Officials from the New York Farm Bureau discussed the group’s top state legislative priorities and its response to the governor’s executive budget during a conference call this morning.
The Farm Bureau is the largest agricultural lobbying and trade organization in New York. Every January, its Board of Directors meets to prioritize policy positions for the legislative session.
President David Fisher, who took over in December, reports that over the past two years farmers have faced low commodity and milk prices and rising labor costs. “New numbers just released by the National Ag Statistics Service show the value of farm production in New York has dropped by about a billion dollars in 2015. That’s a significant loss of farm income. And anecdotally we are hearing from our members that when NASS releases the 2016 numbers farm income will likely drop even farther.”
Fisher outlined a series of priorities beginning with convincing legislators to enact a refundable investment tax credit for farmers. “Because of the down farm economy and the weather related crop losses many farmers experienced last year farmers are extremely short on cash flow let alone having large enough savings to reinvest back into their businesses. This initiative would incentivize farm investment to meet the needs of global competition.”
Next on their list according to Fisher is doubling the minimum wage tax credit for farms from $30 to $60 million. “Farm income is already down 16 percent yet labor costs are rising because of the state’s new minimum wage law. Farms cannot just increase their prices to make up for that growing gap. If the state is going to force higher wages on farms they should be prepared to offer greater assistance.”
Public Policy Director Jeff Williams added that obtaining the tax credit is an agricultural sustainability issue. “Doubling the agricultural tax credit for minimum wage really would help defray the cost. In New York State when we fully implement Pennsylvania will be half, the minimum wage will be half of what New York State is. We just simply can’t compete with other states.”
Both Farm Bureau officials are pleased with the governor’s proposed funding for the Environmental Protection Fund, saying it will help farmers with water quality and farmland protection.
Williams would like to see a state commitment to buy New York-grown food for institutional purchases. “Essentially the way procurement works now institutions would have to really buy the lowest cost product and that could be from anywhere in the world. Buying New York State products would really open up new markets for farmers in this state.”
Despite two previous vetoes by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Williams says the group will again work to obtain a tax credit for food donations from farmers to food banks. “We are really committed to putting that forward again this year and helping the governor see the light when it comes to allowing farms, who have excess food on occasion at the end of the season, to defray their cost of picking that food and packaging that food and getting it to food banks where its greatly needed.”
The executive budget includes a $2 billion plan to improve water quality and infrastructure. The Farm Bureau hopes funds are included for farm conservation projects.