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May 3, 2019 - 4:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm bill, agriculture, news, notify, Sen. Jessica Ramos.

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As odd as it might seem to most Western New Yorkers, Sen. Rob Ortt told a group of farmers, farmworkers, and farm supporters gathered for a roundtable discussion at Batavia City Hall on Thursday, stopping the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act from destroying Upstate farms may come down to the reasonableness of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"His signature will have to be on this bill and then it will be his bill," Ortt said. "He will be the one with the legacy of what this bill will do to the largest business sector in the state. I think that will give him pause. I know in the past not many of us have thought of him as the voice of reason in Albany but as unusual as it might be, that might just be the case (with the farm labor bill)."

Assemblyman Steve Hawley said the idea of Cuomo doing the right thing for Upstate residents isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. He pointed to the recent fight over providing college benefits to Gold Star families. When Assembly Democrats rejected the proposal, Cuomo found a way to shift funds and get it done, Hawley said.

"The guy who is purportedly governor of the entire state and represents all of us could just be the key to all of this," Hawley said.

Ortt convened the roundtable to discuss the farm labor bill, he said, because Western New York farmers are not being heard by members of the Legislature because there are no hearings being held in this part of the state.

The bill, if passed, would give farmworkers the right to join labor unions, establish an eight-hour workday and a 40-hour work week, establish regulations for housing, and establish rules for workers' compensation.

Area farmers say the changes to the law would devastate them. Area farmworkers say the bill would diminish their incomes. Both say a 40-hour work week, in particular, would mean H2A workers, who can work anywhere in the nation, would stop coming to New York.

The Senate sponsor of the bill is Sen. Jessica Ramos, a first-termer from Queens who now chairs the Senate Labor Committee. Ramos visited Genesee County a couple of weeks ago and met with farmers and farmworkers in a meeting room at Genesee Community College and then at a Torrey Farms facility in Elba, where 350 farmworkers were on hand to talk with her. Both events were supposed to be closed to the press but The Batavian was at the event at Torrey Farms (see story and video here).

Sen. Michael Ranzehofer, who hosted the visit, said that while most of the conversations were in Spanish, to an individual, old, young, men, women, there was a consistent theme: the workers don't want to be restricted to only 40 hours a week.

That's a message that didn't seem to sway Ramos, Ranzenhofer indicated.

In a recent article, Ramos (who canceled a scheduled interview with The Batavian and has not rescheduled it) told the Queens Eagle that arguments that New York farmers would not be able to compete in the global market place of commodities if the bill passes are unpersuasive. 

“Farmers understand that there’s merit in treating their workers well, but of course like everything else there are great employers and there are very poor employers,” Ramos told the Eagle. “This bill is really about codifying rights that exist for every other worker in New York.”

Ramos cited her own experience in her parents native country of Colombia for supporting the bill.

“Farming is not foreign to me. When I’d go to Colombia as a little girl, I spent a lot of time picking coffee,” she said, adding that she has long advocated for labor rights. “That’s the reason I’m there. I’m not trying to do this from a perch down in Queens. I really honestly care to understand everyone’s perspective.”

Sen. Chris Jacobs observed that Ramos, "seems very set in her ways."

For local farmers, who represent them, however, Ramos, and Cathy Nolan, who is carrying the bill in the Assembly, are two out-of-touch Downstate legislators who have no farms, farmers, or farmworkers in their districts and have no business crafting agriculture policy.

"We've got to realize that we're less than 1 percent of the population in New York," said Kim Zuber, representing Monroe County Farm Bureau. "People don't really understand what we do and they don't understand the cost of doing business."

A couple of the farmers pointed out that they already comply with some provisions of the bill, especially when it comes to housing. Most farmers provide housing, including paid utilities, for their migrant workers. If their workers have an H2A visa, the Health Department regularly inspects farmworker housing and the farmers are held to pretty high standards.

"I just took my son to his new apartment in Buffalo," said one farmer, "and as I looked at it, I found at least a half dozen violations. I'm not saying it was a bad place, but an H2A worker would never be allowed in that house and I'm not exaggerating."

Sen. Rich Funke was pretty blunt.

"This is the single greatest attack on Upstate New York by Downstate politicians since I’ve been in office," Funke said.

In an interview after the meeting, Ortt expanded on his thoughts about the potential role Cuomo might have in protecting farmers and farmworkers from this legislation. He noted that, whether you support the effort or not, Cuomo has invested heavily in Western New York economic development. He clearly wants economic development in Upstate to be his lasting legacy and this bill, with its potential to devastate the Upstate economy, could undo all of the governor's efforts to bring industry back to Upstate.

"If all of the prognostications are true, this bill will kill the Upstate economy," Ortt said. "Does he want, after all the money and all the press and all the trips Upstate, for that to be his legacy? You know how it goes, everybody remembers the governor. The senators and the assemblymen come and go, but the governor is the one people remember when it comes to these long-term impacts. Does he want people to remember that it was the Cuomo administration and Governor Cuomo who signed this bill into law?

We asked Ortt if Ramos, given her attempts to avoid the media on her trip here and her unwillingness to answer questions about her bill, is really an honest broker with this legislation?

"Well, anytime you say 'no press' on a bill this big, it begs the question, 'why?' " Ortt said. "Why the secrecy? I mean, truthfully, what is she afraid of? To me, that's a red flag right there. Why no press? But I think what's also interesting is that at the first hearing in Morrisville she was there two hours late and left an hour early. So how much is she really listening?

As for the bill itself, we asked about the right for farmworkers to collectively bargain, especially given Ortt's statement earlier in the evening suggesting some sort of compromise could be reached on the bill. The Constitution guarantees the right to assembly, the right to free association, so shouldn't workers have the right to form unions?

"No one actually objects to their right to organize or collectively bargain," Ortt said. "Now that's coming from farmers. They told me that is not their objection, it's (that) we're also setting the conditions that might be negotiable and we're setting them in state law. For the farmer, he's saying, 'Well, not only are you allowing them to collectively bargain but then you're also setting several parameters that might be negotiable and you're taking that off the table because you're putting it in state law."

The main objection farmers have to the bill, Ortt said, is the eight-hour workday and 40-hour work week.

"To be competitive, you can't limit yourself to an eight-hour day," Ortt said. "The overtime really affects your bottom line. So they're saying maybe 60 hours for the hourly, and anything over 60 or 65 then you could do time and a half, and don't set a daily limit. Maybe those are points of negotiation. I don't know and I hate to negotiate against myself.

"If Senator Ramos or Senator Metzger or whomever, if they're willing to make a movement that's great, we can have a conversation," Ortt added later. "I haven't seen as of yet a sign that they're willing to make any move. So, you know, as the old saying goes, you know, 'don't negotiate against yourself.' "

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December 13, 2018 - 9:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm bill, agriculture, NY-27, chris collins, business.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) celebrated the passage of H.R 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. H.R. 2, which includes critically important dairy policy reforms that will strengthen and grow the Western New York dairy economy that in recent years has faced significant challenges.
 
H.R. 2 provides greater coverage to dairy farmers through the Margin Protection Program (MPP), and will allow farmers to participate in both the livestock and dairy protection programs. Additionally, the program will be rebranded as the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) Program.
 
"I am extremely proud to see the 2018 Farm Bill make it to President Trump's desk," Collins said. “For too long, dairy farmers in Western New York have struggled to keep the agricultural industry alive because of inefficiencies in past programs and the overall decline in the dairy market. The reforms passed in H.R. 2 will provide a significant boost to farmers right here in Western New York by allowing them to better utilize this program.”
 
This legislation will also help strengthen trade enforcement, promote the research and development of specialty crops, ensure funding to help farmers locate new global markets, significantly increase investment in organic research, and offers cost-sharing assistance to help farmers transition into organics.
 
Collins added: “The agriculture industry is the backbone of New York’s 27th district. Protecting Western New York farmers will always be a priority of mine, and I’m committed to doing what is best to help them succeed. While we still have a lot of work to do to turn this industry around, H.R. 2 is a huge step in the right direction, and I’m pleased to see it pass today.”

Also, a press release from the New York Farm Bureau:

Today’s final vote for the 2018 Farm Bill is a major victory for New York’s farmers, rural communities and consumers. Farmers needed stronger risk management tools in place moving into next year where there are signs that the economic stress will continue in the farming community.

In particular, the new Farm Bill enhances the dairy safety net for farms of every size, including increasing the margin that qualifies for federal insurance programs. New York Farm Bureau also appreciates the research and support programs in the bill that will benefit New York’s specialty crop producers. Having some certainty moving forward in challenging times is a relief for farmers.

In addition, the Farm Bill supports critical conservation programs, rural development projects, and marketing and research programs to expand market opportunities for farmers. It legalizes industrial hemp, which will benefit farms interested in diversification. And the legislation provides permanent funding to help veterans and a new generation of beginning farmers. The biggest portion of the Farm Bill also guarantees Americans, who can least afford to eat, the ability to access the food farmers produce.

New York Farm Bureau is appreciative of New York’s lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives who supported the Farm Bill during this long process, resulting in the bipartisan legislation that their constituents expect. We encourage the President to sign the Farm Bill.”

December 12, 2018 - 11:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm bill, agriculture, business, Charles Schumer.

Press release:

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed the details of the newly released 2018 Farm Bill, Conference Report, which passed the Senate by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 87-13 yesterday.

Schumer said the bill will benefit key Upstate New York agricultural communities. Senator Schumer detailed several major areas in which the Farm Bill will be a major boost to Upstate farmers, growers, food-needy families and producers, as well as other New York businesses.

Schumer said the newly announced bill reflects a variety of different priorities he pushed for on behalf of the New York agricultural community. Schumer explained the bill will give New York's agricultural industry a shot in the arm.

Schumer lauded the months-long bipartisan process to craft the Farm Bill and congratulated committee leaders Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican Chair Pat Roberts, as well as Committee Member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for their assiduous work.

“The Farm Bill is a major victory for Upstate New York and its large and vital agricultural community,” Schumer said. “Ensuring the passage of a Farm Bill is vital for New York’s agricultural community and our economy as a whole.

"The bill makes further investments to help Upstate New York dairy farmers, boosts the rapidly growing organic sector, builds on New York’s burgeoning industrial hemp industry, expands rural broadband, strengthens crop insurance, and protects our most vulnerable hungry families and seniors from harmful cuts.

"While the bill does not contain everything that we fought for, it is ultimately a win for the farmers that are the heart of Upstate New York."

Dairy

The newly introduced Farm Bill includes major victories for Upstate New York dairy farmers and producers. The newly introduced Farm Bill invests in programs to help give much-needed relief to Upstate New York dairy farmers and producers. The Farm Bill includes a variety of helpful reforms including, an investment of $100 million to help improve the Federal dairy insurance program to help make the program work better for small to medium dairy farms, a provision waiving administrative fees for beginning, veteran, and underserved farmers, a provision continuing the vital changes made in the Omnibus Budget bill that allowed for the creation of new dairy insurance tools in the future, and a program that would provide funding to dairy organizations who chose to donate their products.

Rural Communities

This Farm Bill focused on investing in our small rural communities across New York State and nationwide. One example of this was the establishment of a new grant program that will target high-need, rural areas seeking to undertake broadband internet projects. These projects will help connect our most in need areas and upgrade to more modern internet access. Additionally, the Farm Bill made important investments in programs that help grow our rural small businesses, as well as those that help to fight the opioid crisis.

Agriculture and Farming/Growing

Organic Farming

The newly introduced Farm Bill establishes mandatory funding of $24 million over FY19-23 for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP), which helps support farmers who want to become involved in the organic market by providing reimbursements of some of their annual fees for United States Department of Agriculture organic certification -- it includes an increase in critical funding for organic research through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative from its current level of $20 million to $50 million by FY2023. Finally, the Farm Bill increases the authorization for the National Organic Program (NOP). Schumer has been a major supporter of this program that helps USDA protect farmers from having to unfairly compete against fraudulent organic imports while also helping to maintain consumer confidence in the USDA certified organic brand. This bill increases the authorization for the NOP to $16.5 million in FY2019, $18 million in FY2020, $20 million in FY2021, $22 million in FY2022, and $24 million in FY2023.

Specialty Crops

The Farm Bill contained a number of provisions beneficial to Upstate farmers, but especially to farmers of specialty crops. New York produces a wide range of specialty crops (fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, herbs and spices, maple syrup, Christmas trees, etc.) that rank highly nationwide in terms of both production and economic value. The Senate Farm Bill, according to Schumer, provides vital funding to key programs that aid specialty crop producers, such as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative. These programs help provide support to New York's specialty crop industry in the form of robust research funding.

Maple

The Farm Bill reauthorizes Schumer’s original legislation known as The Maple Tap Act, which Schumer said is now officially called the Acer Access and Development Program. This provision will continue to help maple producers in the Hudson Valley and across Upstate New York boost their production and become more competitive with places like Canada, which produces 85 percent of the world's maple product. Schumer said, specifically, this provision provides an authorization for USDA grants to states that create programs to encourage individual and private landowners to open up their trees to maple tapping. Schumer's legislation would also provide grants to states to support market promotion, maple industry research and development, and education through leading institutions, like Cornell.

Hemp

Another important provision Schumer fought to include was the Hemp Farming Act of 2018. Schumer, a cosponsor of the Hemp Farming Act, said the provision could help unlock industrial hemp’s full potential as an agricultural commodity across Upstate New York by removing hemp from a federal list of controlled substances. Schumer said the bill will do four important things for farmers nationwide including in New York State:

  • Remove industrial hemp from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act;
  • Empower states to be the principal regulators of hemp;
  • Allow hemp researchers to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • Make hemp farmers eligible to apply for crop insurance;
  • Most importantly, Schumer said this important provision would allow for New York’s agricultural community to grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity if they so choose, allowing New York growers more flexibility.

Barley

The Farm Bill requires the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service to record all barley production in New York State. By ensuring that this critical information is accessible for barley farmers, they will be able to better determine any future plantings. Additionally, the provision would give crop insurance providers access to this essential information, which could spur them to expand coverage and potentially even offer a malting barley endorsement.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP)

Schumer explained that he fought tooth and nail to protect SNAP from any cuts in the Farm Bill. Schumer said that he also was able to push for other provisions to help those most in need. First, the Farm Bill creates opportunities for job training for some of the most in-need New Yorkers who participate in SNAP, to help them find and keep good-paying jobs. Second, the Farm Bill simplifies paperwork for New York seniors who participate in SNAP to ensure they get the nutritional assistance they need and deserve as quickly as possible. And lastly, the Farm Bill creates the “Farm to Food Bank” initiative, which will help provide New Yorkers using SNAP with locally grown, New York produce and other food.

Conservation

Schumer said the Farm Bill funds key environmental programs that are essential to farmers, like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). These programs are voluntary conservation initiatives that farmers can utilize through the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to help them continue to be good stewards of the land.

PAWS

The newly introduced Farm Bill also includes a vital provision called the Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS) Act, which Schumer is currently a cosponsor of. This bill would help give victims of domestic violence and their pets greater access to safe sheltering options, as well as provide stronger legal protections to pets. According to the Humane Society, up to one-third of domestic violence victims delay leaving a dangerous situation, because they fear for the safety of their pets, and up to one-fourth return to an abuser due to concern for their pets.

Local food programs

The Farm Bill creates a new Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) by combining the Value Added Producer Grants Program and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. The value-added producers grant program helps dairy farmers that start producing artisanal cheese or apple growers that enter the hard cider industry. The grants administered through the new LAMP program will continue to support strengthening our local food systems from rural farmers to urban consumers.

Water, Waste Disposal, and Wastewater Facility grants

The Farm Bill provides funding to support and strengthen rural water infrastructure. Funding to Rural Development programs like the Water, Waste Disposal, and Wastewater Facility Grant program will help families and businesses across Upstate New York and nationwide continue to have access to clean drinking water.

Community facility investments

The Farm Bill supports Community Facility investments to continue to help provide resources to construct hospitals, improve schools, while also improving fire and police stations across small towns in New York State.

January 28, 2014 - 9:11pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, agriculture, NY-27, chris collins, farm bill.

It's a compromise that many thought a contemporary version of Congress could never pass, but Rep. Chris Collins said that even if he wishes some things were different, he plans to vote on a new farm bill that's ready for consideration by the full House.

The compromise bill was announced today and Collins held a telephone press conference to discuss his support of the measure.

"It's a very good bill, but there's something in it that pretty much everyone doesn't like," said Collins, who sits on the Agriculture Committee.

The 1,000-page bill ends decades of direct subsidies to farmers that paid out roughly $5 billion annually and replaces it with a crop insurance program designed to provide the same measure of financial management against disastrous weather or substantial price fluctuations. 

Several "outdated and ineffective dairy programs," according to an ag committee statement, are eliminated. Dairy producers will be able to voluntarily enter into a margin protection program that will not have government mandated supply controls.

Speaker John Boehner opposed the former programs as "Soviet-style" market manipulation.

The other major reforms in the farm bill deal with SNAP, better known as food stamps. The reforms are expected to eliminate $9 billion in fraud and abuse.

In all, supporters of the bill are claiming it will save taxpayers $23 billion.

Collins said it will particularly provide local dairy farmers a range of certainty around which they can plan production.

"Now they can plan farm activity around a new crop insurance program and they know what it's going to look like for the next five years," Collins said. "It's a big relief to have this move forward and come to a vote."

Those who wanted the regulation of catfish to be handled by the FDA instead of the USDA won't be happy with the bill, Collins said, which is an example of how the legislation won't make everybody happy.

There were some provisions that dairy farmer associations initially opposed.

But even the industry groups eventually came around and supported the bill.

A statement from Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation:

"That process is now complete. Despite its limitations, we believe the revised program will help address the volatility in farmers’ milk prices, as well as feed costs, and provide appropriate signals to help address supply and demand.

"The program that we have worked to develop establishes a reasonable and responsible national risk management tool that will give farmers the opportunity to insure against catastrophic economic conditions, when milk prices drop, feed prices soar, or the combination. By limiting how much future milk production growth can be insured, the measure creates a disincentive to produce excess milk. The mechanism used is not what we would have preferred, but it will be better than just a stand-alone margin insurance program that lacks any means to disincentivize more milk production during periods of over-supply.

Also unhappy, Collins said, will be those who think food stamps should never be touched.

"Let's be clear, no one who deserves food stamps is getting cuts," Collins said.

As an example, Collins noted that under the old regime anybody who received federal heating assistance, even if it was just $1 per month, was eligible to receive food stamps, even without any income or asset test. That ends with the new program, Collins said.

"It was a backdoor way for people to get food stamps who didn't deserve them," Collins said. "It's good government in this day of deficit spending that the money is going to go to the people who truly deserve it."

Asked if Democrats might to used the changes to SNAP as a campaign issue against those "heartless Republicans," Collins said, his message to them is go ahead and try.

"One thing for sure is that distortion of truth is what politics and commercials are all about more than substance," Collins said. "I'm sure there are those who will try to claim that this is a cut in food stamps for those who deserve it and if they do make that claim, it's a lie.

"Anyone who is opposed to this bill is somebody who is very partisan in nature and not interested in saving taxpayers money," Collins added. "I'd turn that back on anyone who wanted that debate and I'd turn it back in about two seconds."

May 16, 2013 - 8:36pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, NY-27, chris collins, farm bill.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) voted yesterday to approve the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013 and move it out of the House Agriculture Committee. The bill was passed by a large, bipartisan vote of 36-10.

“I am proud the committee was able to come together and pass a farm bill that will give American farmers the certainty they need to plan for the future,” Congressman Collins said. “Agriculture is critical to the economy of Western New York, and I am proud to have been able to represent the farmers of my district on this important issue.”

Congressman Collins also helped secure additional funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which provides funding to land grant universities, such as Cornell University, to conduct research on specialty crops. Last year’s Farm Bill, which was not passed on the House floor, included $450 million in funding for the SCRI over 10 years. The FARRM Act of 2013 includes $600 million in mandatory funding for the program, which had expired under the current nine-month extension.

Securing funding for the SCRI was important to Congressman Collins as specialty crops farmers across Western New York have consistently cited how critical the ability to conduct research is to their enterprise and industry as it will pioneer new technologies, advanced plant varieties, and help New York farmers generate higher profits.

“New York Farm Bureau is very appreciative of Congressman Chris Collins’ commitment to New York’s farmers. His support in committee of the 2013 Farm Bill sets the stage to provide a stronger safety net for our dairy and specialty crop farmers who help support their local economies,” said Dean Norton, president of New York Farm Bureau.

The legislation also contained major reforms to current U.S. dairy policy. The Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program and Dairy Product Price Support Program have been replaced with a new margin protection program that will better reflect a dairy farmer’s real costs by now equating the cost of feed. This program will ensure Western New York dairy farmers get the support they need to meet the market demands.

The program known as the Dairy Market Stabilization Plan or “supply management,” which would dictate how much a dairy farmer could produce, was also included in the bill. Congressman Collins supported an amendment that would strike this program after hearing near unanimous opinion from his Agriculture Advisory Board that “supply management” would inflate prices for consumers, restrict dairy industry growth, and burden farmers with additional government intervention.

Similar legislation was completed on Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Agriculture. The Farm Bill will now need to be debated on the House floor.

"I am proud of the Committee's effort to advance a farm bill with significant savings and reforms. We achieve nearly $40 billion in savings by eliminating outdated government programs and reforming others. No other committee in Congress is voluntarily cutting money, in a bipartisan way, from its jurisdiction to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and the bipartisan nature in which this legislation was written and approved. I look forward to debating the bill on the House floor this summer," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (OK-3).

Highlights include:

-- FARRM saves nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds, including the immediate sequestration of $6 billion;
-- FARRM repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs;
-- FARRM eliminates direct payments, which farmers received regardless of market conditions;
-- FARRM streamlines and reforms commodity policy while also giving producers a choice in how best to manage risk;
-- FARRM includes the first reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, saving more than $20 billion;
-- FARRM consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, improving program delivery to producers and saving more than $6 billion;
-- FARRM builds on previous investments to fruit and vegetable production, farmers markets, and local food systems;
-- FARRM includes several regulatory relief measures to help mitigate burdens farmers, ranchers, and rural communities face;

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