SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> Increased funding for agriculture might be hard to come by as state lawmakers struggle to close a $4 billion budget gap.
By: Paul Post
Source: The Saratogian
But New York Farm Bureau says more dollars are needed for research to keep farms abreast of challenges such as climate change, invasive species, crop improvements, and animal health and welfare.
While outlining the organization’s legislative priorities for 2018, Farm Bureau President David Fisher also called for a doubling of the minimum wage tax credit, to help farms reduce labor costs.
“Brazil, Argentina and China are outspending the U.S. on research at a rate of about two-to-one,” he said. “New York has the second-most diverse agriculture in the U.S., and Cornell is the third-ranked land grant research institution in the world. But it needs to be strengthened.”
Vacant staff and faculty positions, caused by retirements, haven’t been filled and the school hasn’t made much-needed capital improvements for lack of funding, Fisher said. Farm Bureau wants the state to allocate an additional $2 million and $3 million, respectively, for such efforts.
The need is especially great now, he said, because New York’s farmers are struggling through a period of economic decline. Statewide net farm income for 2016 was $568 million, the most recent numbers available, which is about one-third less than 2013 levels.
Prices aren’t expected to improve much in 2018, including dairy, the state’s largest agricultural sector. Dairy farmers are getting $14-$16 per hundredweight of milk, an almost 50 percent drop from a few years ago.
“Typically, milk prices cycle every three years,” Fisher said. “We’re entering the fourth year now.”
“This has been an extended decline,” said Jeff Williams, Farm Bureau public policy director. “Long-term, the state can’t do anything about dairy prices. What they can do is reduce the cost of doing business.”
An increased minimum wage, scheduled to reach $12.50 per hour upstate in 2020, is stressing already tight farm profit margins, Fisher said.
Farm Bureau is calling for a doubling of the per-employee tax credit from $300 to $600, and another doubling to $1,200 by 2021.
“Farmers can’t just raise prices, like other businesses, to absorb these labor increases,” he said.
On a different front, Farm Bureau is pushing for restoration of marketing and promotion campaign dollars for select agriculture sectors such as maple, honey, Christmas trees and apples. New York is the nation’s second-leading apple producer behind Washington, and second in maple after Vermont.
Williams praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $10 million increase in a reimbursement program for schools that purchase at least 30 percent of their food from New York farms. The lunch reimbursement rate would jump from six cents to 25 cents per meal.
“We’re pleased to see the governor stepping up and committing to that initiative,” Williams said.
Farm Bureau supports funding to combat tick-borne diseases such as Lyme, which is prevalent across New York. The Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick Borne Diseases put forth a series of recommendations last year to address these needs and we will be advocating for support during the legislative session.
“Farmers and their employees are outside all the time,” Williams said “They’re telling us that they have seen more ticks and cases of Lyme moving from eastern New York into the western part of the state.”
The organization also praised Environmental Protection Fund spending for things such as water quality protection and farmland conservation.
Immigration reform continues to be an ongoing concern as many farms rely heavily on workers from Mexico and Central America for essential jobs.
“In general, labor is tight,” Fisher said. “It’s getting even tighter. That’s why we’re concerned about immigration.”