WASHINGTON — New York Farm Bureau outlined its federal public policy agenda today as 15 farmers from across the state meet with their Senators and Congressional Representatives in Washington, D.C. over the next two days. The priority issues range from agricultural labor reform and dairy policy to industrial hemp legislation and organic certification. NYFB President David Fisher and Senior Associate Director of Public Policy and National Affairs Lauren Williams unveiled the priority issues during a press conference call this morning from the nation’s capital.
Agriculture Labor Reform
NYFB’s first national priority is reforming the country’s broken agricultural labor system. The organization has long pushed for reforms that address workers who are currently in this country playing an important and necessary role in food production. At the same time, members are advocating for a better system to update or replace the current program: H-2A: Temporary Agricultural Employment of Foreign Workers.
“We need a guest worker visa program that ensures a continuous and legal workforce going forward into the future for all sectors of agriculture, including dairy which is currently shut out of the H-2A system for its year-round needs,” said President Fisher during the press call.
The House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in a bipartisan vote at the end of last year. This bill goes a long way towards addressing the shortage of agricultural workers that limit our farmers’ ability to plant, harvest, and care for livestock. This bill would mandate workers already in this country commit to working two years in agriculture, undergo a background check and pay a fee to become a certified agriculture worker.
In the Senate, Farm Bureau is still advocating for some changes to make this a better bill, including increasing the cap on year-round guest worker visas, ensuring a fair and competitive wage rate, and establishing a workable threshold for agricultural employment. NYFB expects to see the Senate’s version of the bill next month and members are hoping it will be a bill that NYFB can advocate for to find some compromises with the House legislation.
Changes to federal dairy policy are also priorities for New York Farm Bureau members. As an organization, Farm Bureau has spent much time this past year looking at the current federal milk marketing order that sets milk prices for dairy farmers. Dairy farms do not dictate what they receive for the milk that they produce.
NYFB is looking to modernize milk pricing and to make sure farmers have a voice and a vote in how this happens. Members are also advocating this week for a return of whole milk and chocolate milk into the federal dietary guidelines. Scientific data shows that whole milk is especially healthy and good for growing children. In addition, consumer trends indicate increased consumption for whole milk and full-fat dairy products, like butter
Finally, NYFB members are pushing for truth in labeling when it comes to milk and dairy products on store shelves. Several plant-based products use the words “milk, yogurt and cheese” looking to capitalize on the health benefits of dairy while not containing any dairy ingredients.
“This is misleading to consumers, some of whom believe these products contain the same nutritional value as milk. The FDA has strict guidelines on the use of the term ‘milk’, and it is not enforcing the milk standards. This must change for the benefit of both consumers as well as our dairy farmers,” said Fisher.
Improving our country’s infrastructure is another priority for NYFB.
Farmers rely on roads, bridges, waterways, and seaports to get their goods to market both here in the U.S. and abroad. Without safe, reliable infrastructure, production and transportation costs rise, trucks drive greater distances using more fuel, and we run the risk of food spoiling in trucks, railyards and ports. A new infrastructure bill has been floated by the White House and there is bipartisan interest in Congress. This is one area where agreement could happen to improve how goods are delivered internationally.
Broadband is also critical infrastructure these days and is a necessity for any business, including farms, to communicate, market their products, access the latest data and so much more. Unfortunately, parts of rural New York are still facing barriers to reliable, high-speed service. Nearly a quarter of all farms in New York have no internet access, according to the USDA. And those that do, a majority still has slower service like dial-up, DSL and mobile.
“The House of Representatives passed a broadband mapping bill. It is a good start, but we are hoping the Senate can come through with even more money to invest in our rural broadband infrastructure,” said Lauren Williams on the press call.
Hemp production continues to be a hot topic for producers in the state. More than 500 farmers are growing in excess of 25,000 acres in New York State, according the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.
“New York Farm Bureau believes it is important for this country to have workable rules in place so the growing, processing and distribution side of production can support the potential supply and demand for hemp products,” said Williams.
NYFB is advocating that the USDA Interim Final Rule for industrial hemp be flexible for producers and include proper testing procedures, higher THC level thresholds, better sampling requirements and ways to properly dispose of the crop that is over legal THC thresholds.
A challenge has been a lack of DEA testing facilities for industrial hemp which can greatly slow down the approval process for individual harvests. However, there are positive signs that the federal government will allow other labs to test as well to expedite the process.
Members are asking the federal government to ensure proper enforcement of organic standards as they relate to livestock. This is a priority that came from a NYFB member and organic producer during NYFB’s grassroots public policy development process. The resolution was successfully supported at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s national annual meeting in January.
“This would ensure that organic livestock producers are properly following federal guidelines and definitions for livestock production in order to maintain the integrity of the organic certification,” said Williams.
Additional national priority issues include:
- Seeking partners and maintaining a non-regulatory approach to achieve climate and conservation goals;
- Protecting farmers’ access to modern farming technology, veterinary medications and crop protection tools;
- Ensuring responsible policy on animal agriculture production and accurate information about the healthy consumption of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products;
- Monitoring conservation compliance implementation and appeals process; and
- Ensuring proper implementation of renewable energy mandates
- Achieve and expand trade opportunities for New York agriculture through existing and new trade agreements.
- Continue to support the next generation of trade negotiations that remove barriers to trade and provide expanded markets for New York farmers.
- Continue to work on and promote tax policies that benefit farmers.
- Achieve policies that address rural mental health challenges, reduce opioid addiction, promote rural resilience and assist rural economies.
Right to Repair
- Allow farmers and independent repair technicians the ability to access information, parts, and tools for farm equipment repairs.
–Steve Ammerman, New York Farm Bureau