ALBANY — New York Farm Bureau outlined its federal public policy agenda today as farmers from across the state are meeting virtually this week with members of New York’s congressional delegation to discuss their priority issues. These include agricultural labor reform, modernizing the milk pricing system and supply chain, as well as needed regulatory reforms and support for rural mental health.
New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher and Senior Associate Director of Public Policy and National Affairs Lauren Williams unveiled the federal public policy priority issues this morning during a Zoom press conference call.
Agricultural Labor Reform:
Agricultural labor reform is a perennial issue for New York Farm Bureau as it remains incredibly important to farming. We are advocating for legislation that would address both short- and long-term labor needs, including allowing current, trained workers who are already in this country to stay and work. We also would like to modernize the H-2A federal guest worker program to have a continuous, legal workforce for all sectors of agriculture. Currently, only farms with seasonal work can use the federal program. H-2A does not permit year-round work that is needed on dairy farms, for example, that milk cows 12-months out of the year.
“This is especially important right now as New York State is looking to lower the overtime threshold for farmworkers from 60 hours down to 40 hours. If that should happen, we have heard some workers may choose to leave New York State to find employment elsewhere where they can get the hours they need. H-2A reform could perhaps give farms more options to address their labor needs if guest workers are still willing to come to New York,” said President Fisher, a dairy farmer in Madrid, NY.
Making sure dairy farmers receive a fair price for their milk is another priority issue for New York Farm Bureau. Prices have rebounded somewhat this year after years of extremely low prices that have driven hundreds of New York dairies out of business. Though inflation and higher input costs on farms have tempered some of the recent price gains.
President Fisher has been a part of a national workgroup with the American Farm Bureau Federation that is taking a deep look at this issue. In turn, New York Farm Bureau is asking the USDA to examine and modernize the current Federal Milk Marketing Order System that determines what dairy farmers receive for their milk based on what is currently a complicated and outdated formula. One avenue to do this is Sen. Gillibrand’s dairy pricing bill which would take a new look at Class 1 pricing for fluid milk and would also hold hearings to get feedback directly from farmers on how to update the system.
“We must ensure our farm families have a voice and vote when it comes to bringing the milk marketing order into the 21st century. We may see changes as well in the 2023 Farm Bill which will be voted on next year. We want to make sure New York farmers needs are reflected in that legislation,” said Fisher.
Supply Chain Issues
The food supply chain has taken a hit throughout the pandemic. It has hurt farmers in two main ways. The first was seeing their products held up getting to their customers, when elements of the manufacturing and transportation links broke down. Farmers have also had problems getting ahold of equipment, parts, and inputs, like fertilizer that they need to farm. This has created delays and driven up prices.
New York Farm Bureau wants to implement a process that will identify these problems and put regulatory and administration actions in place to deal with the issues. This includes decreasing congestion in U.S. ports, reducing barriers to working in the field of food processing or transportation, and continuing to improve the country’s infrastructure. This also includes expanding food processing capacity in this state and country
Just last week, USDA announced $215 million in grants and other support to expand meat and poultry processing options; this includes for new processing facilities. Here in New York, there are limited options to process livestock. The grants would support small meat processing plants and increase federal inspections to expand capacity. The grants that New York Farm Bureau supports would also provide workforce development and job training to recruit new employees.
There is also a bill in Congress which would reform ocean shipping, which would in part, ensure empty cargo containers are not leaving our ports empty, but rather have agricultural goods bound for other countries. By having proactive trade policies in this country, it will help develop new markets for our farmers.
Climate Smart Farming:
Another important priority for New York Farm Bureau members is implementing science-based environmental policies and addressing the effects of climate change. New York farmers know all too well the impacts of extreme weather conditions, having dealt with drought and heavy rain events in recent years. It is important for farmers to have a seat at the table when discussing policy changes around this important issue as well as getting recognition and support for practices already happening on our farms that are reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Farms are part of the solution to addressing climate change.
New York Farm Bureau supports a voluntary, market-based approach which offers incentives and technical assistance to farmers. This approach has been successful in the past, and we believe it would only increase carbon sequestration and climate-smart conservation practices. For example, the USDA is committing $1 billion dollars to its climate smart farming program. This opens up funding that the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and our land-grant university, Cornell, can apply for and distribute to farmers in the state. New York Farm Bureau is hoping to see this assistance flow soon.
“Farmers have made large strides in environmental stewardship. Since 1990, farmers have cut greenhouse gas emissions required to produce the amount of food we make by 24%. And with new technology and better science and research, we are looking to make even bigger gains,” Said Lauren Williams, New York Farm Bureau’s National Affairs Director. “Through all of this, it is important to find the balance that will protect our members’ ability to feed our country and do what is needed for our natural resources and planet earth.”
Regulatory reform remains a priority as well. New York Farm Bureau is closely following a proposed change to the Clean Water Act and what are considered “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) Previously, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers attempted to take out the word “navigable” which would greatly expand the WOTUS definition to include low areas of a farm field that may only be wet after a heavy rainstorm, ephemeral streams, and roadside ditches. This would be very subjective for federal regulators and open up farms to needing costly permits and delays just to farm their land.
New York Farm Bureau submitted comments last month to the EPA and is asking it to keep the Navigable Waters Protection Rule in place. This provides certainty for farms and ensures federal agencies are following the Clean Water Act as Congress intended to protect this country’s waterways.
New York Farm Bureau also wants the USDA to effectively enforce its organic certification standards for livestock. We have seen issues here in New York State of organic dairies losing markets to much large farms out of state. It is important that every farm follow the rules and regulations in place for housing and caring for livestock on organic farms. This includes how cows are transitioned into the operation. New York Farm Bureau is asking the USDA to finalize its organic origin of livestock rule and expedite the rulemaking process.
Rural and Mental Health
Finally, New York Farm Bureau is prioritizing the increased awareness of mental health resources and encourage broader availability of agriculture-specific assistance. The past few years have been challenging for everyone, including farmers and farmworkers. COVID illnesses and deaths, supply chain problems, and economic uncertainty created a more stressful time, and we must ensure that there are enough resources in place to help our farmers and rural communities cope. New York State is fortunate to have organizations like NY FarmNet, New York State Agricultural Mediation Program, and the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health that offer critical services, but we can always do more, especially in time of need.
It was announced on Friday that USDA is providing half-a-million dollars in grant funding to NY FarmNet and AG Meditation to address this very issue, helping to connect farm families with needed stress assistance programs. New York Farm Bureau is supportive of this effort.
“This important funding must continue to provide resources to farmers as well as increased awareness and reducing the stigma surrounding rural mental health issues. It is important that we work to take care of each other,” said Williams.
Click here for a recording of today’s press conference.
–New York Farm Bureau