FFA Continues To Grow Nationally

Jay Matteson

I remember, as a young kid, thumbing through a binder full of old family photos. I came across a photo that was labeled, “Lyman” and had a face circled on the photo. It was from the early 1940s and a sign on the wall behind this group of students read Future Farmers of America. “Lyman” was my dad and he grew up on a dairy farm in Oswego County in the Central Square area during the depression. I asked my dad what was Future Farmers of America? He didn’t say much other than it was a leadership organization for farm kids. I’m not sure what ever happened to the farm but my dad married my mom and spent many years as an electrician in the Oswego area. I never thought about Future Farmers of America again. 

    Growing up in the Oswego area I never heard anything more about Future Farmers of America. Attending Oswego High School in the mid 1980s, it seemed the push was to drive kids towards college for business or teaching careers. I was the odd ball as I wanted to pursue wildlife biology. After I attended college I returned home and worked with the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District. Even working for the Soil and Water Conservation District for six years, I never heard about Future Farmers of America. It was not until I moved to Jefferson County and became the director of the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District that I heard about an organization called FFA. 

    I quickly learned that FFA was the new name of Future Farmers of America. The name had just been changed to better reflect the nature of the youth organization and that not all participants in FFA go on to become farmers. I was very surprised that in all the years, since I first saw my dads photo, I never heard anything of the organization. It was a great surprise! 

    FFA is very strong in Jefferson County and the north country. When I first came to Jefferson County there were five FFA programs in Alexandria Bay, Belleville-Henderson, Carthage, Indian River and South Jefferson school districts. Although there are slight differences between each districts FFA programs, there are strong similarities in each. FFA uses agriculture as a foundation to help students build tremendous career and leadership skills. It is very hands on and very active! FFA welcomes students who aspire to careers such as doctors, scientists, teachers, bankers, business owners and farmers. The opportunities through FFA are many. Nationally, there are FFA opportunities at the middle school, high school and collegiate levels. 

    As I began learning about FFA, I was very impressed. I quickly discovered that these students were busy! In addition to their traditional classes, these students were growing things, building things, writing business plans, traveling to regional, state and national events and providing service to their communities. I learned that I could call upon FFA students to help me with events and know that when the iconic blue and gold FFA jackets showed up, I had a group of volunteers that I could depend upon to the get the job done right. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to know and develop strong friendships with many FFA students across the north country. I’ve watched them go on to become business owners and farmers, journalists and teachers, financial advisors and veterinarians. Many are now leaders in their communities. 

    Today there are six FFA chapters in Jefferson County. Watertown School District started an FFA chapter a few years ago that is beginning to thrive. I just saw a report that National FFA hit a record in membership with 760,113 student members in 2020. That is a nearly 60,000 student increase from 2019. Incredible, especially given the circumstances of 2020! The top five student membership states are Texas, California, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma. In 2020, the organization has more than 115,831 latino members, more than 40,000 black members, and more than 12,000 members who are American Indian and Alaska Natives. Fifty one percent of members are male and forty four percent are female. FFA chapters exist in 24 of 25 of the largest cities in the United States. Since 2017, FFA chapters in NYS have grown by 30 percent. The largest FFA Chapter in New York State is located in New York City. 

    It is fantastic to see a valuable student organization growing in these days where so many of our youth programs struggle with declining enrollment. If you are interested in learning more about FFA visit the New York FFA website at www.nysffa.org or the national FFA website at www.ffa.org or contact your local high school to learn about FFA. 

Food Distribution Programs And Webinar Series See Great Start

Jay Matteson

The impact of the shutdown of our economy to dampen the impact of the COVID 19 disaster has hit every single person. Businesses have temporarily and permanently closed their doors. Many people were temporarily unemployed or lost their jobs. There were significant disruptions in our food supply system. As we have heard many times. We are living in an extremely rare time where a global pandemic has impacted every single person in the United States and had a devastating impact on our economy. Many people, in the low income to middle income sections of our population, began experiencing challenges in finding food. 

    At the national level, we saw President Trump, the U.S. Congress and the United States Department of Agriculture work together to create the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). One section of the CFAP used federal funds to begin buying food products from farms and food processors and working through local food distributors to provide free food to people in need. This program is a success. Jefferson County Economic Development has worked with American Dairy Association Northeast to set up the logistics of multiple food distribution events. Our largest to date saw 1,800 vehicles at Salmon Run Mall go through the distribution program. There have been events at Salmon Run Mall, Jefferson Community College and Clayton Arena. Every vehicle, while supplies last, receives at least two gallons of milk, a box of precooked meat products, a box of produce, and a box of dairy products. Unfortunately, the demand is greater than the supply of food boxes and they run out before the milk. Renzi Food Service based in Watertown, Glaziers packing in Potsdam, and Upstate Niagara Dairy Cooperative, provide the aggregation and distribution assistance. HP Hood in LaFargeville provides some of the dairy products in the boxes. 

    At the State level, Governor Cuomo, the state Legislature and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets created the Nourish NY program to help ensure local food banks have enough food on their shelves to help local people, and also provide food distribution events. State funds are used to purchase New York state food products to give to food banks and distribution events. Lucki 7 Livestock Company in Rodman, Sharps Bulk Food in Belleville and Great Lakes Cheese in Adams have participated in the Nourish NY program providing locally produced food to food banks as far away as Long Island. 

    Because so many food products and businesses from Jefferson County are involved in the two food distribution programs, we are roughly estimating a total economic impact of the two programs to date of $18 million as the dollars coming into local companies and farms for the purchase of food products ripples throughout Jefferson County and NNY. This is a nice “charge” to our local economic engine, with agriculture as its foundation.  

Agriculture Webinar Series Off to Great Start 

    Jefferson County Economic Development started a monthly webinar series in June inviting speakers to participate who have an opportunity to look at agriculture through a broader lens than we might experience locally. We call the webinar series, “Road to Recovery, The Path to 2025 Farmers’ Luncheon Series”. On Aug. 27, we have Mr. Thomas Sleight scheduled to speak. Mr. Sleight is former chief executive officer for the U.S. Grains Council and has traveled the world working on foreign trade programs and opportunities benefitting U.S. agriculture. 

    The Farmers’ Luncheon series is a live webinar scheduled for the fourth Thursday of every month at 12 p.m. The webinar is not a typical slideshow presentation with questions at the end. Instead, I sit down at the table, remotely, with our guest and have a conversation about the various topics we wish to discuss. The program is highly interactive, and the audience can submit questions in real time which I try to include into the discussion. To learn more, visit www.agricultureevents.com 

Milk is Back!

Jay Matteson

For too many years, fewer and fewer Americans were drinking milk. There were many more choices for consumers to quench their thirst than ever before and honestly, the dairy industry had not done a good job of keeping up with marketing their product in a modern, exciting manner. The old white jug had lost its appeal. The previous administration in the White House changed the school lunch program removing whole and 2% milk options and forcing schools to offer only skim milk. This change reduced the desire by children to drink milk. 

    Then the Coronavirus disaster set in. Food service businesses closed their doors. According to an April 3, 2020 article written by P.J. Huffstutter on Reuters website, the closure of food service businesses – restaurants, schools, and fast food restaurants sent a shock wave through the dairy industry. Plants that manufacture dairy products used in food service are not easily converted to retail manufacturing. With the onset of Coronavirus shutdown of food service businesses, the outlook for dairy initially was very dark. American diets typically consisted of 35 – 40% food service purchases. Dairy products are extensively used by food service to add flavor and nutrition to many products. The Virus also disrupted distribution systems and plant workforce. Dairy cooperatives told their member farms to dump their milk because there became a tremendous glut of milk on the market. Dairy Farmers of America estimated at one point that 3.7 million gallons of milk a day was being dumped. 

    At the same time, people did not know what to expect when told to shelter at home. Store shelves emptied of food, paper products and milk! People were buying two gallons at a time and freezing it, just in case. It appears that consumers turned to what they knew was very healthy, satisfying and comforting, milk. According to an article published online on June 15, 2020 on the AgDaily website, from March 9 to March 22, 2020 fluid milk sales increased by 45,000,000 gallons compared to the same period in 2019. Plant based beverage sales in the same period increased by approximately 7.9 million gallons. This was huge news for American dairy farmers. 

    Those of us in the agricultural industry saw the initial demand for fluid milk and were hopeful, but worried that after the initial run on the grocery stores, consumers would return to old habits. Consumers, however, appear to want nutritious and tasty milk and dairy products back in their diets! Ag Daily reports that from March 23 to May 31, 2020 fluid milk consumption increased by nearly 60,000,000 gallons compared to the same period in 2019. Plant based beverages increased by just over 10,000,000 gallons. Also noticed was consumers were trending to whole and 2% milk. Many enjoy the taste and satisfaction of whole milk compared to skim milk. 

    It appears, when difficult times arose, the American consumer came back to a food product they knew was wholesome, nutritious, and tasty – milk. In Jefferson County, we saw two dairy farms begin bottling their own milk. Next Generation Milk from Grimshaw Farms and Old McDonald’s Farm Milk from North Harbor Dairy Farm were an instant hit. Both operations had difficulty keeping up with demand. When a very local option became available to consumers, they swung quickly to supporting local dairy as much as possible. I can personally testify that my 19-year-old son will travel out of his way to make sure we always have milk from both farms in our refrigerator. Most times, he pays for it! 

    The dairy industry will still have challenges with balancing supply and demand fluctuations. Our dairy farms are coming off five years of difficult prices for their product. But if the demand for dairy continues to grow as people realize what they have been missing, perhaps we will see a brighter future for our dairy farms and the American consumer. Thanks to consumers, we see a path out of this current quagmire we are in. We are looking out to 2025 and building a path forward. 

    Welcome home, America! 

NNY Questions: Agricultural Development with Jay Matteson

Jay Matteson, the Agricultural Coordinator for Jefferson County Agricultural CoordinatorÕs Office at the Lucki 7 Livestock Co. in Rodman on Wednesday. Emil Lippe/NNY Business

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What Challenges Will The Dairy Industry Face in 2020?

Jay Matteson

We begin 2020 with nearly 30 dairy farms facing an uncertain outlook. It is hard to write an economic outlook for 2020 when this many of our family-owned businesses are not sure they will have a market for their product. The leadership of Jefferson Bulk Milk Cooperative is working diligently to find new milk markets. They face a daunting task. Jefferson County Economic Development office has offered our full assistance and support. Our elected officials have also offered to assist. 

    The entire dairy industry, especially in New York state, is undergoing a massive change. New York state passed new labor laws in 2019 that are now in full effect as of January 1. Over the last several months, since the laws were passed, farms and their representative organizations were trying to figure out how to comply with the laws. They encountered changes in the regulations after regulatory agencies changed interpretations of the laws. It has been a difficult challenge and farms will continue to do everything they can to comply with the regulations. 

    We are finally seeing recovery in the recognition that dairy products taste great and are healthy components of your diet. People are slowly recognizing, after years of being told otherwise, that whole milk, butter, and cheese are good for you. 94% of American households buy milk. 

    Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? I carefully answer yes. A very qualified yes dependent on many factors. Milk prices are very slowly creeping up. It appears that the dairy industry will see some level of profit from milk sales. It is critical that the United States Congress finally act on President Trump’s U.S., Mexico, Canada (USMCA) trade agreement. This will improve markets for United States milk. The USMCA will benefit other agricultural sectors, too. We are seeing progress in negotiations of other trade agreements that will continue to improve markets for U.S. agricultural products. I am worried, that any new trade agreements needing Congressional approval may be delayed with the presidential election coming in November. 

    Our office continues to search for new dairy processing companies looking for a New York state location. Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties produce over two billion pounds of milk per year. We have enough milk to support another dairy processing company the size of Great Lakes Cheese or HP Hood. We are very proud of Great Lakes Cheese in Adams NY and HP Hood in LaFargeville. These two plants, and the local people who make up their employee teams, are producing some of the best cheddar cheese, cheese curd, sour cream, cottage cheese and yogurt of any place in the world. We are doing everything we can to attract a new dairy manufacturer that values high-quality milk and great employees. 

    We are very excited about what is happening in local agricultural education and workforce development initiatives! We are home to some of the best middle school and high school agricultural education programs in New York state. Alexandria, Belleville- Henderson, Carthage, Indian River and South Jefferson school districts have a long history of offering fantastic agricultural programming and FFA Chapters. A couple years ago, Watertown City School District started an agricultural program and FFA Chapter. Jefferson Community College recently started an agribusiness program offering associate degrees for students pursuing agricultural careers. 

    And just over a month ago, Jefferson – Lewis BOCES announced they will begin an Environment and Agriculture Academy! Juniors and seniors across Jefferson and Lewis counties, starting in fall of 2020, will have a choice to pursue environmental and agricultural programming in their high school careers. BOCES is planning to start an FFA Chapter as part of this new academy. This is great news for school districts without agricultural programs as they will now have this option through BOCES. After many years of hard work, this fall we will offer a complete pathway for all students in Jefferson and Lewis counties to pursue an agricultural career. Students will have the opportunity to pursue agricultural careers either in their local high school or at Jefferson – Lewis BOCES, advance on to Jefferson Community College, and then attend a four-year program at a SUNY school. 

    Yes, 2020 will offer difficult challenges as our dairy industry deals with the changes happening. We are excited to see growth in local food production, and exciting developments in agricultural workforce development. Agriculture has always been a strong foundation to our local economy and will continue to be that bedrock we build upon. 

What is a payment in lieu of taxes?

Jay Matteson

A Payment in Lieu of Taxes or “PILOT” is an economic development tool that may mean the difference between a business locating in your community or locating somewhere else in New York State or the United States. The use of a PILOT brings about a gain in the tax base and usually more jobs. A PILOT helps grow the local economy by helping an existing business grow or a new business to start up in a community. 

    The PILOT works by allowing for a “managed” increase in taxes for the business. Let’s use an example to make this clear. A new business comes into the community and buys an acre of land. Prior to the business opening its doors, the acre of land brings $1,000 of tax revenue to the community. After the business opens its doors, let us say the full taxes on the higher-valued property is $20,000. To help the business get started and better manage its initial startup expenses, a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement is negotiated. The PILOT may last for 15 years, under which the business would pay 25% of the higher tax assessment for the first 5 years (an additional $5,000/yr.), 50% ($10,000/yr.) for the next 5 years, 75% ($15,000) for the last five years, and then ramp up to the full tax of $20,000 in year 16. This is all new money for the community. The business started out on year one paying more in taxes than was collected before the business opened it doors. More tax revenue for the community. By year 16 the company was paying full taxation on the property. If the PILOT had not been employed, the business may not have started or may have decided to locate elsewhere which equals no increase in the tax base or local jobs. 

    This was a simple example of how a PILOT may be set up. The PILOT helps the company manage its tax increases over a negotiated number of years. The following is a real example of a PILOT negotiated with Great Lakes Cheese Company in Adams in 2007 when they began considering building a new cheese plant. Great Lakes was considering moving the plant to western New York and was receiving pressure to do so. Jefferson County Economic Development stepped in and helped the company by negotiating a 20-year PILOT because of the size of the project and the number of jobs created. As you review the graph, you’ll see the taxes paid by Great Lakes Cheese went up $35,000 the first year of their project and then over 20 years the taxes have gone up in a manageable manner. Great Lakes Cheese built their $86 million dollar plant next to their old plant in Adams. This created jobs, brought new revenue into the community and supported the dairy industry in Northern New York. 

    The Jefferson County Economic Development is responsible for managing the tax incentive tools such as a PILOT. Jefferson County Economic Development staff will work with affected municipalities, such as Jefferson County, a local school district and other municipalities to negotiate the PILOT with the project developer. The goal of Jefferson County Economic Development is to create a win – win situation for everyone involved. The community wins by supporting the expansion of the existing business and adding jobs or through bringing in a new business creating new jobs, new opportunity and a stronger tax base. 

    PILOTS may be employed to assist with traditional business start-ups such as manufacturing and service industries., as well as to attract renewable energy projects – all of which can bring thousands of dollars to local communities. In Jefferson County PILOTS are not available to small retail business, retailers, or food establishments. PILOTs are a good tool to use to grow our local communities. 

Food Evolution Summit: Exciting, inspiring and concerning

Jay Matteson

As I write this column, I’m traveling at 400 miles per hour, 30,000 plus feet above the heartland of the U.S. It’s appropriate to be writing at this altitude as the last two days have allowed me to view our food systems from high above sea level. Our journey to the Food Evolution Summit in Palm Springs, California, was exciting, inspiring and concerning. I met many food developers, chief executive officers, food researchers and company vice presidents during the two-day conference. Our three-fold mission during the conference was to look for potential companies considering new locations on the east coast and especially New York state; explore opportunities to bring new business to our companies in Jefferson County, and gain a broader perspective on new food and beverage trends. 

    Our first presenter was David Rice, vice president of research and development strategies and portfolio management for Pepsico. Mr. Rice discussed world demographics and our aging populations. Food companies need to be adjusting their products to meet the needs and tastes of an older population while also creating new and exciting food products for new generations. David also indicated that the consumer, especially the U.S. consumer, is demanding our food stream produce less waste, from the farm to the table. “Upcycling” became a hot topic during the conference. Upcycling is going beyond the traditional three “R”s of waste reduction. Upcycling is finding waste products and converting them into new food products or packaging. It’s not just reusing the waste product as it is, but converting the product into a different use. Almost every presenter after Mr. Rice discussed upcycling at some point in their presentations. 

    As a great example of upcycling that came out of the conference was a company using grape pomice, the byproduct of wine-making that contains seeds, skins and stems. A company in California has developed a technology to isolate the resveratrol from the pomice and turn it into either a concentrated powder or liquid. The resveratrol can then be added to other food and beverages to bring its health benefits to the product. The presenter from Napa Hill Inc., is using the concentrated liquid in a specialized water product that contains concentrated juices from the grapes grown in Napa Valley. This creates a unique almost wine-like flavor without the alcohol but containing many of the health benefits obtained in wine. The pomice is upcycled, reducing the waste stream from the winemakers. 

    Joshua Reid, senior director for research and development at Kashi discussed their new line of food products called Kashi for Kids. Kashi gathered together a group of teenage food entrepreneurs from across the United States. These kids were involved in creating their own food businesses or were very active in sustainability efforts. Kashi brought the group together to create a new line of food products geared towards kids. The teenagers were given basic ingredients to work from and allowed to be creative in developing the products. Everything from developing the flavor profiles to the shape and texture was examined. The team of teenagers also looked at sustainability issues of the product and its packaging, causing Kashi to adjust how they normally package their products. We had the opportunity to sample the products and they are incredible. I’m bringing home a box of their honey cinnamon cereal. The cereal is a combination of crunchy pieces of cereal with a cinnamon coating and then cereal puffs filled with a honey apple mixture. It was impressive to learn how the kids were given a big palette to work from to create healthy food products. My only disappointment with this effort was the failure to expose the teenage team to the farmers who grow the ingredients. We heard extensively about how Kashi sources their products and demands strong sustainability practices from the farms. But they failed to bring the kids to the farms. 

    This has been an ongoing concern of mine, long before this summit. Food processing companies are marketing their products with environmentally conscious messages, but not connecting with the farmers who produce the ingredients to understand why farms use the practices they do, what farms have already done to minimize their carbon footprint, and to build better partnerships between the consumer, the farmer and the food processor. I did ask Mr. Reid quietly about why they hadn’t connected the kids with the farms. His answer was simple: they had not considered it. Perhaps in the future they will place more importance on that connection. 

    There were several other interesting presentations and fantastic connections made. We’ll work to maintain and build these connections with hope that perhaps it will bring more food processing to Jefferson County. 

What Will Happen To Our Cows?

Jay Matteson

Being good environmental stewards is in everyone’s best interest. Clean water, clean air, clean soils are critical to life. Every industry and person should conserve our natural resources and reduce our impact on the environment, especially our climate. Let’s be clear, our climate is constantly changing. As most are aware, there is a huge debate about how much is caused by humans, to what degree natural systems cause the changes, and even to what degree our sun impacts climatic cycles. In the end, the hysterical arguments and claims damage the ability of people and industries to work together, calmly, to clean up our environment and make the world a cleaner place to live for our grandchildren. It seems sweeping bold claims and major pieces of legislation are the way, instead of common, sensical, reasonable steps forward that allow for people to adopt, adapt and embrace. 

    In the New York State Legislature there is legislation, the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), that is intended to make New York State the leading state in adopting climate change legislation. The CCPA requires a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. By 2050, the CCPA sets a standard of zero greenhouse gas emissions within New York state. Let me say that again, within thirty years, greenhouse gas emissions will be eliminated within New York state, according to the legislation. All sectors of our economy, including agriculture, are targeted. 

    In thinking about this initiative, I immediately am concerned for our dairy processing companies. Natural gas is important to our food processing industry. How will these companies operate their plants, which employ about 300 people in Jefferson County alone, if they cannot use natural gas? Thirty years is not much time to identify new technologies that can replace natural gas in food processing. How will these companies afford transforming to new technologies? We use trucks, trains and planes to transport our raw products and value-added goods across the nation. Will we tell companies you can’t license fossil fuel powered transportation in the state but if transportation comes in from outside New York state, we allow it? Will the cost of production be driven so high in New York that these companies will shutter their plants here, possibly moving to other states? If New York causes companies to move their operations to other states where the regulatory impact is less, have we created a false utopia? Whereas, supporting research and development, and rewarding good voluntary environmental stewardship efforts, might keep business in New York state. 

    What about our cows? Many of us have heard or read about efforts to regulate cow flatulence. Will our livestock be targeted in the CCPA? Will livestock be allowed in New York state? Cows do emit greenhouse gases. I’m not aware of any filters that can be placed to control dairy air. 

    Of equal concern in considering this important issue is how will sweeping new regulations impact our average citizen’s finances. I read some reports from environmental advocacy groups about how jobs will be created because of the CCPA. Certainly, some will. The real question is how many more jobs, that the average citizen needs, will be lost because companies cant keep up with regulations and mandates? If people cannot afford to feed their families and have a reasonable quality of life, the last thing they worry about is the environment. There are very few people that will live like hermits so they can be good environmentalists. 

    As I began, so will I end. One of my favorite books is Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. Aldo is regarded as the father of conservationism. The book has much wisdom about how the environment works. It is wise to do everything reasonably possible to minimize our footprints on this planet. As big and wild as it may seem, it is still the only home we have. But we humans are here, and we must measure how we impact each other in the things we do and the regulations we pass. 

How Will Mandatory Overtime Pay Impact Agriculture?

Jay Matteson

Agriculture tends to be a labor-intensive industry. Dairy farms depend upon labor for everything from milking cows to planting and harvesting crops.  Apple Orchards have only a few weeks to harvest apples in the fall.  Vegetable farms need help all season long planting, weeding, harvesting and processing their produce. New York agriculture is second only to California in the cost of farm labor as a percentage of the value of receipts for products sold.   Farm labor is 13.2 percent of the value of farm receipts in New York state. The national average is 9.5 percent

    High risk is part of farming especially when you consider the dependency on natural cycles and Mother Nature.  A cold wet summer or hot dry growing season can equally spell disaster. Diseases and illness can severely impact crops and livestock.  A disease or crop pest can sweep in on the wind unexpectedly and wipe out crops. Livestock herds may be impacted by illness, requiring money and labor to help nurse a herd back to health.

    Most important, when thinking about the impact of labor on agriculture, is the seasonal vulnerability of the farm.  Short windows exist to plant and harvest crops. These periods are intense and workers hired to perform planting and harvest know coming in to the position, they’ll work many hours to get the job done.  This is part of farming and is expected.

    Mix all of this, with slim margins and, for dairy farms, no control on the price they are paid for their product, and you have an industry that is very susceptible to negative impacts from government imposed arbitrary mandates. In New York state minimum wage increases and now a proposed mandate for overtime pay for farm workers could place many farms, or their workers, in jeopardy.

    The New York State Senate and Assembly have introduced legislation to mandate farms pay their employees overtime if they work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. According to a report from Farm Credit East, “The Economic Impact of Mandatory Overtime Pay for New York State Agriculture” (February 2019), estimated farm labor costs would increase 17.2 percent. This is in addition to the impacts of increasing minimum wage.

    Combined together, mandatory overtime pay and scheduled minimum wage increases will cost our farms in New York state $299 million, the Farm Credit East report indicates, as well as driving down net farm income by 23.4 percent.   That is hard to fathom.  New York state is imposing mandates that will drive down net farm income by almost 25 percent, according to Farm Credit East, a respected and well-established financial institution. It is also notable that payroll taxes and workers compensation costs, paid to New York state, will increase.

                It is not hard to anticipate how farms will adjust to these government mandated expenses. In talking with farm owners, there are three common replies. One common response is that they will reduce full time employees to part time workers. Part-time workers do not receive all the benefits paid to full-time employees and the farm will have several part-time workers coming in shifts to do the work of a full-time worker. This allows the farm the ability to avoid mandatory overtime pay.  Another response is to cut benefits paid to workers to make up the difference in overtime pay. A third common response is to shift to less labor-intensive crops and reduce the farm workforce.  In any of these scenarios, it is a lose-lose-lose situation.  The farmworkers will lose, the farm will lose, and New York State will lose. It is that simple. A question for you, how much more are you willing to pay for your food?

Power Lines Can Inhibit Farm Production

Jay Matteson

Imagine you are a farmer. It is the beginning of spring and you are excited to head out to the fields to start preparing ground and planting your crops.  You’ve had a tough go of it for the last couple years because the price you get paid for your milk has been lower than what it costs you to make the milk.  You’ve lost a lot of equity in the farm and had to borrow money to cover operating costs. But it is spring time and with spring comes renewed optimism in the growing season and what lies ahead for your business. 

    The farmer arrives at one of his fields to find new cable lines installed on existing utility poles that are on a right of way given decades ago.  The new cable lines go directly across the middle of the field and are barely 12 feet off the ground.  The tractor you are sitting in needs 15 feet of clearance to pass under the utility lines.  This is not a good way to start the season after the previous bad year. What does the farmer do? 

    Some might say farm around the utility line.  If the farmer can find a way to get his equipment to the opposite side of the field, the farmer could plant as close to the right of way as possible.  Previously the farm was able to plant underneath the existing lines. The only production lost was the footprint of the utility poles. Now, because the farmer cannot plant underneath the utility lines, the farm loses several acres of crop land. If the farmer paid $3,000 an acre when he or she bought the land, the economic loss to the farm quickly builds. In addition, the farm has lost feed production for livestock, that will need to be made up elsewhere.  With large modern farming equipment, it’s not easy to change the cropping pattern to maximize a smaller field.  This decreases potential production. The economic impact of the low utility lines quickly builds into the tens of thousands of dollars.

    The National Electric Safety Code (NESC) prescribes minimum requirements for clearances between overhead utility facilities and land traversed by vehicles. NESC Rule 232 covers the vertical clearances of wires, conductors, cables and equipment above the ground, roadway, rail, or water surfaces. Rule 232 indicates the minimum clearance for communication lines on utility poles, usually the lowest of all lines on poles, is 15 feet, 5 inches.  This distance is measured at the lowest point of the line “sag” to the surface below, such as a farm field.

    Rule 232 indicates that if facilities are out of compliance with current NESC standards, the applicable utility shall be responsible for rectifying the situation. If the facilities are shown to follow the standards, but the farmer desires the line to be elevated to allow for access or equipment operation, the farmer is responsible for paying the cost of the work to elevate the line.

    If utility lines are encountered that are in the way of equipment, farmers should never attempt to touch or move the line. The line should always be considered “live” and dangerous. Farmers are advised to contact the appropriate utility company. If the farm is not successful in determining the name of the company, then they should contact the local electric company.   In the event the issue is not being resolved satisfactorily, then contact the New York State Department of Public Service at 1-800-342-3377.

                Our office is currently working with a local utility company to rectify problems with new utility line installation.  The company has indicated a strong willingness to work with our farms and that is very appreciated. If any farmer has questions, please call our office at 315-782-5865.