ALBANY — New York Farm Bureau outlined its federal public policy agenda today highlighting the continued push for immigration reform and the need to expand market opportunities to improve the agricultural economy. Today’s press conference call with reporters is in advance of a planned visit next month to Washington, D.C. where several New York Farm Bureau members will meet with members of New York’s Congressional delegation. The organization’s national priorities are listed below.
Immigration reform remains a top priority for New York Farm Bureau. NYFB President David Fisher called for an end to the stalemate in Washington over this issue and asked lawmakers to advance public policy that will establish a more comprehensive guest worker visa program for agriculture.
“Much of the discussion lately has revolved around border security. New York Farm Bureau agrees that having a secure border is important, but the rest of the issue cannot be ignored. There must be a system in place for people who want to work on our farms, who want to stay on our farms to produce the food that feeds our country,” said President Fisher.
Reforms should allow for current, trained workers to stay on farms and maintain a consistent workforce to plant and harvest crops, and care for livestock. This includes updates and reform of the H-2A program. It is the only available federal program in place right now for agriculture, but it only applies to seasonal farms, like fruit, vegetable and nursery farms. Reforms must expand the system for farms that need workers year-round, like the state’s important dairy sector.
The number of H-2A workers being utilized in New York State to help harvest crops like fruits and vegetable as well as perform seasonal jobs has increased greatly over the past several years. New York is in the top 10 for H-2A utilization and saw an increase of 11 percent from FY17 to FY18. This reflects the tightening local labor market and the need to not only fix H-2A, but have a system for all farms, not just seasonal operations.
“We must find a balance in Washington to provide for border security and a workable, guest worker visa program,” said Fisher.
Improving our country’s infrastructure is another priority for New York Farm Bureau.
Farmers rely on roads, bridges, waterways, locks and dams and seaports to get goods to market, both here in the U.S. and abroad. Without safe, reliable infrastructure, production and transportation costs rise, farm and delivery trucks drive greater distances using more fuel, and we run the risk of food spoiling in trucks, railyards and ports. New York State has invested in new infrastructure and the federal government should do the same.
“Infrastructure improvements are also needed to continue to expand rural broadband so farmers and businesses can have access to the same technology in urban areas. Technology and agricultural research are important to the future of farming, and our farms must remain on the cutting edge to be competitive,” said Fisher.
A 2016 federal report showed 17% of rural New Yorkers have no access to broadband and a third of farmers nationwide are without any internet service.
In rural America, broadband services increase economic development through new business opportunities and are better able to communicate with current and prospective customers as well to market and sell their products. Precision agriculture also relies on broadband services so farmers and ranchers can manage efficient, economical and environmentally conscious businesses. Farmers use precision agriculture for accurate mapping of field boundaries, roads and irrigation systems; for precision planting and harvesting; and for targeting the application of fertilizer and chemicals that combat weeds and crop diseases.
Trade remains a focus for New York Farm Bureau. Farmers have seen the challenges first hand on their farms as the rural economy has taken a hit because of the retaliatory tariffs affecting U.S. exports. A trade war with many countries has depressed commodity prices and hurt farmers’ bottom lines, when farmers can least afford it in this tight farm economy.
NYFB is asking lawmakers to defend and expand trade opportunities for New York agriculture through existing and new trade agreements. This includes supporting the U.S-Mexico-Canada Agreement known as U-S-M-C-A. It will expand the dairy market for New York products and ensure that the trade doors opened under NAFTA will remain open.
“The impact of losing the deal and abandoning NAFTA all together would be devastating as New York would see a 15% overall drop in exports. When you consider that the farm economy is already suffering, an additional drop in farm income would only exacerbate the pressure our farmers are under right now,” said Lauren Williams, New York Farm Bureau’s Senior Associate Director of National Affairs.
Regulatory Reform is another national priority for the organization. It believes the regulatory process in this country should be a transparent one based on facts, sound science and reflects the will of Congress.
The Federal Register recently published the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed new Clean Water Rule, opening a 60-day public comment period. It includes more specific definitions to replace the flawed Waters of the U.S. rule initiated in 2015. This new clean water rule is good news for farmers, local highway departments and others who have faced a tangled web of confusing and unclear rules. If the original rule remained in place, farmers couldn’t fertilize, spray, or plow some areas of their land that may hold standing water for a while after a significant rainstorm, without a federal permit
“Over the next two months, New York Farm Bureau will look at the new rule in greater detail and submit public comments. It is our hope that the result will offer clarity and workability for farmers. This will help our farms comply with the law, protect the environment, and grow the crops that feed our people and our upstate economy,” said Williams.
Other major regulations NYFB is following include the further implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, often referred to as FSMA, and new Worker Protection Standards. NYFB will work with Congress and federal agencies to ensure that enacted regulations are workable on farms and reflect the intent of Congress.
NYFB will also be paying close attention to the Farm Bill implementation. The president signed the legislation late last year. It contains significant benefits for New York farmers, including a reformed and flexible safety net for dairy farms of all sizes, research and support programs that will benefit New York’s specialty crop producers, conservation and research programs and the legalization of industrial hemp.
NYFB will be submitting public comments this Friday on the Farm Bill, identifying our priorities and stressing that the regulations need to be workable and rolled out in a timely manner.
–New York Farm Bureau
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