New York Farm Bureau releases 2021 state legislative priorities
The New York Farm Bureau has released its 2021 state legislative priorities that address the needs and challenges of the state’s agricultural community in New York, especially following a difficult year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic still weighs heavily on all New Yorkers. The farming community came together in many ways to mitigate the spread of the virus, protect employees, adapt to major market disruptions and to keep food moving to all parts of the state. To remain vigilant, the New York Farm Bureau has made rural access to the COVID-19 vaccine a top priority. The New York Farm Bureau, along with its agricultural partners, are pressing New York state to add farmworkers to the phase 1-B vaccination rollout as soon as possible and is asking the departments of Health and Agriculture and Markets to develop a plan in conjunction with the farming community to establish vaccination locations that target our farmworkers. The New York Farm Bureau is also taking part in the “Let’s Get Immunized NY” coalition to spread awareness about the safety and efficacy of vaccinations.
“We understand that there are logistical and supply issues with the vaccine, but as we learned last year, we need to do all that we can to make sure our food supply chain functions smoothly and safely. That starts at our farms,” said David Fisher, a dairy farmer in Madrid and NYFB president.
NEW YORK STATE BUDGET
The state budget will be a major focus for the New York Farm Bureau as well. The pandemic put pressure on the state’s fiscal health as lawmakers confront a massive deficit. Overall, New York Farm Bureau officials said they are pleased with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget plan, funding most of the programs at last year’s levels. The budget is responsible for many agricultural research, marketing, conservation, and animal health programs. They are integral in many ways for the success of the agricultural industry. Cuomo is also looking to continue the workforce retention tax credit at $600 per employee, which helps address rising labor costs.
The New York Farm Bureau is asking Nourish NY to be fully funded again at $25 million as highlighted in the executive budget. When there were major disruptions along the food supply chain at the beginning of the pandemic, Nourish NY stepped in to coordinate a pathway to move food from farms to food banks, including in New York City. It compensates farmers for their products and reduces food waste at the same time.
“As budget negotiations move closer to April first, we urge lawmakers to address the budget in a wise and careful manner. Agricultural funding is a tiny fraction of overall state spending, but farms feed all New Yorkers and are an economic engine that returns state investment many times over. Funding reductions for these essential programs would place even larger barriers in front of the state’s farms and food system that would prove more costly to correct down the road,” said Fisher.
The pandemic has also brought to light once again the need for greater investment into fast, reliable rural broadband. Cuomo placed special emphasis on this need in his State of the State address. It matches another New York Farm Bureau priority.
“Access to reliable rural broadband benefits farms in many ways, to efficiently conduct business, access market data and use increasingly high-tech equipment. But it is also our farm families that need good broadband when they must work and attend school from home,” said Jeff Williams, the New York Farm Bureau public policy director.
SCIENCE-BASED POLICY MAKING
Another New York Farm Bureau priority is a renewed focus on science-based policy making at the capitol. Farm Bureau officials said it is imperative as New York state aims to properly address the impacts of climate change. The New York Farm Bureau is advocating for the Environmental Protection Fund, research and other legislative programs that include farms in mitigation efforts, carbon sequestration and soil health initiatives. Many of these things are already taking place on the state’s farms and further support will benefit all of New York. This includes expanding renewable energy.
As the state looks to a science-based approach to deal with climate change, the attention to science must also be applied to other policy making as well. Bills have passed in recent years that tried to eliminate certain risk management tools, like pesticides, but the legislation had no foundation in research data or existing safety protocols, according to Farm Bureau officials. New York state is one of only two states in the country that has a separate product registration review process that analyzes pesticide data and whether the tools should be used in New York. Many lawmakers have recently chosen to bypass that process and make decisions based on politics. The same goes for legislation that ignores sound veterinarian practices and proven farm protocols to legislate animal care.
“We all want animals to receive the best of care. To do that let’s work with our medical community to make sure good intentions do not harm animal health and safety,” Williams said.
Finally, farm labor needs will continue to be a priority for the New York Farm Bureau. New York state and its farming community are national leaders on worker protections, safety programs and human resource training.
A state Labor Department wage board held off on deciding whether to lower the 60-hour overtime threshold for farmworkers. Moving forward, the New York Farm Bureau is asking the state to look at economic data for at least the next three years to truly understand the impacts of last year’s farm labor law on farms and employees. The organization also encourages wage board members to safely visit farms to speak with farmers and farmworkers alike. And if the state is looking for parity on the overtime threshold, then it should remove the automatic overtime requirement if an employee chooses to work on their voluntarily day of rest, even if they have not worked enough hours to meet the overtime threshold. No other industry has that labor requirement in New York state.
“In the end, it is imperative that we all work together 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 to each of us to maintain that strong connection to food and farm production,” said Williams.