A sound policy for farmers

A finished greenhouse works to grow crops in February at Agbotic Inc. in Sackets Harbor. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

As chief executive officer of a farm operation in Sackets Harbor, I am aware that what happens in Albany affects upstate business. Our company deploys automated, year-round soil greenhouses in a profitable model for Smart Farming.

Smart Farms seek to grow food that makes people healthier and in a manner that improves the quality of air, water and soil. Soon, our artificially intelligent greenhouses will show us how to further automate, make better food and more optimally use our planet’s resources.

It is a 24/7 operation that runs 365 days. Like other continuous operations, we experience surges and lags in workload.

The new farm labor law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo represents a massive shift in policy. It grants bargaining rights, workers’ compensation, time off and overtime pay.

While many knee-jerk reactions have followed, the law is a clear win for 100,000 laborers who have toiled for decades without protections. It’s long overdue and will catalyze innovation in agriculture.

You can respect tensions on both sides of this issue. All workers deserve dignity in the workplace and a living wage.

It’s also important to maintain a diversified, ecologically sound, current and vibrant farm ecosystem. Unfortunately, many industrial farms and food processors have become a big part of our socioeconomic, human health and environmental problem when they could become a solution.

The planet is fatter, sicker, hotter and dirtier than a decade ago. Contentious political issues include health care, the environment and the economy.

As much as 80 percent of our health care costs, one-third of our carbon footprint, plastic litter in the environment and rural economic development can be addressed by what we eat and how we farm. Author Charles Eisenstein observed, “A society that exploits the most vulnerable people will necessarily exploit the most vulnerable places, too. A society devoted to healing on one level inevitably will come to serve healing on every level.” Healing labor exploitation on farms is a step toward healing on multiple levels.

Agbotic is passionate about the Smart Farm movement. We employ knowledge workers to profit from the ingenuity of valued people and not on the backs of vulnerable labor or degradation of the environment. We provide benefits that exceed the new law, and our young employees are buying homes in the community.

We will welcome legal immigrants into full-time jobs at a living wage. We strive to farm in a way that makes healing food and improves the environment.

A move to more humane, healthy and sustainable models is inevitable — because it is necessary. This is precisely what is driving shifts in consumer demand and investments in the agtech sector.

Policy delivering humanity to farm labor will positively impact how farmers feed the world. State Sen. Jennifer Metzger of Rosendale and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo of Endwell are leading on this front.

Gov. Cuomo did the right thing when he signed the bill into law. It may be difficult at first, but his push to protect vulnerable people will ultimately lead to protections of vulnerable places — and hopefully to a healthier New York with a cleaner environment.

John P. Gaus is chief executive officer of Agbotic Inc. in Sackets Harbor.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(1) comment

Clif

A refreshing and thoughtful view on the future for agricultural production and on fairness to workers. Unfortunately, Gaus and Agbotic seem to be the exceptions rather than the rule. Change is something that we humans are not good at on the scales needed to solve many of the problems we are now facing. Gaus has a positive view of where we are headed and that's a good thing.

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