NY Farm Bureau’s 2019 legislative priorities include focus on improving downturn in ag economy

Posted 24 January 2019 at 7:36 am

Press Release, New York Farm Bureau

Photo by Tom Rivers – This photo from October 2015 shows apples at an Albion orchard.

ALBANY – New York Farm Bureau on Wednesday released its 2019 state legislative priorities that look to address important budget and economic needs of its farmer members who make up the diverse agricultural community in New York. The priorities are based upon member approved public policy positions.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the value of agriculture production for 2017, the latest numbers available, is just over $5 billion. It remains more than a $1 billion below where it was five years ago, a testament to the lingering downturn of the farm economy.

“It is important for lawmakers, many of whom are new to the Senate and Assembly this year, to understand not only the economic situation many farmers find themselves in, but also the positive impacts farms make to the rural economy and overall well-being of New York State,” said New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher during a press conference call with members of the media.

A top priority for New York Farm Bureau is making sure the final state budget agreement reflects the needs of farmers. The organization was very pleased to see Governor Cuomo increase the aid to localities budget for agriculture by $5 million to more than $29 million. This commitment to much needed research, promotion and marketing programs supports a wide range of commodities, including dairy, wine, maple, apple, Christmas trees, onions and more.

The Governor’s office has traditionally left this funding to the legislature to fill in the gaps, but with a new Senate majority, the Governor is expressing to the members and the rest of the state, why agriculture funding is so important.

“New York Farm Bureau will firmly make the case that this appropriation is much needed so New York farms can access the latest research available and improve their ability to compete in the marketplace,” said Fisher.

New York Farm Bureau also supports the $300 million slated for the Environmental Protection Fund, including money to assist farms that must cope with extreme weather conditions and to improve soil health.

“Farmers take great pride in passing on their land to the next generation, and that means having productive land and clean water that are protected for the future,” said Fisher.

Another legislative priority this year is for New York State to expand on the Farm Workforce Retention Tax Credit that left out many farm families when it was enacted in 2016.

New York Farm Bureau has repeatedly expressed how the rising minimum wage in New York makes it difficult on farms’ bottom lines. The minimum wage climbed again at the end of last year. It is now $11.10 in upstate New York and $12 on Long Island and Westchester County.

Farm Bureau opposed the hike but was successful in getting an employee tax credit to offset a fraction of the rising costs. However, it did not apply to all farm employers including Christmas tree and maple operations, farm wineries and cideries.  New York Farm Bureau is hoping that will change.

“State investment can help offset a portion of the state mandated wage hike. We were pleased to see the Governor has included this in his budget as well,” said Fisher.

Another public policy goal is to change the unemployment insurance law that currently requires farmers to pay unemployment insurance for H-2A workers, even though the workers are unable to collect it.

H-2A is a federal guest worker program that allows farms to hire and transport seasonal workers from other countries to New York for a set period of time. Once a farmworker’s contract expires, the employee must return to their home country. However, New York requires farms to pay the unemployment insurance on these farmworkers…even though the employees will never collect it. If they leave the job, they must return home and are ineligible to collect. The money is then absorbed by New York State.

“This is a common-sense fix to a long-standing regulation that increases the cost of doing business with no tangible benefit to the farmworker or farm,” said Jeff Williams, New York Farm Bureau’s Director of Public Policy.

Another top priority for New York Farm Bureau is to support training for police and district attorneys who investigate animal cruelty laws under the current statute in Agriculture and Markets Law.

New York Farm Bureau was successful in 2015, by working with the New York State Humane Association, to pass a law to help train law enforcement on animal cruelty laws already on the books. However, there has been no budget funding made available to implement this training. New York Farm, Bureau believes that needs to change.

“Farmers take animal care seriously and believe law enforcement could be better equipped to deal with abuse cases by receiving adequate training on Agriculture and Markets Law,” said Williams.

In the end, President Fisher said, “New York Farm Bureau will work hard to educate lawmakers, especially new members of the State Legislature, on the value our farms provide to all of New York and hopefully help them understand the impacts their decisions have, both positively and negatively, on our farm families, farmworkers and the rural economy.”

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