ALBANY - New York Farm Bureau and its President, Dean Norton, unveiled the major priorities the grassroots organization will advocate for in Washington, D.C. this year to ensure the viability of the state's diverse agricultural community. Speaking to reporters during a press conference call this morning, NYFB outlined three key areas it is targeting including the passage of a new Farm Bill, substantial immigration reform that recognizes New York's farm needs and funding for disaster assistance.
Norton stressed the urgency to get a successful Farm Bill through both houses of Congress before the current extension expires in September. With no action once again, it will leave New York's farmers in limbo unable to truly plan for the year ahead without knowing if adequate insurance programs will be in place or if conservation programs will be available to make the land more productive and improve environmental stewardship. NYFB is also concerned additional cuts could be made to the billions already trimmed from the 2012 Farm Bill that never made it to the House floor for a vote. While New York's farmers are willing to do their part in reducing the country's deficit, it is imperative NYFB works to protect its farmers from further unreasonable cuts in funding.
"We can't afford to nickel and dime our way into food insecurity in this country. The food supply and the people who grow it are worth the investment whether on the farm side of the Farm Bill or for the supplemental nutrition programs," Norton said.
Norton highlighted some key programs in the Farm Bill that are especially important to New York farmers. They include having a proper transition program to the new margin insurance dairy safety net being proposed that offers a more risk based approach to dealing with volatile milk and feed prices as opposed to the current Milk Income Loss Contract program. NYFB also supports full funding for conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Farmland Protection Program that assist farmers on being good stewards of the land. Finally, there is strong support for new, enhanced specialty crop insurance programs. Many of these were negotiated into the unsuccessful 2012 Farm Bill, and NYFB will fight for their inclusion in a new bill during this Congress.
"This is so important for New York and our specialty crop growers," Norton said. "We have very diverse crops in this state from fruits and vegetables to honey. You name it. We want to maintain that diversity in New York."
NYFB is also focusing its advocacy work in making sure New York's farmers are represented in any immigration reform package that works its way through Washington. NYFB is promoting changes that address both short and long term farm labor needs in this state. New York's growing season is unique. It is shorter than many states, especially those out west, and therefore demands some flexibility that may not be needed elsewhere. However, the state's dairy farmers do need a consistent workforce year round. It is imperative New York's farmers have access to a steady, legal supply of employees.
"Immigration is a key issue for NY farms and employees and for consumers who want to continue to enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products," NYFB Public Policy Director Julie Suarez said. "Without a stable workforce, food doesn't get picked, cows don't get milked and farms don't have products to take to market."
NYFB is pushing for a program that provides legitimate visa status for workers already here but may sometimes have questionable documentation and who are willing and able to do the work that farmers depend on. These are workers who come from other countries for jobs that farmers try to fill first with local employees but are often unsuccessful. These reforms should include both contract and non-contract options to assist in the flexibility that farmers and farmer workers need for labor protections, especially for the state's fruit and vegetable growers.
Finally, during the conference call with reporters, NYFB stressed the strong need to have properly funded disaster assistance programs in place. The hurricanes, frost, and drought New York farmers battled through the past two years demonstrated the devastating blows Mother Nature can deliver. However, the federal disaster assistance programs need to be more responsive and efficient in order to protect our farms and our food supply. Washington must adequately fund the Emergency Conservation Program and the Emergency Watershed Program
"As we saw with the great delays in Congress with Hurricane Sandy, sometimes funding is left to the whim of politics, and we would like to see a more reliable funding stream protecting the businesses, the farms and the communities that rely on disaster assistance after a storm or natural disaster," Kelly Young, NYFB's senior associate director of national affairs, said.
In addition, NYFB supports the addition of tax free savings accounts at the federal level for farmers to pull from when they are in need. The risk management tool will incentivize savings and allow farmers to be more self-reliant during the bad years. And NYFB is working with lawmakers to properly fund important disaster programs that offer assistance for the state's tree growers and livestock farmers. The programs were included in the Farm Bill extension, but no money was appropriated, leaving many of New York's farms with little protection should disaster strike yet again.
"New York Farm Bureau has strong relationships with members of our congressional delegations, and we will be working with both sides of the aisle to protect agriculture and the thousands of jobs it provides in this state," Norton added.