Local GOP candidates talk agriculture issues with Montgomery County farmers

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, left, 19th Congressional District Republican candidate Marc Molinaro, second from left, and 46th state Senate District Republican candidate Rich Amedure, third from left, listen to farm owner MaryBeth Shults, far right, at her Canajoharie farm Monday.
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U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, left, 19th Congressional District Republican candidate Marc Molinaro, second from left, and 46th state Senate District Republican candidate Rich Amedure, third from left, listen to farm owner MaryBeth Shults, far right, at her Canajoharie farm Monday.

CANAJOHARIE U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, and Republican candidate for the 19th Congressional District Marcus Molinaro both said Monday that they would favor reform and expansion of the federal agricultural visa program to help farmers obtain better access to legal immigrant workers, while they also blasted New York state’s expansion of overtime rights for farm laborers.

Stefanik and Molinaro talked about agriculture issues and met with small business owners during campaign stops Monday at Shults Farm in Canajoharie and the Fireman’s Home in Fort Plain.

Stefanik, the 3rd ranking Republicans in the House of Representatives, said next year there will be a new U.S. farm bill in which she’s hopeful many of the issues that local farmers have can be addressed with better federal funding and policies. She said, if Molinaro wins the 19th Congressional District — in the Aug. 23 special election against Democrat Pat Ryan to fill the rest of the term of now-Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, who resigned his seat in May, and/or the general election in November — she will make certain he serves on the House Agriculture Committee.

Stefanik connected the need to increase access to legal immigrant labor with the need to increase U.S. border security.

“You can look at my record, the H2A [visa] program — I have long been a supporter specifically for farmers. Agriculture has long been the backbone of the North Country and upstate New York, ” she said. “I have a long and extensive history on that issue, but we also must absolutely secure the border and return to President Trump’s effective border policies that have been wide open under Joe Biden.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics show monthly apprehensions of illegal migrants on the Southwestern border during most months of Biden’s first two years have either exceeded or equaled most months of Trump’s tenure in office, although the single-highest month over the past six years was under Trump in February 2019, when there were nearly 130,000 apprehensions.

MaryBeth Shults said many of the family farms on her road have decided to allow solar panels to be put onto what had been good farmland, and she said she doesn’t blame them, given how hard it is to find affordable labor to work at their farms. She said she supports expansion of the agricultural visa programs to help sustain agriculture in Montgomery County and elsewhere in upstate New York.

“Nobody around here wants to work, so you might as well let people who want to work here come work,” Shults said.

She said her family, which has allowed solar panels but only mostly on untillable land, still has children and grandchildren willing to work their farm, but she’s fearful for what the future may bring, particularly since New York state reformed its labor laws to allow agricultural workers to receive overtime pay.

“The overtime work situation in New York state has to go away,” she said. “We don’t hire that much labor here, but the impact goes beyond us. Our processors and those kinds of situations, they won’t be able to withstand the costs.”

David Shults said farm labor issues affect all aspects of farming, including milking cows, herding lambs and doing “custom work.”

Molinaro said he supports federal policies to increase farmer access to legal immigrant labor, but he’s concerned New York state’s farm labor overtime law will still increase costs too much.

“Access to more labor will be overwhelmed by policies the Democrats are pushing in Albany,” he said.

David Shults said he’s a Republican and would likely support Stefanik in November, until his daughter and wife told him congressional redistricting will put their farm in the 19th Congressional District in November. They’re also eligible to vote in the special election.

“This is the first I’ve heard of all that, that’s how political I am,” David Shults said.

David Shults said the only state or federal politician before Stefanik and Molinaro who ever seemed to care about agricultural issues was U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, when he was representing western Montgomery County, but then added he hadn’t seen Tonko around since he stopped representing that part of the county. He said he’s critical of Biden for not lowering gas prices.

“Why can’t he control gas prices?” David Shults asked. “He can control other prices. He’s trying to control pharmaceutical prices. I mean he’s not doing it, but why can’t he control gas prices?”

However, David Shults was less certain whether Montgomery County should suspend the sales tax on gasoline, which legislation signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul has empowered counties to do up until the end of this year.

“I’m not going on record for that one, I’ll be honest with you,” David Shults said, even as MaryBeth indicated she thinks the county should suspend the tax.

Stefanik blasted the inflation that has occurred with many farm supplies, some of which is directly linked to increasing oil prices, particularly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia is one of the largest producers of potash fertilizer as well as a significant global oil supplier.

Lori Shults said her family isn’t ready to give up farming yet. Lori helped lead a tour of her family farm for the federal and state officials including Assemblyman Robert Smullen and state Senate candidate Rich Amedure. She and MaryBeth took the officials through the families’ tomato greenhouses and a stretch of “experimental crops” the family is growing. Lori said they decided to plant peppers straight into the ground instead of into raised crop beds. She said the peppers did well, and they will definitely plant them again next year.

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