Gov. Hochul and the state’s farm labor wage board must not lower the 60-hour overtime threshold for farmworkers. New York’s diverse agriculture as we know it cannot sustain the substantially higher labor costs, estimated to be a 17% increase by Farm Credit East.
New York farmers pay good wages, the second highest in the nation. Worker advocates say just pay even more, that is easier said than done. Unfortunately, the way the food system works, farms operate under thin profit margins at best and cannot just pass along production costs to consumers. Instead, produce and nursery growers must compete in markets by selling their products for the lowest price. Dairy farms have no ability to set their own milk prices, which means no ability to recoup higher production costs, like labor.
Yes, we need a more equitable food system for all involved, but until consumers have the ability to pay more — and have that extra income actually make it to farmers- we should not expect them to pay more. And by lowering the threshold in New York state only, and not at the federal level, this puts our farmers at a competitive disadvantage and puts our food system at risk. We need food grown and processed in New York state. This is how we got food into food banks in the pandemic. This is how we support our local economy.
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Ultimately, our diverse farms will make tough choices at 40. They will cap hours, like other industries do, meaning less earnings for workers. They will switch to less labor-intensive crops or technology, meaning fewer jobs. And yes, some farms will decide that it literally isn’t worth it to farm any longer. We will all lose if the threshold drops.
Jon Patterson is Cayuga County Farm Bureau president.