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State’s Agriculture Industry Is Reaching A Breaking Point

Twelve years ago, New York state was third in the nation in milk production. Now, the state is fifth.

“This is a significant number of farms,” Richard Kimball, a dairy farmer and member of the New York Farm Bureau. “It’s a significant loss.”

And if state legislators aren’t careful, it’s entirely possible for that ranking to slip even further.

Legislators this week are finalizing negotiations on the 2023-24 state budget. Among the items being ironed out are dozens of items being watched carefully by the state’s farmers, including further increases to the state minimum wage, placing responsibility for recycling on producers rather than customers and funding for a host of initiatives important to the state’s agricultural industry.

Perhaps the most important is the minimum wage. Farms are still waiting to see how much costs increase as lower overtime thresholds begin this year. A $15 minimum wage as proposed, along with proposals to tie the minimum wage to inflation, are particularly difficult for farms to deal with since the prices they receive for goods — particularly dairy farms — are set by outside entities. Unlike grocery stores that can charge a higher price for milk, the price farmers get for their milk is set by the government — meaning the higher minimum wage or overtime costs are paid by the farmer rather than the consumer.

Farmers trying to diversify their revenue streams, meanwhile, are keeping a close eye on legislation that would create a new statewide recycling program and shift responsibility from private companies and municipalities to producers. For farmers, that means wineries or agribusinesses selling milk, cheese, wine, ciders and other packaged goods. Gov. Kathy Hochul wants an exemption for agricultural commodities. The legislation as currently written also prohibits increasing the cost of goods so producers can recover the costs of the new recycling responsibilities.

Agriculture is still a vitally important industry here in Chautauqua County. Dairy farms in the south county and vineyards in the north county are important for our tax base, employment and as sources of ingredients used in a multitude of cheeses, wines, yogurts, jellies and hundreds of other products. Those industries are, in our opinion, reaching a breaking point. Lawmakers must keep that in mind as they decide on this budget.

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