If Costly New Mandate Becomes A Reality, More Family Farms Will Be Out Of Business

Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
June 12, 2009

June marks the observance of “Dairy Month” here in New York State, a perfect time to enjoy some of the many wonderful and award-winning products that our hard-working farmers generate. New York’s dairy industry is the largest part of our agricultural sector, accounting for over 50 percent of the state’s farm cash receipts. Dairy farmers produce 7 percent of the nation’s milk supply, ranking third among the states in total milk production, first in low fat and creamed cottage cheese production, and third in total Italian cheese production.

Along with producing the foods we all know and love, family farming and agriculture are the backbone of our economy, bringing in over $4.5 billion in 2007 alone. New York has 34,200 farms occupying 7.5 million acres, almost 25 percent of the state’s land base. Besides its financial contributions, family farming is an important part of New York’s cultural heritage. Family farmers are the original conservationists and possess a common sense respect for nature. This proud legacy of working the land has been passed down from generation to generation.

Sadly, despite all these positive contributions and accomplishments, New York lost over 800 farms from 2006 to 2007, due to a punishing combination of high property taxes, energy prices, costly government regulations and a business tax climate ranked second worst in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan, educational organization.

If that weren’t bad enough, Albany is trying to impose another burdensome and expensive state mandate that would put even more family farms out of business. This initiative, misleadingly titled the “Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act,” (Assembly Bill A.1867 and Senate Bill S.2247), would significantly drive up the labor and operating expenses for family farms, ultimately forcing many out of business altogether.

This legislation shows just how serious the disconnect is between politicians in Albany and family farmers across Upstate who are struggling just to keep their heads – and farms – above water. The reality is that imposing yet another job-killing mandate won’t help family farmers. In fact, it will have the exact opposite effect by forcing more of them out of business and, in the process, deal another blow to New York’s beleaguered economy.

The New York Farm Bureau has indicated that, if enacted, the mandate would cost New York’s family farms over $200 million annually at a time many are struggling from the recession. The Farm Bureau is a crucial partner in a growing, bi-partisan coalition against this legislation that includes the Business Council of New York State and the National Federation of Independent Business, along with minority and majority legislators in both the Assembly and Senate.

Despite the best efforts of our Conference, which led an energetic, policy-driven debate against this legislation, it ultimately passed the Assembly last Monday by a vote of 86 to 58. Nonetheless, 19 Members of the Assembly Majority were persuaded by our arguments and joined us in voting against the bill.

Bi-partisan opposition to this legislation continued at our Conference’s annual “Dairy Day” event – where we recognize and celebrate the many contributions of New York’s dairy industry – when the Democrat Chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee and a Democrat Senator took part in our press conference calling on the Senate to defeat the bill. Several Upstate farmers also attended and spoke movingly about the daily financial struggles they face and how the measure might force some to consider closure.

Don’t be fooled by rhetoric that farmworkers are somehow exploited or abused. Nothing could be further from the truth! Farming is one of the most heavily regulated industries, as numerous government agencies at the local, state and federal levels closely monitor farm production and worker conditions. Farm employees are treated with dignity, respect and compensated fairly for their hard work. Albany’s enactment of the so-called Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act will put more family farms out to pasture and result in fewer jobs for farmworkers. Make no mistake: enactment of this government mandate would be like a dagger into the heart of Upstate’s family farms and agricultural industry.

If you are concerned, as I am, about the future of family farming in New York and want a stronger, more prosperous economy, I urge you to get involved in our bi-partisan effort to ensure this initiative does not become law. To join the fight, call my office, or visit the Farm Bureau’s website at www.nyfb.org to learn what you can do to stop this legislation from reaching Governor David Paterson’s desk. By doing so, you will help protect family farms and preserve an important part of New York’s economy and cultural tradition.

As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter, should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at kolbb@assembly.state.ny.us.