ALBANY — New York’s agriculture industry is rallying to find financial relief in the 2020 legislative session and executive budget after taking a hard hit from the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act passed last year — and lawmakers are listening.
New York Farm Bureau outlined its agenda during a call with reporters Wednesday. The nonprofit advocacy group said it is pushing for climate change research and farm technology funding, tax credits for farmers and amendments to the law that expands labor rights for farm workers, including ensuring they get paid overtime after working 60 hours a week and that they get one day off each week.
“A top priority for NYFB is obtaining financial offsets and amendments to mitigate the impact of the farm labor law,” said David Fisher, NYFB president.
Fisher applauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo for addressing a few issues in his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year.
To the relief of many farmers, Cuomo included in his proposal an amendment to last year’s legislation that would expand the definition of family.
The current law’s definition of “farm laborer” encompasses everyone but immediate family members. But farmers have complained about that definition.
“The law failed to recognize that farms today often have extended family working on the farm, including in-laws, nieces and nephews,” Fisher said.
Cuomo’s amendment would change the definition of “immediate family member” to those related by the third-degree.
However, NYFB is looking for further amendments to the law that would exclude some managers and salaried employees from the labor provisions mandated.
Their concerns were echoed in a lawsuit filed by the New York State Vegetable Growers Association and the Northeast Dairy Producers Association in December, challenging the law. U.S. District Judge Lawrence Vilardo ruled on Dec. 31 to temporarily restrain the law at least until the next hearing, while deliberating the merits of the case.
Tax credits are another form of financial relief farmers are looking for this year, which has been addressed by multiple lawmakers so far.
For example, Cuomo included a Green Investment Tax Credit in his proposal, which would provide up to 5% credits on capital investment on so-called “green economy projects” and up to 8% credits on investments in research and development for those projects.
Also, a bill introduced by state Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, that would increase the Farm Workforce Retention Credit for farm owners from $600 per employee to $1,200 per employee advanced to the Senate Finance Committee this week.
“Many farms are struggling to survive in the face of labor and other costs that are significantly higher in New York than elsewhere in the country and abroad, making it very difficult for them to compete,” said Metzger, the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, in a statement Tuesday. “The proposed tax credit will provide needed relief and level the playing field, supporting our family farms and protecting our long-term food security for the benefit of all New Yorkers.”
Cuomo pledged $300 million to go toward the Environmental Protection Fund in his proposal, an initiative that is being applauded by the agriculture industry as it works to lower its carbon footprint through energy-efficient farming technology.
“A lot of that stuff is related to farms and dealing with climate change which is really becoming front of mind for people in the agricultural industry and the state,” said Jeff Williams, NYFB’s director of public policy. “Everyone admits that farms are natural carbon sponges, and we want to continue the research in the EPF.”
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.