The New York Farm Bureau has announced its legislative priorities for the state legislative session that runs through June. During a conference call, the farm advocacy group explained its focus is on addressing issues surrounding economic and income losses.
Citing the USDA Economic Research Service, the New York Farm Bureau says the value of farm products in the state dropped more than a billion dollars over a two-year period to $5 billion. The 2016 data, the most recent, also shows that net farm income across New York was $568 million, one-third of what it was three years prior.
State Farm Bureau President David Fisher says the state must invest in agriculture, reduce the cost of doing business and help farmers find market opportunities. “One of our top priorities for New York Farm Bureau this year is going to be expanding the minimum wage tax credit on farms. You know the minimum wage climbed again this year. New York Farm Bureau did oppose this hike but was successful in getting an employee tax credit to offset a fraction of those costs. New York Farm Bureau would like to see that tax credit doubled. Farmers cannot just increase prices to absorb these added labor expenses. So this investment could offset a portion of this increase in state mandate costing us a lot more money in labor.”
Farmers are pleased with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed environmental fund allocations to water quality, land preservation and conservation programs. But Fisher adds funding is lacking for research and land grant universities. “Farms need the latest information and expertise to plan for the future and implement best management practices to address challenges that come like pests and extreme weather conditions just as a couple examples.”
Public Policy Director Jeff Williams adds getting the legislature to approve the governor’s initiative to help schools purchase more New York-grown food is another priority. “The governor in his budget has proposed $10 million to increase the reimbursement for schools that buy at least 30 percent of their food from New York state produced farmers, or New York farmers. So that is something that we are very committed to have been for a number of years. And we're pleased to see the governor stepping up and committing to that initiative.”
A growing problem for farmers across the state is tick-borne diseases. Williams notes the issue is new on their list of legislative priorities. "We have heard for a number of years from farmers on Long Island and the Hudson Valley about the increased prevalence of ticks and Lyme Disease in their regions but now we are hearing it very loudly and clearly from farmers from the North Country out to western New York. With the climate change and the changing climate we see increased prevalence of ticks and tick-borne diseases especially ‘cause farmers and their employees are outside almost all the time. So we are looking to the Senate who issued a report on this and to the governor who is committed to research diagnostic tools and increased health insurance in the state budget. We'll be working with them to put farmers’ concerns into the state budget discussions.”
While some sectors of agriculture like yogurt, hemp and beer may be doing well, Fisher says overall agriculture is struggling. “Commodity prices went down. Expenses did not go down. Labor especially went up. So there’s a lot of stress in the countryside. Just look at dairy for an example. Some of the forward prices for this spring are going to be not much more than half of what it was five years ago. And in general almost everything in agriculture is on the down side of a cycle right now.”
The Farm Bureau’s priorities agenda is crafted from recommendations from each county Farm Bureau in the state. Delegates at the annual statewide meeting in December determine the legislative position on issues and the Board of Directors then establishes the annual priorities.