New York farmers have several priorities they’d like to see included in the final state budget, now about one week late, as negotiations between state leaders continue.
Small and mid-sized family farms are concerned about higher labor costs that would come with proposed increases to minimum wage.
“We need to slow this thing down, we need to actually take a breath, see where we are at 15 [dollars] and see what we’re doing and how businesses are impacted,” said the New York Farm Bureau’s director of public policy Jeff Williams said.
Agricultural leaders say budget proposals have been a mixed bag for farmers, especially as they struggle to pay minimum wage just below $15 an hour.
They praise the governor’s plan for $7 million in refundable tax credits for farmers, but say that credit must be tied to inflation if minimum wage is, too.
“Farms really, really need help in investing in our future of agriculture,” Williams said. “This would allow farmers to buy needed equipment, machinery and to really improve their businesses, but also position them for the future.”
The state has lost more than half a million acres of farmland, or the equivalent of nearly 5,000 farms since the 1980s.
That’s why leaders in the agriculture industry are pushing for more funding in the next state budget to adequately fund the next generation.
The Assembly wants an additional $50 million for agriculture in the budget, acknowledging farms as a generator of economic development.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget proposal encourages local governments and school districts to raise the discretionary threshold for food purchasing to $250,000 to help with one of the initiatives outlined in her State of the State address.
The governor called for the state to purchase and procure 30%, or nearly $400 million worth of farm products, from local producers in her January speech.
“For the second straight year, Gov. Hochul has proposed record investment in New York’s farmers and our agricultural industry, and she continues to work with the legislature to deliver a final budget that meets the needs of all New Yorkers,” the governor’s spokesman, Jason Gough, said in a statement Friday.
Hochul is proposing to require companies selling or distributing products with recyclable materials pay a fee to support local recycling programs.
Her proposal excludes agricultural products, but each of the Legislature’s do not.
Agriculture Committee Chair Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner says as a whole, the budget proposals pose a risk for the state’s agricultural industry.
“I think it’s going to be a management challenge for many of our farms,” Woerner said Friday. “I think we will see an increased use of automation technologies like robotics in the farms that can afford to do it.”
Woerner says they’ll have to adapt to the proposed changes in an economy where the market decides agricultural prices.
“We have to be cognizant of the economics of farming in our state,” the assemblywoman continued. “Without farms, there’s no food. And frankly, without farms, there’s no need for farm workers. So this is also a job retention issue.”
Farmers continue to plead with legislators give them the financial support to mitigate those risks.
“Our wineries are fantastic, but we can’t think — we can’t bear the cost of this packaging proposal,” Williams said. “It’s going to really hit small businesses harder.”
Woerner continues to advocate for the preservation of farmland and to train and support the next generation.
Hochul also wants $10 million in grants for retail food stores to expand markets, supply chains and promote equitable food distribution.
Officials with the state Farm Bureau is also watching closely to make sure state leaders include the promised overtime tax credit to reimburse farmers for the increased overtime threshold the state will continue to gradually impose over the next decade.
Hochul’s budget also proposes a farm workforce pipeline to connect the state’s increased number of migrant and asylum seekers with jobs in the agriculture and food industries, including a proposal to increase funding for legal services to help them achieve legal work status, according to the governor’s office.
She also included $50 million in her budget over five years to schools to support culinary facilities to use state-grown farm-fresh products for K-12 school meals funded through the School Food Infrastructure Grant Program.
Assembly sources said Friday that legislative leaders have not discussed agriculture funding in detail as budget negotiations continue. They’re expected to continue in earnest over the next few weeks.