Progressive Dairy Farming

Alyssa Kealy

Dairy cattle are much larger than the typical companion animals, and they are more technically savvy. I am not saying that cows carry around smartphones, but they do interact with technology in their day to day lives. Technology in dairy barns is not necessary to keep the cows in touch with their friends (they prefer to socialize face to face or muzzle to muzzle), but to focus primarily on cattle health, comfort and production. 

    Here are several examples of technology you can find on progressive dairy farms: 

  • Fit Bits: Dairy cows wear pedometers and/or activity pendants around their neck. This tracks their activity, which can be indicative of overall health. If a cow’s device is showing abnormal activity patterns, such as she didn’t get up to eat, this can be a red flag for the farmer to give her a closer look. Activity monitoring is a proactive process because it allows those caring for the cows to see abnormalities before they become clinical symptoms of illness, which could prevent serious health issues or the need for treatment in the future.

    RFID (radio frequency identification) tags- These are the ear tags worn for identification; they are so much more than a monogrammed earrings. Today, ear tags have radio frequency that communicates with the farm’s dairy computer program, like Dairy Comp 305, to keep a profile for each cow with data like her breeding dates, any medical treatments, due dates, etc. as well as communicates with parlor systems to track milk production. Essentially, cows carry their medical records with them! 

    Moocall– This technology was designed specifically for cows about to give birth. A small meter gets fastened around the tailhead and based on contractions and muscle loosening; it will send a text the farmer when the cow is about to calf. With these alerts, farm staff will be able to respond to any needs of the mother and calf. 

  • Robotics: Some farms are taking technology to the next level and replacing manpower with robotics. Examples include robotic milking systems and feed pushers.

    Robotic milking systems- Cows can enter the individual stall at their leisure, are fed grain/supplements, and finished milking within minutes. Whether it is the snacks or the relief that milking often brings to the mammary system that keeps cows loitering around the robots, waiting for their next turn. Since manual labor isn’t needed for milking, this system gives farm staff even more time to focus on cow health and facility hygiene. 

    Robotic feed pusher- Cows can even have a robotic waiter help serve them food. Farms often feed once a day which means a big pile is distributed and meant to last throughout the day. Sometimes, as feed gets eaten and pushed along by muzzles, feed can get pushed just out of reach. Farms can use a skid steer to push the feed, or high-tech farms use a robot to travel along the feed area and push the food closer to the cows throughout the day, ensuring they always have access to fresh food. 

    Dairy farms that have larger cow numbers are turning to a different style of milking parlor, literally. Rotary parlors allow 100 cows to be milked at once on what is essentially a merry go-round equipped with milking equipment. Cows get on the rotary and go for about a 5-minute ride while getting milked, sanitized, and then meander back to their barn. This is a very expensive technology, however as farms grow and agricultural labor becomes sparser, farms are choosing technology to fill voids on the farm and ensure cows get the best, most efficient care, possible.

It’s Meeting Season

Alyssa Kealy

Winter has arrived and the holidays have come and gone for another year, which means its “meeting season”. This term is fondly used by farmers and agribusiness professionals in reference to a time of year, January-April, in which there’s plentiful opportunities for travel, networking, learning and strategizing at meetings and conferences. Agriculture is such a dynamic industry in which weather, procedures, and even regulations, can change overnight. This calls for continuous education each year to keep abreast of new and exciting research, best management practices, consumer preferences, and new legislation. 

Here is a highlight of one conference coming this spring: 

Presented by Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY and Northeast Dairy Producers Association (NEDPA), the Northeast Dairy Management Conference is a dynamic conference for all progressive dairy farmers in the Northeast. This biennial event, previously known as the NEDPA Conference, will continue to be a high-quality program with a slightly different name, yet the same mission – providing the latest information related to current trends and topics in the dairy industry through dynamic and informative sessions to re-energize businesses and improve performance. 

    The theme for this year’s conference is “Focus on the Future” and sessions will feature diverse topics such as on farm technology, protecting your brand, and environmental issues updates, as well as several presentations on navigating the changes, brought about by the new agricultural labor legislation. In addition to gaining invaluable information for dairy operations, you can also interact with other farmers and industry professionals from throughout the Northeast and beyond. 

    Some of the presenters at the 2020 conference include Jay Waldvogel – Dairy Farmers of America, Steve Bodart – Compeer Financial, Phil Plourd- Blimling and Associates, Cheryl Jones – University of Kentucky, Julio Giordano – Cornell University, Chuck Palmer – Michael Best and Friedrich LLP, Emily Stepp – National Milk Producers Federation, Karl Czymmek – Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY, Chris Wolf – Cornell University, Tom Wall – Dairy Coach LLC, and Rich Stup – Cornell University. 

    Additional conference highlights include sponsored pre-conference presentations, NEDPA Annual Meeting, Exhibitor trade show, Popp Award Presentations, Labor panel, and networking dinner. To learn more: https://prodairy.cals.cornell.edu/conferences/ne-dairy/ 

    Is your farm or agribusiness interested in receiving industry updates all year round? Consider joining the Northeast Dairy Producers Association today. With your membership, you will receive timely industry updates via e-newsletters, social media, website and a quarterly newsletter. In a recent survey of our current membership, the e-communications were one of the most valued benefit of membership. NEDPA has dedicated staff that are available to support member farms and as part of the NY Dairy Issues Team, provide assistance with crisis management. Along with its industry partners, NEDPA serves as a voice, a resource, and a network for the dairy industry in the Northeast. To learn more, visit: https://www.nedpa.org or email me at alyssa@nedpa.org 

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. 

A Change In Job, But Not A Change In Mission

Alyssa Couse

Since my last article, quite a bit has changed, both personally and within the agriculture industry. 

    First, I’d like to reintroduce myself as the new director of member services and industry relations for the Northeast Dairy Producers Association. The NEDPA Mission Statement reads: 

    “The Northeast Dairy Producers Association is an organization of dairy producers and industry partners committed to an economically viable, consumer-conscious dairy industry dedicated to the care and well-being of our communities, our environment, our employees and our cows.” 

    This not-for- profit organization serves its members by providing them with timely updates within the dairy industry, working on current issues, and supporting them and the good work they do for their land, animals, families, and their communities. One key issue that has been a focus recently is agricultural labor. The passing of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices act in mid-July, which is due to take effect in January 2020, could affect some farms significantly looking forward, but the uncertainty of what the future farm workforce will look like is greater now than ever. 

    While putting together a newsletter a couple weeks ago, I read an article that has been thought-provoking ever since. The article was titled “A vision of the future dairy workforce” by Richard Stup, of Cornell University’s Ag Workforce Development team. It addressed the current stigma surrounding farm work: low skill, low-wage jobs in a high-skill, high-wage economy. This has made recruiting, hiring and retaining quality workers a tremendous challenge. The dairy industry specifically seems to be at a turning point when it comes to the future of farm labor.  

    “The future of the dairy industry in the U.S. depends on reducing or eliminating low-skill jobs and replacing them with technology and high-skill jobs. This process is well underway, with the adoption of self-guided farm machinery, group calf feeders, robotic feed pushers and automatic milking systems.” said Ricard Stup, Ag Workforce Development . 

    As technology develops and farming becomes more technical and precise, the skills needed to be successful in the industry will also evolve. Cattle genetics continue to improve and with research and development, people are better able to understand which management strategies make cows the most comfortable, most productive, and most free to do what they do best, be cows. 

    According to Dr. Stup, the future dairy farm employee will need an enhanced set of skills such as heightened critical thinking and problem solving, systems analysis, and will need to not only be compassionate and nurturing, but also well educated and data savvy. These are the skills that make for a successful middle to upper manager on farm today, but these skills will need to be characteristics of employees of all levels. 

    The agriculture industry cannot simply wait around for the next generation of ideal farm workers to emerge; the need is now. It is no secret that it is incredibly difficult for farms to attract and rely on a local labor force, especially in times of extremely low unemployment rates. Thus, the industry has had to turn to a workforce of immigrants and people of diverse backgrounds. This process is often complicated with differences in lifestyle, language barriers, and navigating through paperwork and regulations. However, most foreign workers come with an invaluable work ethic. As their birth rates decline and more opportunities arise in their home countries, U.S. agriculture is in growing need of a larger demographic of future employees. 

    So where will the rest of the future ag workforce come from? They will most likely be new to the farming lifestyle and not born into the family business like in generations of the past. Many students are studying animal science and related studies simply because they love animals and want a career with them. Like our farm managers today, future employees will need to be versatile and embrace the balance between manual labor as well as office work, such as navigating cattle health software. Some will enter the industry to fulfill their calling to feed others and desire to do an essential work. The future of farm labor will no doubt be diverse. As the industry evolves and becomes more technical, more high-skill, there’s hope that farm labor will become a sought after, fulfilling career. 

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. 

NNY Recognized for Unique Intersection of Industries

ALYSSA COUSE

The North Country was recently recognized for the unique intersection of its two largest industries: agriculture and the military. The area received the honor of being named a Great American Defense Community at the Association of Defense Communities National Conference in Washington, D.C. The award was a result of a collaboration between Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County and the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization to bring this effort into the spotlight, quite literally. Association of Defense Communities (ADC) Director of Communications, Grace Marvin, and her camera man, Christopher Wright of Optix Creative, traveled across the country to film a promotional video highlighting the Cornell Small Farms Program Farm Ops project and how local veterans are finding their roots in agriculture. 

    The video featured three local farmer veterans. All three had very unique backgrounds and expertise from their military experiences and all chose use these skills in their next mission: farming. 

    Lee Igo and his wife Denise had lived on several bases throughout the country and despite being from sunny Florida, decided to make the Fort Drum area their permanent home after Lee’s retirement. The Igo’s now have a poultry farm, Igo to the Farm, in Depauville, NY where they raise their beloved birds and sell their eggs to locals. Fort Drum families make the largest portion of Igo to the Farm’s market. 

    Steve Conaway and his wife purchased an old dairy farm in Alexandria Bay, NY to call home after Steve’s retirement from the Army. With countless hours of research on the wine industry, the Conaway’s decided to take a chance on viticulture in the North Country. The Thousand Islands Winery was the first of its kind in the area and now produces about 125,000 gallons of wine a year! With being located near the beautiful Thousand Islands and the international bridge to Canada, the TI Winery is no doubt a tourist destination for locals and visitors alike. 

    Cody Morse had roots in the Fort Drum area from being raised on an organic dairy farm in southern Jefferson County before entering the military. After leaving the Marines and returning home, he connected with his co-founder, then Agbotic Inc. was born. This farm is a true testament to how the entrepreneurial nature of veterans can help them thrive in agriculture. Agbotic Inc. is comprised of a series of high tech greenhouse that allow for perfect growing conditions all year round. Another unique feature is the robotic system that spans the greenhouses and acts as an all-in-one piece of farm equipment that can perform everything from data collection, irrigation, and seeding just to name a few functions. The innovation that originated in a small test greenhouse in the front of the farm property now has expanded to a multi-greenhouse facility with several patents pending. 

    “You take a soldier who is defending the nation and they transition to a career where they then are feeding the nation and in many ways there’s skills that are transferrable there.” says Kevin Jordan, Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. As many farmers look to transition their farms to the next generation, it is evident that veterans are a viable demographic to help fill that void. With similar values, skillsets, and dedication to bettering the lives of others, farmers and veterans are built from similar molds. 

    Below is the link for the North Country cut of the video that premiered at the Association of Defense Communities National Conference in Washington D.C. Enjoy!  

https://vimeo.com/user13701449/r view/341709149/a87e94e886 

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?

Women’s Roles in Agriculture Grow Strong

ALYSSA COUSE

I recently attended The New York Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Conference in Albany.  The theme of the meeting was “Young Farmers- The Future Agriculture Superheroes”.  It is no secret that the agriculture industry has experienced volatility in recent years, whether it be changing markets, new regulations, or extreme weather, so investing in the future of the industry is more crucial than ever.  Building versatile, resilient, invested young leaders is becoming more of a focus and as you look around the room, there is no doubt a growing proportion of lip gloss wearing, braid-bearing farmers. 

    The keynote speaker of the conference, Vance Crowe, director of millennial engagement for Bayer Crop Sciences, discussed the importance of telling the story of farming and building relationships with consumers.  It is evident that this is a significant task, even just from the fact that millennial engagement and consumer relations are now job titles within agribusinesses.  More often than not, it is the mother, sister, aunt, etc. on the farm that takes on the role of managing social media pages, community events/tours, and newsletters. Most women have the inherent finesse to connect emotionally in creative ways, which is key to building relationships with consumers these days.  In addition to online or written outreach, many farms today are incorporating more opportunities for visitors to get a hands on experience. 

    Some farms take advantage of their home being a tourist destination and participate in some form of agritourism.  Agritourism involves encouraging visitors to a farm/ranch for any agriculturally based operation.  Activities offered can be equine boarding facilities, u-pick fruit and veggie patches, farm tours, hay rides, petting zoos, and open houses just to name a few! This can also be an extra source of income for farms and an opportunity to diversify from everyday production. Such experiences are quite literally being craved by consumers today as they yearn to learn more about when, where, and how their food came to be.  This need stems most directly from the fact that many young people today are four to five generations separated from the farming lifestyle.  What the agriculture industry once took for granted was the innate trust and knowledge of the food system that once was, when almost every family had a part in the production from dairy farms to road side stands.  Today, less than 2 percent of the population are involved in production farming.  Yes, those 2 percent are feeding themselves and the other 98 percent.  Thus, reestablishing people’s connections to their food and how it was produced is a growing need.

    Agritourism was another area we focused on at the recent conference, specifically the new Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act.  The “Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act,” now part of New York’s General Obligations Law (“GOL”), provides that owners and operators of agricultural tourism areas “shall not be liable for an injury to or death of a visitor if the provisions of General Obligations Law Section 18-303(1)(a) – (e) are met.” Statutory requirements for protection include directional signage, employee training, warning to visitors concerning inherent risks of farm activities, operator provided written information, visitor responsibility signage, posting of notice of right to a refund, and operator duties. In a nutshell, in order to protect visitors and business owners, there must be posted signage stating any potential risks and well trained employees to help ensure safe and enjoyable experiences.  When thinking about compliance for your agritourism business, think like a paranoid mother of a toddler! What can they get into? What could go wrong? Then make a sign warning against those actions.  For example, if guests are able to feed livestock treats, warn them to be cautious of being nibbled, because fingers look a lot like carrots. It is important to make signage specific to the operation and not just post a few general warning signs. To ensure that coverage requirements are met, it is best to work with a lawyer.  

    For more information: https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/Press%20Releases/Inherent_Risk_Guidance.pdf

    Women’s roles in agriculture continue to grow exponentially.  Based on observations of the crowd at recent leadership conferences, you can expect the female voice to become louder throughout the industry in the years to come.  In addition to becoming great farmers, they will become leaders in technology, marketing, and communications.