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March 18, 2015 - 11:31am

Farmers say increase in minimum wage will hurt agriculture in New York

posted by Howard B. Owens in business, agriculture.

Farmers are facing ever escalating expenses, lower prices and now Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to raise the minimum wage on them.

That's just more than many New York farmers are going to be able to bear, said Dean Norton, a farmer in Elba and president of the New York State Farm Bureau.

"New York is already a tough state to do business in and a minimum wage increase is going to continue to make us disadvantageous," Norton said during a conference call this morning with media from throughout the state.

Joining Norton on the call were Sandi Prokop and Brian Reeves, owners of multi-generation farms in Middleburgh and Baldwinsville.

Each said a minimum wage increase would add significant costs to their operations, $44,000 annually for Prokop and $50,000 for Reeves.

And that doesn't include the pressure a minimum age increase would put on suppliers and service companies to raise their rates, driving operational costs up even further.

The average farm worker in New York earns $12.50 an hour already, Norton said. Even though the proposed increase from Cuomo is less than that -- to $10.50 an hour -- a minimum wage increase tends to drive up wages across the board.

When trainees and entry-level workers get more money, the people above them want to keep pace with the higher pay, so they demand higher wages.

Farmers who don't meet those demands, Norton said, risk losing skilled and experienced workers to other farmers willing to pay those wages, or the workers will look for work in other states where conditions are more favorable.

Workers who are dissatisfied with their current conditions will also change careers, going into related industries, Reeves said.

The upward pressure on wages just encourages farmers to abandon labor-intensive crops or move to greater mechanization, such as robotics at dairy farmers, which means fewer workers churning economic buying power in their local communities.

Both Prokop and Reeves noted that in their segments of agriculture -- dairy and vegetables -- they're not price makers, they're price takers."

The food processors and supermarket chains who purchase their crops set the prices, based on supply and demand and in competition with other states.

"We're already one of the higher cost states," Reeves said. "When I sell a box of zucchini, I'll have a buyer tell me he can get it cheaper in another state. He'll say, 'I can buy all I want for $11 a box, why do you want $13 or $14 a box?' "

Dairy prices have been falling for months, Prokop said, and haven't hit bottom yet. In February, she said, she received $24,000 less for milk than the month before, and her revenue was down $13,000 the month before that.

"It's only going to get worse this month," she said. "The price is now below the cost of production."

It would help, Reeves said, if Congress would step in and set a higher minimum wage across the board, because at least then farmers in all states would be paying the same price for labor.

"We need to be able to compete," he said, "with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan."

Tina Causyn
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I would have to disagree with Cuomo in the portion of the article that experienced workers will want raises if the minimum wage goes up to $10.50. Yes, experienced workers will want raises but all farmers should stick together and say no. With all Farmers saying "no" being almost impossible, I would still say it would be hard to find Farmers willing to pay higher wages. In the event that these experienced workers do find other farming jobs paying more then the Farmer who loses the experienced worker can hire more workers at minimum wage therefore saving money. Yes, I understand experineced workers means better quality and efficiency in work but in time the trainees and entry level workers will be just as valuable to the farmer.

Scott Chismar
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Yet another piece to somehow portray the farm owners as disadvantaged with the main culprit being the overpaid farm worker. This is absurd. Farm workers deserve a living wage. They deserve dignity, justice and respect as well.

Cheryl Liles-Ch...
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Have you seen the size of the farms around here?? And the homes and lifestyles they live? I am talking about the BIG farmers the ones that hire lots of help. Ya, they can pay them a bit more. They are worth it. And while they are loosening the belt buckle, how about putting tractor roads on THIER property instead of the roads that we travel. The mud and crap that will put a motorcycle down and keeps our cars filthy. There really should be a law!

david spaulding
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raising the minimum wage will hurt more than farmers, going to hurt every employer of entry level jobs and it's going to hurt a lot of us. While the sales pitch to the idea is that this will bring all minimum wage earners out of "poverty", and how it will give them more buying power, it will in fact lower every non-minimum wage earners buying power. The sales pitch does have some merit, however this is only temporary as prices of products and services will soon rise, thus buying power of the minimum wage earner is lowered and wipes out any minimum wage increase. The final out come is the minimum wage earner is back in poverty where he started and the non-minimum wage earner is still struggling to get back to where he was when the wage increase was first dictated.
I find it wrong for the government to dictate how an employer in the private sector pays his employees.

Jim Urtel Jr
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How many times has the prices of products or services of employers of these entry level job users have gone up drastically over the last 10 years? They have no problem raising the price of their products or services but yet dont think that the workers deserve more money? The wages should go up and the gov`t should not allow the companies to pass the bill to the consumer! Full time should be a 40 hour week! If you work long enough to receive benefits, you should get them! Take a look around. Where have all the factories and jobs gone? They are history!! Something needs to change! As for farmers, I know we need them but if you can afford to buy $300,000 tractors, you should be able to afford to pay the workers operating them a decent wage!This way of thinking Hooray for big business owners and to hell with the workers has run this area into the ground! Part of the reason there is so many on welfare here is because the only jobs that are around here are minimum wage 20 hour a week jobs. Can anyone live on that? I agree that many don`t want to work but as for the ones who do, let`s give them a chance at a decent wage and work week. This area as a whole will never flourish again until everyone has a fair chance to do so!

Tina Causyn
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In my first post I meant to say I agree with Cuomo. I think the minimum wage should go up. As I mentioned in my first post, if experienced workers want more money then let them go. Hire new employees at the minimum wage and save money. I also agree that they do not need to make such a large profit either. And also agree with Cheryl when she mentioned the tractors driving on the roads. I feel it is very unsafe.

Jim Urtel Jr
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Letting the experienced workers go because they want a raise too is wrong! That is what has ruined our workforce in the first place. Companies would rather hire 2 part time workers at lower pay and no benefits than keep the one worker who does a great job for you. It makes absolutely no sense at all!

Tina Causyn
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If they are claiming they cannot afford to pay them more then let them go. If they can afford to than they should pay them.

Jackie Schmidts
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Minimum wage laws should be repealed. They do nothing to increase the overall standard of living for those that receive it. Minimum wages are inflationary socialist policies adopted by liberals to in the end control society into thinking what should be fair. These type of policies make people more dependent, not independent. Allow supply and demand forces to set what value work should be for an individual, not government mandated nonsense. Ok, so if you are in favor of minimum wages, what should the rate be, what is someone worth, are they all worth the same, why should they all be paid the same minimum wage, why not pay everyone $20/hour, wouldn't that make us all feel better? That is until you read about more manufacturing jobs leaving the area or country.

Jim Urtel Jr
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The manufacturing jobs have already all left and it didn`t have a thing to do with the minimum wage. Who do you feel should set the wages? It doesn`t have to be $20/hr but it should be enough to live on. Is there a difference in what the job is if the person is working hard? There must be a need for them if they are doing the job. There are plenty of minimum wage job workers who work very hard at what they do. There are plenty of the so called elite workers getting paid higher than what they are worth. The problem with our society is too many people only worry about themselves and can`t stand to see anybody else get a break.

Frank Bartholomew
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Jim, you hit the nail squarely. Corporate America moved overseas where they can exploit the cheap labor, not have to worry about osha protecting worker safety, and they can destroy the environment without the EPA to deal with.
Greed and selfishness are the norm these days.

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