Farm Bureau, FFA visit Albany to share pro-agriculture message

Staff Reports Posted 4 March 2016 at 12:00 am

Provided Photos – Albion FFA members traveled to Albany to meet with state legislators including State Sen. Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda), shown here with FFA members, from left: Vivian Rivers, Kelsee Soule, Emily Blanchard, Garrett Derisley and Allyson Graham.

ALBANY – Farmers and FFA students from Orleans County went to Albany visiting with lawmakers on Monday and Tuesday.

They met with local state legislators and three “adopted” legislators, including one from Long Island and two from New York City.

The farmers were a contingent from Orleans County Farm Bureau. They highlighted the organization’s public policy priorities for the year, topped by opposition to a $15 minimum wage.

Monday was kicked off with the popular Taste of New York reception for state lawmakers, commissioners and staff. Farm Bureau hosted a table highlighting local farm products. Following the evening event, members participated in the annual lobby day where they met with both their local and adopted senators and Assembly members.

The Farm Bureau and FFA met with State Sen. Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda), and Assembly members Steve Hawley (R-Batavia) and Jane Corwin (R-Clarence). The adopted legislators included Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-Queens), and Assemblyman Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head in Long Island).

Michael Montesano, a state assemblyman from Long Island, meets with Orleans County Farm Bureau members, including, from left, David Bittner, Adam Krenning, Jeff Toussaint and John Kast.

Orleans County Farm Bureau members shared their concern with a $15 minimum wage on New York farms. Farmers say that a nearly 70 percent increase in labor costs will make it harder to compete with products coming in from other states and countries with considerably lower production costs.

An American Farm Bureau Federation analysis found $15 minimum would costs New York agriculture $500 million or 25 percent of additional net income. This is expected to impact farms in a number of ways. The county will likely see farms reduce employment, turn to automation or close the barn doors, Farm Bureau said.

State funding for critical farm programs is another top priority for Farm Bureau. Governor Cuomo included a number of things in his budget plan which would help the farm industry. This includes increased funding for the Environmental Protection Fund, which will assist farms with water quality, conservation and farmland protection programs.

Farm Bureau also asked lawmakers to support critical funding for animal health, promotion and research programs that also benefit agriculture in the county.

Members also asked for funding parity when it comes to repairing upstate roads and bridges. The governor is committing $20 billion to match infrastructure efforts happening in and around New York City. The parity in upstate-downstate funding remains a priority because our farms need access to safe, well-maintained roads and safe bridges in order to move equipment to farm fields and transport their goods to market.

Orleans County Farm Bureau also remains committed to securing funding to assist schools in starting up new FFA programs as well as for agricultural education programs. Each year, more schools are interested in these programs that provide career and technical skills that students need. The USDA estimates that there will be 60,000 new jobs a year in the farming and food industries, and it is vital to have a workforce that can meet those demands to help the rural economy grow right here at home.

Farmers also discussed with lawmakers about transferring farm assessment functions to the Department of Agriculture and Markets from the Department of Taxation and Finance. Moving the process to be entirely housed within the Department of Agriculture and Markets will not only streamline the assessment process, but it would be a common sense move to improve a valuable program for our farms, Farm Bureau said.

These priorities were based on member-approved public policies that originate every year at the county Farm Bureau level and are passed by the full delegate body at New York Farm Bureau’s State Annual Meeting in December.

In addition to advocating for priorities with lawmakers, members also participated in a special panel discussion with the Commissioners and representatives from the Departments of Agriculture and Markets, Environmental Conservation and Labor. Members were able to ask questions about a number of issues facing the state’s family farms.

“Orleans County Farm Bureau members spent time away from their farms to cultivate the important relationships we have in Albany,” said Amanda Flansburg, Orleans County Farm Bureau President. “We work hard to secure public policies at every level of government that support every farmer in the county, and we will continue to advocate for priorities that will not only benefit agriculture but our rural communities as a whole.”