Insights on Agriculture – Investing in farms is investing in New York

By David Fisher

David Fisher

New York Farm Bureau members recently came to Albany to advocate on a number of priority issues to address the challenges and opportunities confronting agriculture. The organization is the largest general farm advocacy group in New York supporting public policy positions that are determined by our grassroots membership.

We need a state committed to investing in the future of agriculture. We need hard-working farmers and employees who see opportunity in the valuable role they have in our food system. And we need to work together to advance laudable goals that strengthen the farm economy.

One of the main priority issues for NYFB is securing funding in the New York State budget for the dozens of farm-related programs that include critical research, animal health and the marketing of New York products. We are also supporting the Environmental Protection Fund, which is responsible for helping farms implement best management practices that include soil health and nutrient management programs that protect our land and waterways.

In addition, we are advocating to once again fully fund Nourish NY, better connecting our farms with our food banks, as well as supporting the Healthy School Meals for All legislation, ensuring our children have access to a healthy breakfast and lunch in school. And we are asking to increase access to farm safety programs by increasing the budget for the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health. Its highly effective programming has seen budget stagnation for years, and it’s time to change that for the safety of farm workers.

NYFB is also supportive of the governor’s effort to increase state procurement to 30% for New York farm products. It makes sense for New York to support its own farms when purchasing food for its state agencies and institutions. NYFB is hopeful the governor’s proposal for a refundable investment tax credit is included in the final budget. This will incentivize investment, especially coming off challenging years of low commodity prices and then the pandemic.

And we are supportive of direct-to-consumer shipping for our craft beverage makers. This common-sense legislation will create parity with winemakers and allow our breweries, distilleries and cideries to expand their markets by selling to new customers in and out of state.

Among NYFB’s concerns is the legislation to restrict risk management tools by banning certain pesticides. This effort ignores the science and removes authority from those who have the expertise to regulate these products in the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Discussions are also ramping up again to raise the minimum wage. Let’s be clear, in today’s competitive labor market, you would be hard-pressed to find any farm or business paying minimum wage. But as the minimum wage rises, all wage rates go up on our farms. This is on top of the inflationary prices that all businesses are forced to absorb. And the more it costs to do business, the harder it is to stay in business, especially when most of our farms do not set their own prices. Prices are driven by wholesale markets and a federally controlled milk pricing formula and cannot be passed along to the customers.

New York State lost more than a third of its dairy farms in the past decade, much of it because of the rising costs and volatile milk markets. That trend will only continue if New York continues to make it harder to do business in the state. Let’s push pause on raising the minimum wage.

We encourage lawmakers to work with us to expand opportunities and capitalize on what we do well in New York. We have one of the most diverse agricultural sectors in the country. It is worth it for each of us to maintain that strong connection to food and farm production. This benefits our food system, local economies and overall quality of life in New York State.

David Fisher is New York Farm Bureau president and a dairy farmer.