The Farm Bill is due this year for a renewal, and that sits at the top of the NYFB’s legislative priorities. County farm bureaus within The Daily Star’s coverage area said the repeal of the Dairy Margin Protection Program is the highest priority within the bill.
The risk-management insurance that farmers paid into in the event of slumping prices was fixed to feed costs, which vary from region to region. The MPP has been a thorn in the side of New York dairy farmers, who have seen little to none of their investment paid back despite sluggish milk prices and rising production costs.
“NYFB would like to see additional support, like a Dairy Revenue Protection program that is similar to other commodity insurance programs that farmers buy into for protection,” Duane Martin, president of the Delaware County Farm Bureau, said. Whatever program comes in its stead, he said, must take regional differences into account.
Second on the list of NYFB priorities was immigration reform. While immigrant labor does not make up a significant demographic in the four-county area, some farms do rely on it.
Darin Hickling, vice president of the Otsego County Farm Bureau and a director of NYFB, said the organization would like to make it easier to get legal immigrant labor throughout the year, and not just during the summer season.
“The H-2A program is very cumbersome and hard to work through for farmers, and it doesn’t really work for dairy farmers who need help milking all year long,” Hickling said.
Commodity and agricultural markets are global, and part of the NYFB policy agenda indicated it was in support of expanding, not limiting, trade. The U.S. is renegotiating NAFTA, and farmers are eying President Donald Trump and his policies cautiously.
According to the Farm Bureau, U.S agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico increased from $8.9 billion to $38 billion since NAFTA took effect in 1993.
Last year, Trump threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if Canada and Mexico refused to renegotiate.
Mexico has become a major importer of U.S. dairy products, and NYFB board president David Fisher said trade is “vitally important” to U.S. farmers.
John Radliffe, the president of the Schoharie County Farm Bureau, said pulling out of NAFTA would “adversely affect every dairy farmer in New York and the nation. It is critical. I understand that we want a level playing field, but don’t use us (farmers) as a lever.”
The Farm Bureau also came out in opposition to the changes to the Clean Water Act, which is currently being contested in courts for its expansion beyond navigable water to include areas such as seasonal ponds.
Farmers who talked to The Daily Star expressed fear of lawsuits or the red tape they’d have to cut through to continue general maintenance of their land.
“The environmental community might have this misinterpretation that we want to pollute the waters but that’s not true,” Martin said. “We drink it. We don’t want it to hurt out animals or our families.”
Radliffe said the Farm Bureau touts the “lowest hanging fruits” for their national policy agenda, instead of focusing on less popular issues, such as the age of farmers and unfunded mandates.
“Farmers are not a renewable resource,” Radliffe said. “When we’re gone, we’re gone.”