Farm Bureau announces 2018 legislative priorities

Farm Bureau President David M. Fisher and public policy director Jeff Williams announced Wednesday that the organization will advocate for doubling the minimum wage tax credit, financing Cornell University’s staffing and research efforts and doubling down on the fight against tick-borne illnesses as this year’s legislative priorities.

The value of the state’s agriculture products was $5 billion in 2016, which Mr. Fisher said was about a $250 million shortfall from 2015 and a more than $1 billion decline from 2014. While the advocacy group’s efforts may not tackle issues like declining milk prices and labor shortages, Mr. Fisher said they will help make costs more manageable and assist with long-term planning.

“What we can do is try to reduce the cost of doing business in the state,” Mr. Williams said. “If we learn how to grow the same crop with less pesticides and less money, that is critical for the environment and the bottom line.”

Farm Bureau will ask state lawmakers to increase the allocation for minimum wage tax credits from $30 million to $60 million.

Mr. Fisher, a family owner of Mapleview Dairy in Madrid, said doubling the funds would allow farmers to receive $600 per employee as opposed to $300. Farm Bureau officials would like funding to eventually increase enough so farmers could receive $1,200 per employee by 2021.

Blake P. Gendebien, who owns Twin Mill Farms LLC in Lisbon, said the bureau’s effort is welcome news because dairy farmers need to keep up with labor costs, but cannot charge more for milk to help deal with expenses. Stephen G. Winkler, owner of Lucki 7 Livestock Co. in Rodman, said he likes the bureau’s plan.

“I wish it was higher, but let’s start with something,” he said. “Farmers and small owners — if we do well, we share with the community. If our bottom line is better, we feel that the workers and the people surrounding us, their bottom line is better.”

The advocacy organization also wants the state to dedicate $5 million to Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the final FY 2019 Executive Budget. The budget item would include $3 million for the college’s capital fund and $2 million for faculty and research.

Mr. Fisher said farmers rely on the university’s agricultural research for business planning and preventing health or dietary issues among their livestock, and more money will help the college continue its studies. The additional funds could help the college fill vacant faculty positions or invest in infrastructure or its extensions, he said.

Chris Bush, who operates Bush Gardens in Denmark with her husband, Loren, said she supported the Farm Bureau’s effort to secure funds for the college. The university’s reports and classes about high tunnels have helped the couple build and maintain their own for some produce.

“We use Cornell (resources) weekly on the farm,” Mr. Gendebien said, adding that supporting the institution helps young professionals secure careers in agriculture. “We need to support young professionals and keep them in the state, and the way to do that is to support Cornell.”

Mr. Winkler, however, argued that Farm Bureau should focus on other issues, such as reducing regulations, than obtaining funds for “one of the wealthiest schools.”

“I just think its way down on the list of important subjects,” he said.

More farmers across the state have reported problems with ticks, so Farm Bureau leaders are pushing for state-backed programs to battle tick-borne illnesses.

Mr. Winkler said he has seen more ticks in South Jefferson, particularly when he hunts, and had to get Lyme disease protection measures for his dogs.

“I heard some veterinarians and health experts say it’s closer to an epidemic and closer to a bigger issue than we realized,” he said.

Farm Bureau plans to advocate for these efforts in March alongside hundreds of farmers when they will meet with lawmakers in Albany.


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