I fear the high cost of doing business in our state is pushing out the few of us that do want our family farms to continue.
Like other industries, our family farms have grown and changed. Fifty years ago, farms depended on family labor to fill the seven-day a week, 365-day a year work schedule. Farm families worked hard with very little time off. Ask people who grew up on a farm why they chose a different career path rather than returning to their family farm. Many of them will answer: 1) the farm could not support another family without getting bigger and taking on more debt; or 2) they did not want to work the way their parents did.
As a result, family farms have grown and we now have non-family employees. We count on these employees. They are essential to our businesses’ daily operations and to our future. Many of our employees have been with us for years — they are like family. It is frustrating and hurtful for me to read accusations that farm workers are being treated poorly, without dignity and denied human rights. It’s just not true. As with any industry, there may be examples of employers who treat their employees poorly, but in agriculture, those are the exception — not the rule.
In New York, our farm wages are already boosted by a base minimum wage rate higher than most other states and we operate under stricter labor regulations than most states. Many farms already offer paid time off, health benefits, retirement contribution, workers compensation and housing. All of this translates to a higher cost of production, yet we can’t pass on these added costs because our farm product prices must be competitive with other states and on a world market. The cost of doing business in New York State already puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Now labor advocacy groups using emotional propaganda to push for more laws and regulations that will push costs higher.
All workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. And on most farms they are. That is not what is at stake here. Driving the cost of doing business in this state to point that it pushes farms out of the state or out of business is what is at stake.