Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R, I, C – Batavia) today voted against the Farmworkers Omnibus Labor Standards Bill, dubbed the “Farm Death Bill.” By imposing unnecessary and expensive mandates on farmers, the cost of the bill, ranging in the thousands, depending on farm size, has the potential to put farms and agribusinesses across the state out of business.
“My family has a long tradition of farming. Our Western New York community’s backbone is in agriculture – both socially and financially. This bill will be the final nail in the coffin for New York State agriculture and more people will suffer the consequences of our farms closing than just the farmers or farm workers. The price of food will skyrocket and further hurt hard-working middle-America families that are just squeezing by right now. This bill is a disaster for the state economy,” said Hawley, who is a former crop and hog farmer and Genesee County Farm Bureau President.
Hawley debated the bill on the floor, citing the fact that from April 2008 to April 2009, milk prices received by farmers dropped from $18.20 per 100 weight to $11.80; corn from $5.86 to $3.98; and wheat from $9.20 to $4.24. These price drops signify that farmers in New York State are already struggling to make ends meet. This is compounded by production costs, which for milk are currently around $14 per 100 weight, meaning that farmers are already losing money on their products. Additionally, New York State has lost over 2,000 farms over the last decade. Hawley argued that the new provisions that the bill mandates will push struggling farms over the edge and force more farms, especially smaller operations, to permanently close.
During the debate, Hawley also commented on the comparison of New York State’s agriculture to that of California. He stated, “In California, they have farms that operate year-round. Their agricultural industry is 12 months a year and operates on a much larger scale. Here, in New York, many farms only operate 1 to 2 months per year and during these months everything from planting to harvesting happens.”
Hawley, who also serves as a member of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, was among the first legislators to oppose the Farm Death Bill, or Assembly Bill 1867. With the entire bipartisan Assembly Agriculture Committee, he sent a formal letter of opposition to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver outlining the devastating effects of the bill. Hawley has worked with New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton, a former dairy farmer in Batavia, local farmers and a bipartisan delegation of state legislators, to openly and publicly oppose the bill as well as to wage a public campaign urging New Yorkers in opposition to contact the sponsor of the bill.
Despite this, the Assembly passed the legislation by a vote of 85 to 57. Hawley stated, “Tomorrow, the State Legislature is celebrating their annual ‘Dairy Day,’ a day when dairy farmers and agribusinesses come from all over the state to be lauded by legislators as the ‘pride of New York.’ How hypocritical for lawmakers to, on the eve of this day, pass the bill that will kill these businesses. Once our farms close up shop, they will be closed forever.”