New York farmers are looking for relief from high operating costs and low commodity prices, as legislators begin to craft policies and spending priorities for 2017.
The New York Farm Bureau released its legislative priority list Wednesday and identified lost farm income as a key problem statewide. The remedies the bureau is pursuing include reinvestment in New York family farms and opening new markets for New York farm products.
David Fisher, president of the Farm Bureau, said during a conference call Wednesday morning that farmers have experienced two years of low commodity and milk prices and rising labor costs.
He cited National Agricultural Statistics Service data showing the value of farm production in New York had dropped 16 percent from 2014 to 2015, for a total of $5.33 billion. He said 2016 numbers aren’t finalized, but he expects them to show a further decline, based on what he is hearing anecdotally from his members.
“The 16 percent drop in farm income highlights why it is imperative that New York Farm Bureau advocate for common-sense laws, regulations and tax policies that support the state’s family farms,” Fisher said.
The Bureau’s priority list includes:
—A refundable investment tax credit for farmers. Poor weather and declining income in recent years have left many farmers without the savings needed to reinvest in their operations.
—State funding for critical farm programs. These include the Environmental Protection Fund, which helps farmers with water quality, conservation and farmland protection programs; agricultural education and FFA programs; and research, technical assistance and promotion programs.
—A state tax credit for farmers who donate locally grown produce to food banks. The tax credit would be for 25 percent of the wholesale value of the donated food and no more than $5,000 per farm; New York farmers donated more than 10 million pounds of food to food banks in 2016.
—Passage of legislation that would provide a procurement preference for New York-grown food for state institutional purchasing. “This will open up new markets for New York’s farmers. For only pennies more, the state can support its farmers and get more fresh, local food into the state system,” said Jeff Williams, the bureau’s public policy director.
—Doubling the minimum wage tax credit for farms. The bureau noted it was strongly opposed to the minimum wage increase enacted last year and said the new $250 tax credit per employee was not nearly enough to cover the cost of the wage hike it accompanied. The average farm wage statewide is about $12.40 per hour, the bureau said. “Farms cannot just increase their prices to make up for that growing gap,” Fisher said. “They have to compete against farms in neighboring states and around the world. If the state is going to force a higher wage on farms, they should be prepared to offer greater assistance, especially when farm income is down 16 percent,” Fisher said.