The New York Farm Bureau presented its federal public policy agenda as farmers across the state recently met virtually with members of the New York Congressional delegation to discuss their priority issues. These include agricultural labor reform, modernization of the milk pricing system and supply chain, as well as necessary 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 priority federal public policy issues during a Zoom press conference this morning.
Reform of agricultural work:
Farm labor reform is a recurring issue for the New York Farm Bureau, as it remains extremely important to agriculture. They advocate for legislation that would address short- and long-term labor needs, including allowing current, trained workers who are already in this country to stay and work. They would also like to modernize the federal H-2A guest worker program to ensure a continuous, legal workforce for all sectors of agriculture. Currently, only farms with seasonal work can use the federal program. H-2A does not allow year-round work that is necessary on dairy farms, for example, which milk cows 12 months a year.
“This is especially important right now as New York State seeks to lower the overtime threshold for agricultural workers from 60 to 40 hours. If that were to happen, we’ve heard that some workers may choose to quit. New York State to find employment elsewhere where they could get the hours they need H-2A reform might give farms more options to meet their labor needs if guest workers are always willing to come to New York,” said Fisher, a dairy farmer in Madrid.
Ensuring dairy farmers receive a fair price for their milk is another priority for the New York Farm Bureau. Prices have rebounded somewhat this year after years of rock bottom prices that pushed hundreds of New York dairies out of business. Although inflation and rising farm input costs have tempered some of the recent price gains.
Fisher has been part of a national task force with the American Farm Bureau Federation that is looking at this issue in depth. In turn, the New York Farm Bureau is calling on the USDA to review and modernize the current system of federal milk marketing orders that determines what dairy farmers receive for their milk based on what is currently a complicated and outdated formula. One avenue for doing this is Senator Gillibrand’s Dairy Pricing Bill which would take a fresh look at Class 1 pricing for fluid milk and also hold hearings to get input directly from farmers on how to update the system.
“We must ensure that our farm families have a voice and vote when it comes to bringing the milk marketing order into the 21st century. We could also see changes in the Farm Bill 2023 which will be voted on next year. We want to make sure the needs of New York farmers are reflected in this legislation,” Fisher said.
Supply chain issues
The food supply chain has been impacted throughout the pandemic. It has harmed farmers in two main ways. The first was seeing their products blocked from reaching their customers, when parts of the manufacturing and transportation links broke down. Farmers have also struggled to get the equipment, parts and inputs like fertilizer they need to farm. This created delays and drove up prices.
The New York Farm Bureau wants to implement a process that will identify these issues and put in place regulatory and administrative measures to resolve the issues. This includes reducing congestion at U.S. ports, reducing barriers to work in food processing or transportation, and continuing to improve the nation’s infrastructure. This also includes expanding food processing capacity in that state and country.
The USDA recently announced $215 million in grants and other support to expand meat and poultry processing options; this includes new processing facilities. In New York, livestock processing options are limited. The grants would support small meat processing plants and increase federal inspections to increase capacity. The grants that the New York Farm Bureau supports would also provide workforce development and job training to recruit new employees.
There is also a bill in Congress that would reform shipping, which would in part ensure that cargo containers do not leave ports empty, but agricultural goods are instead destined for other countries. By having proactive trade policies in this country, it will help develop new markets for our farmers.
Another top priority for New York Farm Bureau members is implementing science-based environmental policies and addressing the effects of climate change. Farmers in New York know the impacts of extreme weather all too well, having faced drought and heavy rains in recent years. It is important that farmers have a place at the table when discussing policy changes regarding this important issue, as well as gaining recognition and support for the practices already underway on our farms that reduce gas emissions to greenhouse effect. Farms are part of the solution to fight climate change.
The New York Farm Bureau supports a voluntary, market-based approach that provides 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 to its climate-smart agriculture 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 across the state. The New York Farm Bureau hopes to see this flow of aid soon.
“Farmers have made great strides in environmental stewardship. Since 1990, farmers have reduced the greenhouse gas emissions needed to produce the amount of food we make by 24%. And with new technologies and better science and research, we’re looking to make even bigger gains,” said Lauren Williams, director of national affairs for the New York Farm Bureau. “Through it all, it is important to find the balance that will protect our members’ ability to feed our country and do what is necessary for our natural resources and planet Earth.
Regulatory reform also remains a priority. The New York Farm Bureau is closely following a proposed change to the Clean Water Act and what is considered “United States waters.” Previously, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers attempted to remove the word “airworthy,” which would significantly expand the WOTUS definition. to include low areas of an agricultural field that may only get wet after a heavy rainstorm, ephemeral streams and roadside ditches. This would be highly subjective for federal regulators and would force farms to need expensive permits and delays just to cultivate their land.
New York Farm Bureau submitted comments last month to the EPA and asks it to keep the navigable waters protection rule in place. This provides certainty for farms and ensures that federal agencies comply with the Clean Water Act as Congress intends to protect this country’s waterways.
The New York Farm Bureau also wants the USDA to effectively enforce its organic certification standards for livestock. They saw problems in New York State where organic dairies were losing markets to much larger farms out of state. It is important that every farm follows the rules and regulations for the housing and care of livestock on organic farms. This includes how cows are transferred on the farm. The New York Farm Bureau is calling on the USDA to finalize its livestock organic origin rule and expedite the rulemaking process.
Rural and mental health
Finally, the New York Farm Bureau is prioritizing increased awareness of mental health resources and encouraging greater availability of agriculture-specific assistance. The past few years have been difficult for everyone, including farmers and farm workers. COVID-related illnesses and deaths, supply chain issues and economic uncertainty have created a more stressful time, and we need to ensure there are enough resources in place to support our farmers and communities. rural areas to face. New York State is fortunate to have organizations like NY FarmNet, the New York State Farm Mediation Program, and the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health providing essential services, but we can always do more, especially when needed.
It was recently announced that the USDA is awarding half a million dollars in grants to NY FarmNet and AG Meditation to address this issue, helping to connect farm families to needed stress relief programs. The New York Farm Bureau supports this effort.
“This important funding must continue to provide resources to farmers as well as increase awareness and reduce stigma around rural mental health issues. It’s important that we work to take care of each other,” Williams said.