The New York Farm Bureau says it will be lobbying the 113th Congress in Washington, D.C. for passage of new federal agriculture legislation, immigration reform, and disaster assistance funding in behalf of farmers in the North Country and around the state.
NYFB President Dean Norton talked today about the major priorities the lobbying organization will advocate this year to in behalf of the state’s diverse agricultural community.
Speaking to reporters during a press conference, NYFB outlined three key areas it is targeting including the passage of a new Farm Bill, substantial immigration reform that recognizes New York’s farm needs, and funding for disaster assistance.
Norton stressed the urgency to get a successful Farm Bill through both houses of Congress before the current extension expires in September. If there is not a new bill again this year, it will leave New York’s farmers in limbo, Norton said, unable to plan for the year ahead without knowing if adequate insurance programs will be in place or if conservation programs will be available to make the land more productive and improve environmental stewardship.
He is also concerned additional cuts could be made to the billions already trimmed from the 2012 Farm Bill that never made it to the House floor for a vote.
“We can’t afford to nickel and dime our way into food insecurity in this country,” Norton told reporters. “The food supply and the people who grow it are worth the investment whether on the farm side of the Farm Bill or for the supplemental nutrition programs.”
Norton highlighted some programs in the Farm Bill that he said are especially important to New York farmers.
They include a proper transition program to the new margin insurance dairy safety net being proposed that offers a more risk-based approach to dealing with volatile milk and feed prices as opposed to the current Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program.
The NYFB also supports full funding for conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Farmland Protection Program that assist farmers as good land stewards.
And Norton said there is strong support for new, enhanced specialty crop insurance programs. Many of these were negotiated into the unsuccessful 2012 Farm Bill, and NYFB will work for their inclusion in a new bill during this Congress.
NYFB is also focusing on making sure New York’s farmers are represented in any immigration reform package that works its way through Washington, and is promoting changes that address both short and long term farm labor needs in New York.
New York’s crop farmers need some flexibility that may not be needed elsewhere, NYFB said, but the state’s dairy farmers need a consistent workforce year round.
“Immigration is a key issue for New York farms and employees and for consumers who want to continue to enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products,” said NYFB Public Policy Director Julie Suarez. “Without a stable workforce, food doesn’t get picked, cows don’t get milked and farms don’t have products to take to market.”
NYFB is pushing for a program that provides legitimate visa status for workers already here but may sometimes have questionable documentation and who are willing and able to do the work that farmers depend on. These are workers who come from other countries for jobs that farmers try to fill first with local employees but are often unsuccessful. These reforms, the Farm Bureau said, should include both contract and non-contract options for the flexibility that farmers and workers need for labor protections, especially for the state’s fruit and vegetable growers.