Price drop in farm products leaves farmers seeking relief

The value of agricultural products has been in a downturn that’s not expected to end anytime soon. According to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data, prices farmers are getting for their milk and other commodities dropped once again in 2016, to $5 billion. That was down more than $1 billion from what it was in 2014. Net farm income in 2016 dropped to about a third of what it was three years earlier.

Milk prices account for much of the trouble. Prices for farmers across the state and nationally are hurt by an oversupply of milk. Farmers have no control over the price they get, with the price set by the federal government using a formula weighing supply and demand.

“We need to continue to find ways for the state to make necessary investments, reduce the cost of doing business and improve market opportunities for our farmers,” said New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher in a recent press call outlining legislative priorities.

Tops on the wish list: Easing the burden farmers face from the state’s minimum wage hike. Now in phase two of the increase, the minimum is set to reach $15 for farms on Long Island and $12.50 for upstate farmers by 2021. NYFB seeks a doubling of the minimum wage tax credit for farms. The tax credit already in place per employee during the rollout “only covers a fraction of what it is costing family farms to implement the wage hike,” Fisher said.

The minimum wage increase has pushed up all wages across the board, including for those who currently make well above the minimum, according to NYFB, citing labor statistics showing the average farm wage in New York is about $13 per hour.

New York Farm Bureau seeks the tax credit doubled from $300 this year to $600 per employee. By 2021, the final year of the roll out, the $600 tax credit would double to $1,200.

On other issues of concern, NYFB also wants to see more money go to research programs at Cornell University and its Extension offices and toward efforts to combat tick-borne diseases. The organization backs recommendations from the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick Borne Diseases.

In its role as the state’s largest lobbying organization for farmers, NYFB also commended Gov. Andrew Cuomo for continued support of marketing programs like Taste NY and the governor earmarking $10 million in his budget to expand the school lunch reimbursement program for districts that purchase at least 30 percent of their food that is grown, produced or processed in New York. If approved, the lunch reimbursement rate would jump from 6 cents per meal to 25 cents.

“We will advocate for this funding in the Legislature so it makes it in the final budget,” said Jeff Williams, NYFB public policy director. “Not only would this provide a new market opportunity for farmers, but it will also support students across the state who will have more fresh, healthy food to eat.”