Farmers lobbied in Albany this week over a spectrum of issues they say are vital to their future

Lawmakers heard from members of 90 county Farm Bureaus and like-minded organizations this week in Albany for the annual Taste of New York Reception and Lobby Day. The record turnout was not unexpected, given what’s at stake this year. A drop in farm income — to the tune of $1 billion in 2015 — signals a trend along with rising labor costs, low prices on a number of commodities and weather-related crop losses.

“The high turnout is a testament to our organization’s strong grassroots support, and it demonstrates the value our members place in meeting face-to-face with their elected officials,” stated New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher.

Farm Bureau is the state’s largest agricultural lobbying/trade organization, and the organization’s lobbying efforts carry weight. Agriculture is one of the state’s largest economic drivers, and farmland comprises more than 20 percent of land in New York, or some 7.3 million acres.

Based on past lobbying efforts, an Agricultural Assessment Cap Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in 2013 prevented agricultural assessments from being increased by more than 2 percent per year. The previous cap was set at 10 percent. Cuomo last month announced $36.6 million in savings for farmers statewide through the first three years of the cap. For farmers in the Finger Lakes region, the savings since 2013 was pegged at $9.7 million.

"Securing the Agricultural Assessment Cap was a priority for our members to help control rising property taxes associated with climbing land values,” Fisher stated. “It has proven to be valuable to farmers across the state. Not only has it helped to rein in rising tax bills, but the cap helps keep farmland in production, especially in areas facing development pressure."

When more than 250 NYFB members participated in the March 7 lobby day, they brought lawmakers a list of 2017 priorities. Along with meeting with their local senators and Assembly members, NYFB’s executive committee also met personally with legislative leaders such as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, and chairs of the Agriculture Committees: Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Owego and Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson.

Top priorities for 2017 include a refundable investment tax credit. Because of the struggling farm economy and the weather-related crop losses many farmers experienced last year, farmers report being extremely short on cash flow. Many do not have the savings to reinvest back into their businesses. NYFB says the initiative would incentivize farm investment to compete in the global market.

Another priority: Doubling the minimum wage tax credit for farms, from $30 million to $60 million. The first step of the wage hike climbed at the beginning of the year on its way to $15 for farms on Long Island and $12.50 for upstate farmers. (The average farm wage in New York is about $12.40 an hour). The tax credit policy resulted in a $250 tax credit per employee for this first year of the increase. But farmers say that covers just a small fraction of what it will cost family farms to implement the wage hike.

Cuomo includes in his budget a number of items NYFB wants the Legislature to approve. Those include funding for the Environmental Protection Fund to help with water quality, conservation and farmland protection, as well as investments into animal health programs. Restoring funding for research to benefit agriculture and backing Cuomo’s proposed $2 billion clean water infrastructure program are also on the list. That would include $70 million for nutrient management and conservation programs to reduce farm runoff.

On promoting local, fresh food, NYFB says it has seen the governor veto legislation the past two years that would boost this cause. Members asked lawmakers to include the tax credit that encourages greater fresh food donations to regional food banks and local food pantries to be included in their one-house budget bills.