New York Farm Bureau (NYFB) leaders plan to meet with members of New York’s congressional delegation this week in Washington, D.C. to outline their federal priorities. They are in the nation’s capital to attend the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy Conference, kicking off a year full of activities during which NYFB members will be engaging with the organization’s member-approved public policy priorities, which were unveiled on Tuesday, Feb. 29.
NYFB’s 2017 national policy priorities are as follows:
Immigration reform has been identified as a top priority for New York’s farmers. While this is something NYFB has been discussing for a long time, the issue is especially in the forefront right now with enforcement actions taken by the Trump Administration.
NYFB said New York farmers believe in having stronger border security, but don’t not believe that enforcement can be the only approach to fixing a broken immigration system. NYFB said a better solution would also involve having a workable guest worker program that allows farmers to fill positions on their farms when they cannot find anyone locally to do the work.
Also, NTFB argued that reforms should allow current, trained workers to stay on farms and maintain a consistent workforce to plant and harvest crops, and care for livestock. There are proposals on the table to reform the federal H2A guest worker program that would open up the legal process to allow workers to be here longer than a growing season while reducing the regulatory burden that often leads to delays and headaches for farms and employees alike. Last year, some New York farms experienced delays of a month or more in having their workers arrive in this country to work on the farm.
“This is an issue that has major implications for farmers and their employees,” said NYFB President David Fisher. “We have to have a system in place that will allow farms in this country to grow the food we need to feed ourselves. The only alternative is to import food grown outside of our borders and that becomes a national security issue.”
A lack of serious reform is not just a problem for farms, but for their seasonal and year-round foreign employees as well, according to NYFB. “They are hardworking people who sought new opportunities in this country to support themselves and their families. They are giving back in many ways.”
“Let’s be clear,” said Fisher. “When they seek employment on our farms, we are obliged under the law to accept their paperwork. As far as we know, they are here legally. However, when they are targeted by ICE and law enforcement, some workers may not have legal documentation after all. Enforcement actions can break up families and send others into hiding. This is in addition to leaving farms without enough employees needed to care for animals or harvest the crops.”
NYFB said that it will work with the Trump Administration and representatives in Congress “to find a workable solution that strikes an important balance between strong enforcement and a strong guest visa program.”
Regulatory reform is another national priority for NYFB — its members have long been in opposition to proposed changes to the Clean Water Act, which they believe broadens the jurisdiction of “Waters of the U.S.” rule, expanding regulations from traditional navigable waters to include dry land. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), claimed NYFB, “has placed an undue burden and increased regulatory control on farmers with no added benefit to the environment.”
The issue is currently tied up in the courts after a federal appeals court issued an injunction on its enforcement, but NYFB has indicated that it will continue to support efforts to prevent the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from implementing the rule.
“Necessary regulations are one thing. A federal government that oversteps its bounds and circumvents Congress is quite another,” said Elizabeth Wolters, NYFB’s Associate Director of National Affairs.
Finally, discussions are beginning on the Farm Bill, which comes up for renewal every five years. This is the biggest piece of legislation that impacts every farmer in the state as it sets policy and funding for things like crop insurance, specialty crop research, rural development, farm-to-consumer programs, disaster assistance and more. A large component of the bill is also nutrition assistance, which NYFB believes is an important part of the Farm Bill and is a necessary component to get the legislation through Congress.
As discussions continue leading up to a vote next year, it is a priority of NYFB to keep baseline funding for the myriad of programs. In the previous 2014 Farm Bill, agriculture took a major funding hit of around $23 billion. Farm income dropped a billion dollars in New York in 2015 to $5.3 billion and is expected to be down again for 2016. NYSB is advocating for an agricultural “safety net” and a reformed Margin Protection Program for dairy farmers.
“We have to have a strong Farm Bill that invests in this country’s family farms and its rural communities to ensure we have a sustainable farm economy in this country,” said Wolters.
New York Farm Bureau is the State’s largest agricultural lobbying/trade organization. Its members and the public know the organization as “The Voice of New York Agriculture.” New York Farm Bureau is dedicated to solving the economic and public policy issues challenging the agricultural community. www.nyfb.org