New York Farm Bureau Officials Discuss National Policy Priorities
Members of the New York Farm Bureau are in Washington, D.C. this week discussing the organization’s policy priorities with the state’s congressional representatives. They outlined their top concerns during a conference call Tuesday.
The primary item that New York’s Farm Bureau wants Congress to address is labor. They particularly want the H2A program, which allows temporary employment of foreign workers, to be updated or replaced. New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher says the H2A program allows the employment of about 8,100 foreign workers on about 217 farms across the state. But he says revisions are needed to assure a continuous and legal workforce for all ag sectors – including dairy producers, currently excluded from the program. “The House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in a bipartisan vote at the end of last year. This bill goes a long way towards addressing the shortage of ag workers that limits our farmers’ ability to plant, harvest and care for livestock. In the Senate the Farm Bureau is advocating for some changes including increasing the cap on year-round guest worker visas, ensuring a fair and competitive wage rate and establishing a workable threshold for agricultural employment.”
Dairy policy is another big concern for New York’s agricultural community. Fisher notes that dairy farmers do not dictate how much they receive for the milk they produce. “We are looking to modernize the milk pricing and to make sure farmers have a voice and a vote in how this happens. We’re advocating for truth in labeling when it comes to milk and dairy products on store shelves. A number of plant-based products use the words milk, yogurt and cheese looking to capitalize on the health benefits of dairy. This is misleading consumers. The FDA has strict guidelines on the use of the term milk and is not enforcing the milk standards.”
The state of the nation’s infrastructure is also a priority for farmers according to Associate Director of Public Policy and National Affairs Lauren Williams. "Farmers rely on roads, bridges, waterways and seaports to get their goods to market and really without safe reliable infrastructure our production and transportation costs rise. A new infrastructure has been floated by the White House and there is bipartisan interest and we hope that this is really one area of agreement that could and should happen.”
It’s not just the road and bridge infrastructure that the agriculture community says must be improved. Williams says high speed broadband is a critical service that is too often unavailable in rural settings. “It’s a necessity for businesses including farms to communicate, market their products, access the latest data and so much more. Nearly a quarter of all farms in New York have no internet access according to the USDA and those that do a majority have slower services like dial-up. The House recently passed a broadband mapping bill and we believe it’s a good start but we’re also hoping that the Senate will come through with even more funding to invest in our rural broadband infrastructure.”
Hemp production is increasingly popular and Williams reports more than 500 farmers are now growing it on more than 25,000 acres in New York. “It’s really important for this country and our farmers to have workable rules in place so that growing, processing and the distribution side of production can support the potential supply and demand that there is for hemp.”
The Farm Bureau officials said they are watching for potential impacts from the novel coronavirus especially as foreign workers are expected to arrive on many farms at the end of March and in April. They plan to discuss concerns and prevention during meetings with congressional representatives.