Farmers across New York are concerned certain parts of newly proposed farm labor legislation could negatively impact the state’s agriculture economy. The Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act would give workers overtime beyond an 8-hour day and collective bargaining rights.
New York Farm Bureau Public Affairs Manager Steve Ammerman said not only will it mean a reduction in hours for their employees, but also a loss of employees because some farmers may have to grow other crops.
“One of the growers there today owns an apple orchard. And they are seriously looking at plowing the orchard under and just growing row crops like corn and soy bean which doesn’t require much labor,” said Ammerman. “So not only would that be a loss of the local apple orchard and local apple products, but also a loss of, I think it was close to 20 jobs he was saying that they employ on the farm.”
Ammerman said farmers support some aspects of the bill including a day of rest for employees and mandating unemployment insurance on workers comp for employees.
State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer will join fellow Senator and Chair of Committee on Labor Jessica Ramos for a closed-door session in Batavia Thursday morning before going on a farm tour.
Ammerman said it’s a matter of trying to not only educate, but have a conversation with Urban lawmakers.
“To help them understand these rural issues and the implications not only to the farm, but also to the rural economy and to the local food supply. There’s a lot of food that goes in to the green markets in New York City that will be impacted by this legislation, no different than Buffalo or Rochester,” he said.
The farmers Ammerman have spoken to say it’s not a matter of not wanting to pay, it’s how to pay.
“We’re in a poor farm economy as it is. Net farm income is down almost half this decade. So there are economic realities facing this industry,” he said. “Plus, we’re competing against farms in other states and other countries, whose labor rates and labor mandates are much less than what we have in New York. So are farms can’t just raise prices in order to recoup those losses.”
Ammerman is concerned the bill would increase labor costs by as much as 17 percent on average, which he said would be very difficult for farms to absorb.
“They don’t know how they would be able to pay, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars more in labor cost,” Ammerman said. “Because of competition and the market that they compete in, they would not be able to receive any more for their products. So literally this would be coming out of their accounts and pockets when it’s already a tough farm economy.”
Projections from the USDA earlier this year showed an uptick in the overall farm economy
“But then we saw the floods in the Midwest and we’re still facing trade issues and tariffs that are depressing prices and limiting markets to our farmers,” Ammerman said. “So some of that optimism is starting to go away.”
And Ammerman added dairy prices still haven’t rebounded to where farmers would like them to be.
Three hearings will be held across the state addressing these concerns in Nassau, Sullivan, and Madison Counties. Republicans in the State Senate are calling to have more meetings so farmers in areas like the Capital Region, Hudson Valley, North Country, and the Southern Tier will have a chance to give input.