The New York Farm Bureau advocates for one of the state’s largest industries: agriculture. The group recently released its 2021 national priorities.
State Farm Bureau officials outlined four key policy issues the group wants Congress to address this term: labor reform, the pandemic, trade and climate change. Farm Bureau President David Fisher would like to see a comprehensive approach to farm labor that addresses full time and seasonal workers. President Biden has put forward the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 and Fisher is hopeful it will drive what he sees as needed reforms. “While we were pleased to see that it offers hope for farm workers who are currently in this country to remain here with legal permanent resident status, the legislation still does not address the long term needs of our farmers, farm workers and food supply. We see the President’s proposal as a strong starting point and many more discussions need to be had. This includes reforming the H-2A federal guest worker program to allow farms to be matched up with foreign workers who could stay for longer than a growing season. This would be extremely helpful for our state’s dairy farms.”
The vaccine rollout so far has not included farmworkers. The Farm Bureau is encouraging New York state to include agricultural workers in Phase 1B, in alignment with CDC recommendations. Fisher notes that some farms have volunteered to be vaccination sites and are working with migrant clinics and county health departments to be ready. “One of the obstacles has been the supply of the vaccine. We’re encouraged as production ramps up but New York Farm Bureau will continue to make the case with federal officials that more should be targeted to the farming community along with necessary personal protective equipment.”
Senior Associate Director of Public Policy and National Affairs Lauren Williams says a new federal administration means new trade opportunities for agriculture. “We are encouraging the Biden administration to continue to build back with China. We also continue to monitor the implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, including the implementation of the produce plan to assist New York’s fruit and vegetable growers. We are also asking the White House to join the comprehensive and progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement as well as expand opportunities with the European Union and United Kingdom and other nations. There is much potential around the world for our farmers to sell their quality goods and we’re really hoping they have that continued access.”
Williams says farmers see the impacts of climate change directly and that’s one reason the Farm Bureau wants environmental policies to be science based and practical for agriculture. “Farms are part of the solution to addressing climate change. Climate smart farming practices can serve as carbon sinks helping mitigate the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. We are ready to work with the administration on science-based, voluntary, and market-driven programs.”
Fisher, who owns a dairy farm in Madrid, New York, reported that the dairy sector is expected to struggle as the price of milk to the farmer is forecast to plummet while expenses rise. "Futures prices don’t look very good for next year and grain prices are very high so it looks like it could be a challenging year next year for the dairy industry. Prices went from extremely low to reasonable in the fall and now headed back south again.”
The Farm Bureau is also working to assess possible reforms to the Federal Milk Marketing Order, which establishes the provisions for processors to buy fresh milk from dairy farmers.