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Commentary: Future of New York farming is at risk

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2019 Scenics Page 5.JPG

Silos on DuMond Farms in Fleming shimmer on the horizon under a dramatic sky during sunset as seen from Skillet Road.

Governor Hochul recently announced the start of a statewide listening tour at farms across the state. The focus of the tour will supposedly examine the climate, workforce and economic challenges that farmers face every day.

While those issues are undoubtedly problematic for New York’s agriculture sector, there’s another issue that must be confronted: the overtime threshold on New York’s farms.

It’s very likely that issue will come up during the governor’s listening tour but there’s no doubt that reducing the threshold from 60 hours to 40 hours per week will threaten the future of farming in New York. In addition to hours of testimony from farmers, farm workers during last year’s virtual hearings, a November 2021 report from Cornell University details the troublesome consequences.

Two-thirds of the dairy farms interviewed by Cornell researchers indicated they would move out of milk production. One out of every 4 fruit or vegetable farms will relocate their business outside of the state. Additionally, 70-percent of H-2A workers said they would consider going to another state without capped hours if the state institutes a 40-hour OT threshold.

For the sake of family farms, farm workers and hungry families here in New York, we hope that Governor Hochul will realize that a lower OT threshold will do far more harm than good.

We also encourage the governor and the Commissioner of Labor to hold off on a decision until the United State Department of Agriculture releases its 2022 Census of Agriculture. That report, due in 2024, provides important data that would help the governor and her administration make a more informed decision on this critical issue. Unfortunately, the last USDA Census from 2019 found that New York lost more than 2,000 farms from 2012 through 2017.

We wholeheartedly agree with Governor Hochul – agriculture is a major economic driver for our state. Family farms are also important to the vitality of our communities. Imagine county fairs without the incredible offerings of local farms. Imagine a fall season in Upstate New York without corn mazes, fresh apple cider and pumpkins from your favorite local farms. Imagine a trip to the Finger Lakes without many of the world-class wineries that produce award-winning wines. This cannot be the type of reimaging that the governor has in mind.

Make no mistake – the future of farming is at risk right now. Sky-high inflation, labor shortages, supply chain issues and the impending Wage Board report all pose a serious threat to this essential sector. We hope that Governor Hochul and her administration listens carefully and takes action to help – not hurt – the very farms that feed New York’s economy and its people.

Justin Wilcox is executive director of Upstate United.

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