County Farm Bureau Raises State Budget Concerns

The Chautauqua County Farm Bureau has expressed concern when it comes to the current state budget and policies, looking specifically at items like labor and the minimum wage.

These items are especially problematic for those involved in the dairy and grape industries — Chautauqua County’s biggest agricultural producers.

Dick Kimball and Jim Joy, Chautauqua County Farm Bureau members, discussed the labor concern in the local agricultural industry. The main concerns when it comes to labor are the ever increasing minimum wage and the recent overtime regulations.

“This should be a federal issue,” Kimball said. “It should give farmers a level playing field. There’s no way to pass this along as dairy and grapes farmers. The milk price is decreasing by $4 per hundredweight, and other costs are not going down.”

Kimball said when he first moved to New York state 12 years ago, the state was third in milk production. Since then the state has gone down to five.

“This is a significant number of farms,” Kimball said. “It’s a significant loss.”

Additionally, Kimball said the idea of the living wage is higher in the city than the state, which he thought was not being taken into consideration.

Joy said with the current minimum wage, set at $15 an hour, most businesses are able to handle, but that when it increases again it will lead to more problems.

“That’s when you will see more layoffs and more mechanization,” Joy said.

Kimball said even with a lower deal that farms were offered when it came to minimum wage, there was still competition for workers, specifically from people in the feed or fertilizer businesses. He gave an example of an organization buying a truck company but had trouble finding drivers, so they increased their pay. Soon, all of the other companies had to do the same and so the shortage of drivers returned.

This is another part of the problems that stem from inflation.

“It’s a bad situation,” Joy said. “No one likes inflation, but fertilizer costs have doubled and fuel is all over the place. The price of equipment is ridiculous. Farmers can’t pay.”

Dairy farms and grape vineyards are already starting to be abandoned, and as the minimum wage increases more in the next few years, Kimball said there would be no question of farmers turning to robots and machines to do the work.

Another factor is the H-2A Adverse Effect Wage Rate, which allows for businesses that have hired workers from out of the country to pay these workers more. Joy said the current rate is $16.95. This is something that is variable from state to state, but including the price of housing and transportation for these workers, it also affects how much farmers pay their other employees.

The unemployment insurance fund is also on the Farm Bureau’s list of concerns, especially since Kimball said the state thought it would be forgiven and was not. There was also a high number of fraud cases that came with it.

The other concern is the overall market, which for items such as concord grapes has balanced itself out, but still is fluctuating for items in the dairy industry like milk and cheese. Kimball said more transparency is needed from producers and handlers, and major changes need to be made, including a discovery of what the retail is for a fair price.

“The oversupply of milk has thrown everything in the dumpster,” Kimball said.

Joy added that the demand for meat, juice and jelly has increased.

Overall the increase in the beef price is good for the dairy industry.

“There’s a lot that goes into farming,” Kimball said. “It’s not just sitting at home, milking cows.”


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