which is so vital to New York’s economy.”

“During a time of tremendous economic uncertainty and runaway inflation, the last thing the wage board should be doing is entertaining a proposal that would jeopardize the economic engines of our rural communities and the breadbaskets of our state,” said Assemblyman Steve Hawley. “Our farms simply cannot afford to absorb the projected 42% labor cost increase that would come with the lowering of the threshold and, beyond that, running a farm on a 40-hour a week schedule all year is simply impractical, if not impossible. A sudden and unforeseen severe weather development could mean a farmer’s crops, putting their livelihood on the line, and that’s a part of farming you simply can’t schedule into a 40-hour work week.”

“I voted against this matter when it came up in the Assembly because the negative impact it would have on our farms was clear,” said Assemblyman Mike Norris. “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. Now, with unprecedented inflation families are truly struggling to put food on the table and lowering the overtime threshold will only exacerbate and compound these rising costs and make it harder on families and businesses to stay afloat. 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.”

“We must recognize the difficulties that our farmers already face during the growing season,” said Assemblyman Angelo Morinello. “Crop harvests are mainly determined by weather, and it is usually a small window to get the product to market. Lowering the overtime threshold will just add another obstacle for farmers who already run on very thin profit margins. This will create a negative impact on the market and on small businesses in our state. We must not forget, if you ate today, thank a farmer.”

NY farmers had record soybean, near-record corn production in 2021

Staff Reports Posted 13 January 2022 at 6:00 am

ALBANY – New York’s soybean growers had a record crop in 2021, and the corn output was a near record, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported.

Soybean farmers produced a record high 17.0 million bushels, up 7 percent from 2020. Soybean yield is estimated at a record high 53.0 bushels per acre, up 2.0 bushels from 2020. Harvested area in 2021, at 320,000, is up 3% from last year, NASS reported.

Corn production in 2021 totaled 97.7 million bushels, up 24 percent from 2020. The average yield in New York is estimated at a record high 167.0 bushels per acre, 10.0 bushels above the 2020 average yield of 157.0 bushels per acre. Area harvested for grain, at 585,000 acres, is up 17 percent from 2020, NASS reported.

Nationally soybean growers  also had record-high production and near-all-time high for corn production, according to the 2021 Crop Production Annual Summary released by NASS.

Soybean production for 2021 totaled a record-high 4.44 billion bushels, up 5 percent from 2020. With record high yields in 21 states, the average soybean yield is estimated at 51.4 bushels per acre, 0.4 bushel above 2020 and the second highest on record.

U.S. corn growers produced 15.1 billion bushels, up 7 percent from 2020 and the second highest on record. Corn yield in the United States is estimated at a record high 177.0 bushels per acre, 5.6 bushels above the 2020 yield of 171.4 bushels per acre.

Hawley testifies that lowering OT threshold threatens existence of family farms in NY

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 January 2022 at 9:19 am

This screen shot shows Assemblyman Steve Hawley holding a “No Farms No Food” bumper sticker at the close of his testimony last week during a virtual hearing about lowering the overtime threshold for farms below the current 60-hour threshold in a week.

Farms in New York State are again facing the prospect that the overtime threshold will be changed.

There wasn’t an OT threshold until 2020, when it was set at 60 hours a week. Some state legislators are pushing to reduce that to 40 hours a week, like many other industries, but the farming sector has said that will likely put many of the operations out of business, or force them to switch from labor-intensive fruits, vegetables and dairy.

“Their very existence is jeopardized unlike ever before,” Assemblyman Steve Hawley said during the first of three virtual hearings about lowering the OT threshold.

Hawley is a former cash crop and livestock farmer in Batavia. He was the Genesee County Farm Bureau president. A back injury forced him to go into the insurance business where he continues to work with many farmers.

He said many pushing for lowering the overtime threshold have good intentions, but miss the reality that the change will result in smaller paychecks for workers, who will likely pursue farm jobs in other states where they can make more money.

“The surrounding states do not have this restriction,” Hawley said. “The workers will leave for other states where can get more hours.”

Hawley testified during the hearing on Jan. 4. The next two hearings are 5 p.m. on Jan. 18 and 5 p.m. on Jan. 20. (Click here for more information.)

New York farms work on a short growing season, compared to competitors in California and other warmer states. New York farms need to put in long days due to a compressed growing season and that often means working well beyond 40 hours a week, Hawley said.

“Farms cannot operate on a less than 60-hour work week, and the failure to recognize that fact will lead to the loss of our beloved family farms and all the jobs they provide,” Hawley said.

He praised the agriculture community, where he said “less than 1 percent of our population feeds our state, our country and our world.”

Farmers can’t set their prices for what they receive, but face rising costs for fuel, fertilizer and supplies.

“They are at the mercy of the weather and their government,” Hawley said.

A three-person Farm Labor Wage Board is convening the hearings. The group includes David Fisher, President of the New York Farm Bureau; Denis Hughes, former President of the New York State AFL-CIO; and Brenda McDuffie, President of the Buffalo Urban League.

The Wage Board about a year ago on Dec. 31, 2020 voted 2-1 to keep the OT threshold at 60 hours.

Hughes of the AFL-CIO cast the lone nay vote that day. He wanted an eight-year phase-in to 40 hours. In that scenario, Hughes said the OT threshold would be reduced by 2.5 hours each year over eight years until it was at 40 hours a week.

Fisher of the NYFB a year ago advocated for waiting at least three to five years to consider lowering the threshold, so more data could be analyzed on the impact for farms and the workers. Farmers have said in hearings there could be unintended consequences where workers get paid less per week with the overtime threshold dropping because farms could be force to cut hours.

McDuffie of the Urban League about a year ago said there was too much uncertainty in the farm economy to commit to lowering the overtime threshold. She said then farmers have had their markets disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no certainty when the Covid impact will end, she said.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Farmworkers harvest vegetables in August 2019 by Townline Road in Barre.

Ortt, State Senate GOP ask Farm Laborers Wage Board to keep OT threshold at 60 hours

Posted 28 December 2021 at 9:08 pm

‘The future of farming and food security in our state hangs in the balance’

Press Release, State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt

ALBANY – Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, along with members of the Senate Republican Conference, yesterday sent a letter to the Farm Laborers Wage Board, urging board members to vote against the reduction of the overtime threshold beyond the current 60 hours established in the Farm Laborer Fair Labor Practices Act (FLFLPA) of 2019.

Rob Ortt

“As we start the new year, the agriculture industry continues to struggle under burdensome state mandates and the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ortt said. “Lowering the overtime threshold will push workers to other states and drastically lower production, leaving family farmers with a serious risk of losing their livelihoods.”

In January, the New York State Farm Labor Wage Board will revisit the threshold set in 2019 and make a determination on whether to lower the threshold to 40 hours. Ninety-six percent of farms in New York State, most of which are family-owned, are unable to cover the costs of paying time and a half; a threshold reduction would result in less hours for employees to work and smaller paychecks. With farms being local economic engines, this Albany mandate would have devastating effects on communities across New York State.

In their letter, the Republican legislators cited a recent study conducted at Cornell University. The study found that if the overtime threshold was lowered to 40 hours, two-thirds of dairy farmers would make significant changes to their operation, including leaving the industry or investing out of state, and half of fruit and vegetable farmers indicated they would decrease their operations or exit the industry.

“Even the most resilient of these New Yorkers would be forced to relinquish labor-intensive dairy or crops operations, relocate to other states or abandon agriculture entirely,” said Senator George Borrello, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.  “I urge the members of the Wage Board to listen to researchers as well as those on the front lines, including farm workers, and reject any overtime changes. The future of farming and food security in our state hangs in the balance.”

Fellow Members of the Senate Republican Conference Senator Pam Helming, Senator Mike Martucci, Senator Patty Ritchie, Senator Sue Serino, Senator Fred Akshar, Senator Patrick Gallivan, Senator Anthony Palumbo, Senator Tom O’Mara, and Senator Alexis Weik also signed onto the letter.

Albion farmer wins corn contest for top yield in state

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 December 2021 at 9:58 am

File photo: Adam Kirby holds the trophy for winning the 2019 corn yield contest in New York.

ALBION – An Albion farmer has again topped other corn growers in the state for the highest yield.

Adam Kirby finished first with a yield of 293.1075 in the strip, min, mulch, ridge – till non-irrigated category. Kirby used Pioneer seed PO947Q.

Some other nearby farmers won in the New York contest. Henry Everman of Dansville won conventional non-irrigated with a yield of 290.3780 and Tom Jeffres of Wyoming had the top yield, 263.4521, in strip, min, mulch, ridge-till irrigated

Kirby has now won the past three years. In 2019, he finished first with a 277.0 bushel yield in the strip till, non-irrigated category.

He won another category in 2020 with a 271.8 bushel yield in the conventional irrigated category. In 2020, he also was second in the strip, min, mulch, ridge-till non-irrigated category with a 273.6 yield.

Kirby and other winners around the country will be honored in March 2022 during Commodity Classic in New Orleans, La.

Jim Bittner named interim director Horticultural Society, Berry Growers Association

Posted 4 December 2021 at 7:10 pm

Press Release, NYS Horticulture Society and NYS Berry Growers Association

Jim Bittner

The Boards of Directors of the New York State Horticulture Society (NYSHS) and the New York State Berry Growers Association (NYSBGA) are pleased to announce that Jim Bittner of Appleton has been appointed their Interim Executive Director.

The NYSHS began 1855. Its purpose has always been to serve the fruit industry of New York. The programs of the “Hort Society” have changed over the years to keep up with the changing times. The present mission is to “…educate, promote and protect the New York Fruit Industry”.

Founded in 1988, the New York State Berry Growers Association is a nonprofit educational association for berry growers, from large wholesale family farms to independent farm stands and small pick-your-own operations, across New York State. The NYSBGA promotes the growing and marketing of berries through the exchange of valuable information, including scientific research and production techniques.

Bittner brings an understanding of the needs of the fruit industry and the needs of these organizations. His home farm, Bittner-Singer Orchards, in Appleton consists of 400 acres of fruit including apples, peaches, cherries, plums and apricots. His two sons, Kevin and David, are involved in the farm operation.

In the past, Bittner served on the Board of the Horticulture Society including being its chairperson. In that role, he was active in the Council of Agricultural Organizations and the Farm Viability Institute Board. He has been very active in Farm Bureau at many different levels over the years. All of these organizations are geared toward keeping agriculture as an economic engine for the New York State economy.

In addition to these organizations, Bittner served on the Niagara County Cooperative Extension Board and Niagara County Industrial Development Microenterprise grant program board. He is currently a member of the Soil and Water Board, Niagara County Farm Bureau Board, and Treasurer of the Barker Lions Club.

Bittner has received numerous agricultural and business awards including the Distinguished Service award from the New York Agricultural Society, Business Person of the Year from the Niagara County Chamber of Commerce, National Outstanding Young Farmer, 40 Under 40 from Buffalo Business First and Outstanding Young Alumni from the Agriculture and Life Sciences school at Cornell University.

Serving as Interim Director is important for many reasons, he explained. “There are many facets to these two organizations.  We facilitate communication between farmers, agricultural researchers, and educators through our Fruit Quarterly. We keep farmers apprised of regulatory issues that could affect our ability to farm and work to educate decision makers on how new regulations will affect agriculture. Thirdly, we work with other agricultural organizations to ensure that we understand and appreciate the challenges we all face. I am really excited to work with people I have known for decades in this new capacity.”

Norris says more farms go out of business, grocery prices rise if overtime threshold reduced

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 December 2021 at 4:19 pm

Press Release, Assemblyman Michael Norris

Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,C-Lockport) is encouraging members of the agriculture community to continue reaching out to the state’s Farm Labor Wage Board to persuade them against further reducing the overtime threshold for farm workers.

Recently, downstate special interest groups have spearheaded efforts to reduce the overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours a week, a move that would spike grocery costs for consumers and put local family farms out of business.

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. As the Consumer Price Index has risen more than 5.4 percent in the last year, New Yorkers, like all Americans, are struggling to make ends meet in the face of inflation. Fewer family farms would reduce local access to produce and other fresh products at a time when global supply chains are in crisis.

“I voted against this matter when it came up in the Assembly because the negative impact it would have on our farms was clear. Now, with inflation and rising costs, families are struggling – even the cost of Christmas trees is through the roof this year,” said Norris. “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.”

An ardent agricultural advocate, Norris says the more people who reach out directly to the Farm Labor Wage Board, the more likely they will be to offset the proposed farm worker overtime expansion. To contact the board, you can call the state Department of Labor at (518) 457-9000, or a better option is to write to them at:

Ms. Brenda McDuffie, Chair

New York Farm Labor Wage Board

W.A. Harriman Campus, Building 12

Albany, NY 12240

In addition to rallying the public, Norris has been working with dozens of his legislative colleagues across party lines to encourage the board, as well as the Department of Labor and Department of Agriculture and Markets, to beat back these crippling mandates.

“This is a tough, yet decisive, time for our state. There are far too many people going hungry and out of work,” said Norris. “There are shortages on the shelves. This is not the time to further hinder our path or any individual’s will to work hard and move forward.”

Master Gardener training will be offered hybrid – in person and online

Posted 1 December 2021 at 11:43 am

Press Release, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County

Master Gardener Eileen Sorochty teaches a class on Hypertufa in 2019.  Educational classes for the public are just one of the ways that Master Gardeners volunteer their time.

KNOWLESVILLE – Orleans County CCE is hosting a new hybrid Master Gardener training starting in January of 2022. The training is the first step towards becoming a Master Gardener volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension. This is the first year the training is being offered as an online/in-person hybrid course.

Master Gardener training has been offered for decades across NY state, but the core coursework has been in need of an update for some time. With the help of grant funding and input from volunteers and staff across the state, senior extension educators at Cornell spent the better part of 2019 curating the online content to offer thorough and in-depth lessons geared toward the adult learner.

The result is an online course packed with information on key topics such as Plant Biology, Food Gardening, Entomology and more, as well as options for more detailed content on specific topics under the “Explore and Learn More” link under each general section.

“I’m so impressed with this new hybrid format” said Katie Oakes, Horticulture Educator at Orleans CCE and coordinator of the Master Gardener program. “There is so much to learn within the training program, and an online format really allows participants to work at their own pace, on their own schedule.”

The training this coming winter will start January 13th and go until April 7th. Participants will be given access to the online portion of the course on the Moodle educational platform where they complete lessons on their own. The group will then meet every other week (dates vary) to reinforce key concepts and to complete several hands-on activities designed to put into practice what they learned on the Moodle course the weeks before.

“I think it’s really important to still have the in-person aspect,” explained Oakes, “Meeting in person builds that sense of community that might come a little less naturally in an online forum setting. Having the hands-on activities is really crucial, too, because people retain so much more knowledge by actually doing rather than simply observing.”

Past Master Gardener Trainings have consisted of sixteen 3-hour long lecture style classes covering a range of topics. The schedule was often difficult for participants with young families at home, full-time jobs, or other obligations. This new online course will give all participants the opportunity to gain knowledge and participate fully with a distance-learning perspective.  The online course also includes extensive additional information that a fully in-person training just could not accommodate time-wise.

“This new online format makes it so much easier to access valuable resources – and there are a lot! There’s so much excellent information included in this training, several of the videos and links to articles I can’t wait to re-visit and look at again!” said Nancy Halstead, an Orleans County Master Gardener who took the piloted online course as a trial last winter.

After completion of the training, participants can complete 40 hours of volunteer service through the various programs at Orleans CCE to become a full-fledged Master Gardener Volunteer. Becoming a Master Gardener allows participants to become a part of a nation-wide volunteer association focused on extending land-grant university’s research and expertise to the public in their own local communities.

Current MG Volunteers in Orleans County serve the community in many different ways – offering educational classes to the public, hosting informational tables at local events, speaking at area garden clubs, displaying at farmers markets and the 4-H Fair, collaborating with other CCE programs like 4-H and Master Food Preservers and more! There are about 20 active MG Volunteers in Orleans County, and in addition to monthly meetings, the volunteers get together for field trips, gardening conferences, and social outings as well.

“I really love the camaraderie that comes with being a part of this group!” said long-time MG Volunteer Eileen Sorochty “It’s so wonderful to be around like-minded people caring about our environment and each other’s well-being.  Being a Master Gardener has enriched my life in so many ways.”

The deadline to register for the upcoming Master Gardener training (with a $50 non-refundable deposit) is December 22. Cost for the training is typically $200 per person, but there is a 50% discount for the first ten people to register (a $100 value). Reduced rate tuition is also available for additional participants as needed.  If internet accessibility is an issue, participants can utilize office hours at the Orleans County CCE Education Center M-F 8:30-4:30 to access the course using CCE wifi and computers.

For more information on the Master Gardener program in Orleans County, or to register for the upcoming Master Gardener Training, contact Horticulture Educator and MG Coordinator Katie Oakes at 585-798-4265 ext. 125 or email

Horticulture educator and MG Training Instructor Katie Oakes demonstrates a grafting technique during a past Master Gardener Training.