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New York Farm Bureau outlines 2024 state legislative priorities

Vegetable farm in Essex, NY (file)
Pat Bradley
Vegetable farm in Essex, NY (file)

Every year the leaders of the New York Farm Bureau outline their priorities for the legislative session in Albany. While pleased with some proposals in the executive budget, the group has some concerns about other proposals and the potential impact on family farms.

Governor Kathy Hochul presented her $233 billion budget on January 16th and New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher says there is “a lot of positive momentum” for agriculture in her fiscal proposal.

“This budget funds dozens of critical environmental, animal health and research programs that farmers use and depend on to improve our best management practices," says Fisher. "This includes significant funding for ag programs in the Environmental Protection Fund that will help with water quality. There’s also money budgeted to support workforce development and farm safety including increased funding for New York Center for Ag Medicine and Health. And there’s new funding to modernize dairy infrastructure. The New York state budget also promotes New York grown products across the state and world. Bottom line the state budget is an investment into our state’s farms and food system.”

The Farm Bureau supports increased or full funding of the Nourish New York program, which gets locally grown food into regional food banks, and the Healthy School Meals for All.

Concerns expressed by the agricultural advocates include electrification to meet climate action goals. Fisher said the reliable, affordable and easily charged battery-powered equipment needed does not yet exist on farms.

“And until then exemptions must be made for vehicles and machines where batteries don’t supply enough power for the task at hand," asserts Fisher. "Plus we need assurances that New York’s grid has the capacity to support the level of our electrical production and consumption that will be needed.”

There are a couple of ongoing concerns that the Farm Bureau hopes can be resolved during the session.The first is legislation pertaining to the Extended Producer Responsibility Act requirements, which reverses recycling responsibility to those who create the packaging. Farm Bureau Director of Public Policy Jeff Williams says that may be workable for huge corporations, but not most of New York agriculture.

“In the current language all farms would be pulled into that, even some of the smallest farms," notes Williams. "And we’re thinking about our wineries, for example, who then would be in charge of somehow returning glass wine bottles. It also impacts our dairy processors. And there’s some very real FDA regulations that speak to packaging that this legislation doesn’t contemplate. Of course we’ve shared our concerns with the Governor’s office and the legislative leaders, especially in EnCon Committee. We’re especially gratified I think that Governor Hochul didn’t include this language in her executive budget. Just the fact that she didn’t do that is a testament to how difficult this issue is to try to solve.”

Dairy prices to the farmer are down at the same time labor costs are up. On January 1st the Labor Department began phasing in a new overtime threshold for farm laborers, gradually lowering hours from 60 to 40 hours. A new tax credit was created to help farm owners with the cost of the new overtime standard. Governor Hochul announced Tuesday that the portal has now opened for farmers to apply for the credit. But neither of the Farm Bureau officials are optimistic. Williams says other states with similar programs have encountered problems.

“I’ve seen two different reports," says Williams. "One from Washington and one from the state of California, where employees are upset that employers are limiting their hours. They too are going through the same kind of overtime implementation and the complaints haven’t been from the employer’s side in those states. They’ve been from the employee’s side because their hours are being limited.”

Fisher, a dairy farmer, says it’s too early to determine the impact in New York, but farm owners don’t like the overtime rule.

"I’ve heard from many farmers, especially smaller ones, that they’re not going to deal with it," Fisher says. "Some are probably going to look at exiting. It’s quite a bit of extra hassle.”

Members of the state Farm Bureau attended the American Farm Bureau’s national convention in Utah earlier in January. The New York Farm Bureau plans to release its federal priorities soon.