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Economic issues are high priority for Farm Bureau in 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
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— In rural areas, farms often provide summertime jobs that youths rely on for spending money.

But plans to increase the minimum wage in New York state could limit those opportunities, as farmers try to contend with slim margins.

The minimum wage increase is among several issues topping the list of priorities the New York Farm Bureau expects to focus on this year.

Farm Bureau representatives, during a conference call Wednesday, outlined the priorities for 2013, most of which revolve around economic issues affecting the state’s farming community.

“It is our hope that working with the governor and the Legislature ... we will continue to see a focus on economic development in rural New York, using agriculture as that tool,” Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said.

Issues at the top of the list include promoting ways to help farmers pass their farms on to the next generation — a process that’s cost-prohibitive because of the estate tax that gives New York state a healthy cut of the value of a dead farmer’s possessions.

Efforts to transition farms to the next generation, Norton said, end up costing the next generation 40 percent of the value in taxes alone if the estate is worth more than $1 million. It’s forcing some farmers to sell off some of their land just to pay the state its cut.

The Farm Bureau is pushing for that threshold to be raised to $5 million because land, equipment and livestock often exceeds the $1 million point, Norton said.

Another financial impact facing farmers is the proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to increase the minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $8.75 an hour, a move that could impact the ability of farmers to hire as many youths as they normally do during the busy season.

Farm Bureau Public Policy Director Julie Suarez said the member organization is pushing an alternative method of paying farm workers — a training wage that would help farmers pay for workers who need to learn the job before being productive. It’s the youths, not skilled workers, who would be most affected by a minimum wage increase, she said.

“Most farmers are paying over the minimum wage,” Suarez said.

At Barber’s Farm in Fultonham, owner Cindy Barber said an increased minimum wage poses difficulties because some youth hired for the growing season need to be trained.

“Right now on our farm, 50 percent of everything we earn goes out the door in labor. In the Northeast, agriculture is very labor-intensive,” she said.

Barber said some type of cushion for farmers training employees would be helpful. Once they’re trained, they get paid more than minimum wage anyway.

“By the second season, they could be an awesome employee. By then, they’re trained, and they would have worked their way up, and they wouldn’t be earning minimum wage,” she said.

“An employer’s looking for the highest return on their dollar, and that’s pretty tough for a kid who’s still a kid but who wants to work,” Barber said.

The difference between urban communities and rural ones, she said, should be taken into account.

“I think there’s a big difference there, and an across-the-board minimum wage doesn’t make that distinction,” Barber said.

Farm Bureau officials are calling for attention on several other initiatives during the year:

• Agricultural land assessments can increase by as much as 10 percent under current statues, unlike taxes on residential property, which are capped at 2 percent. The Farm Bureau wants the agricultural land assessments cap reduced.

• A “rainy day” fund should be allowed so farmers can save money without being taxed on it and have those funds available in times of disastrous weather.

• New York’s farmers donate tons of food each year, but don’t get the advantage of a tax break for this generosity, as do people who drop donations off at places like the Salvation Army. The Farm Bureau is seeking a tax break for these farmers.

 
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