The New York Farm Bureau recently outlined its legislative priorities for the 2020 session.
The Farm Bureau is the largest organization representing agricultural interests in New York state. Each year it outlines the key issues it will lobby on behalf of farmers and rural communities in Albany. In 2019, the legislature passed the Farm Laborer Fair Labor Practices Act — over the Bureau’s objections. President David Fisher says the new law is a costly and unfair to family farms. He says the overriding priority in the 2020 session is for lawmakers to keep promises to ease any burdens imposed by new labor regulations. "A top priority for New York Farm Bureau is obtaining financial offsets and amendments to mitigate the impact of the farm labor law. We were very pleased to see that Governor Cuomo included a refundable investment tax credit for farms in his budget. We are also supportive of the governor's proposal to increase the farmworker housing loan fund to assist farms in building new housing on our farms. In addition Senate Ag committee Chair Jen Metzger and Assembly Ag Chair Donna Lupardo have proposed to double the ag employee workforce tax credit. These are all important proposals to our family farms and will help offset tens of millions of dollars in regulatory and overtime costs that farmers will have to pay in this tight farm economy.”
Public Policy Director Jeff Williams says so far it’s mostly the dairy sector that has felt the impact of the law. He anticipates as farmers gear up for seasonal work more farmers will struggle to manage labor issues related to the law. “We're spending a lot of our time educating farmers on how to deal with the overtime issue, with employee management and hourly management, with collective bargaining. We’ve spent a lot of time talking to farmers about what they can do, what they shouldn't do, when a union comes on the farm. So really, I think the jury's still out.”
Advocates of the law contend it’s vital in ensuring safety and fair pay in a difficult line of work.
Fisher owns a dairy farm in St. Lawrence County: “Farmers are also very concerned. They're looking at their budgets. They're looking at their labor needs. They're looking at cost of production. Some of them are evaluating certain crops that they may not plant this year. So everything's up in the air and we don't know how it's going to play out. But the anxiety level and the concerns are very high in the ag community.”
A second priority for the Farm Bureau is assuring agricultural program funding. Jeff Williams is encouraged that for the second time the governor’s budget includes funds for promotional, research and animal health programs. "We're also really dependent upon the Environmental Protection Fund and a lot of that stuff is related to farms and dealing with climate change. Agriculture has reduced our carbon footprint by 20% over the last two decades. Farms are natural carbon sponges. And we want to continue the research in the EPF, whether to investments in no till plowing, cover crops, crop rotation, things that farmers are already doing these days. We want to make sure that we're able to continue those investments in the Environmental Protection Fund.”
New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher will be in Washington tonight as a guest of Republican New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.