Testimony Given to Wage Board

On Monday, August 31st, along with a wide cast of concerned people, I offered testimony to the NYS Wage Board. It was very encouraging to hear the voices of so many people. In all the opinions offered by those in agriculture I felt they presented a very clear vision of what could happen. It was nice to hear voices from younger future farmers in this discussion. In all, I was very pleased to hear the effort put forward.

I am sharing the two testimonies I have offered this year. I can only hope that calm cool minds will see the wisdom in not making this transition any more costly. As many people stated, they accept the legislation, they are asking for time to transition under this act.

Apple Facts

Fruit farm A expects to harvest 120,000 bushels of apples this year. History has told them that they should expect, on average, that a person will harvest 100 bushels/day. So this farm will need 1200 man days to harvest this crop. The farm has 24 beds. This means each bed (man) should pick 5000 bushels. So this man has 50 days to accomplish this. In the past the men have averaged 60 hours per week. If we are forced to cut each man’s hours back to 40 hours per week than we will need more days to harvest or more men to accomplish the job.

Weather and fruit ripening dictate that we do not have more time. We must accomplish this task in the 50 days. So the only solution is that we need more men. If a man picks 100 bushels each day then he will harvest 400 bushels per week. So 120,000 bushels divided by 400 bushels will mean we need 300 man weeks if we hold the worker to 40 hours per week. So we have gone from 24 men harvesting 120,000 bushels in 50 days to now needing 30 men to pick the crop.

So we will need 6 more beds and pay transportation cost of $1300 per man, Visa of $190 per man an additional $150 per man travel for extra time and food from port to port. So Fruit Farm A will have to first construct housing for 6 more men. Second, the additional travel will be $1640 plus free housing while on  the farm per extra man. This is $9840 additional variable cost to get the same amount of work completed. His costs have risen by 19.5% to get the same amount of work done.  Plus the costs of new housing.

In short, this is a deal breaker. The original 24 men will not be happy only getting 40 hours per week. Realistically I expect this group to source employment in other regions. The idle time will no doubt become an issue. Buyers of this crop will not offer a premium for this fruit. They will source the highest quality for the lowest price.

In short, this fruit farm will be priced out of the market. His cost per bushel will be higher than other regions. He has no way to cover the extra labor cost. The employee will be forced to find employment in another state. Packing house jobs, storage, trucking and more will be lost.

There is a reason that for decades agriculture has been exempt from overtime. The seasonal glut needed makes it impossible to fill harvest jobs for such a short window of time. The perishable nature of this commodity is what makes farming different. The fact that we offer overtime at any level will not attract new employees to meet the  seasonal needs.

In conclusion, I think New York State agriculture can and will adjust to the 60 hour level. Many will

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

choose to drop out or convert to agriculture that is mechanized. To move this to a lower level will force a drastic change in our industry. Farmers do not have to farm in New York State. It will be difficult but if they wish to farm they can relocate. I fail to see what industry will rush to fill the void by this exodus. I am asking for a study to validate my claims. To rush to 40 hours without understanding the net effect will be irresponsible. There is no need to add additional burdens on this industry.

Testimony Presented to Wage Board in Syracuse, NY, March 13, 2020

Early in March I had to run an errand to the east side of Buffalo, NY. I was traveling on a major route about 8 AM. The traffic was only a fraction of the normal weekday. In truth, the roads back in the country had more traffic. This was a reminder to me that here in 2020 we are as a State totally committed to the 40 hour work week. This single regulation is the deciding driver to the length of the work week in the non-agricultural environment.

On the farm we do not have the luxury of saying it can wait till Monday and a fresh set of 40 hours. Livestock has to be fed. Animals are giving birth. Cows need to be milked. Fruit and vegetable crops need to be protected from frosts, insects, disease and ultimately harvested at the proper time. The 24-hour necessity of applying these skills makes it impossible to dictate one 40-hour period each seven days that can be able to do the proper job.

Farms of all types are dealing with live products. Just like a doctor cannot tell a pregnant mother to only deliver in his set 40 hour period of service. The current 60 hour standard will impose economic pressures on our farms and their employees. Commodity prices will not offer a bonus to farms who offer overtime wages. If a farm cannot maintain production costs below sales offerings it will go out of business. The loss of this singular farm unfortunately will, in reality, have little impact on total supply. However, if this story is repeated enough it will impact community values. What will have an immediate impact will be the employees who no longer have a job. Really how have we helped improve the quality of life for these employees?

Overtime came into play during the American depression. The unemployment rate was soaring. FDR saw long bread lines and people seeking some employment. He instituted the 40 hour work week. Any hours after 40 would mean the employer would have to pay 150 % of the agreed wage. FDR was quoted as saying no employer would be willing to pay this and remain competitive. The end result was that it forced employers to curtail hours and reach into the unemployed to offer employment. Same amount of work but now it was being shared by more people. In today’s agriculture we do not have a waiting work force wanting employment for many diverse reasons.

We are an import state to meet our seasonal workforce needs. Employees will have little interest in coming to New York State if they cannot get the maximum opportunity to earn wages in a very short window of time. Simply put, employment options in other states will be the benefactor of such legislation. Farms will be forced to divert to less labor intensive crops. Production will contract. Business and employment will decline. Again how are we helping anyone?

November 3, 2020 Election Day

The fast-approaching elections will be upon us before we know it. As a farmer they may come upon you faster than other people. Once harvest begins few of you will have time to devote to anything but harvest and family.  It is with this in mind that I am addressing this message. The great thing about living in a democracy is that right or wrong those who gather the most votes win the right to direct public policy. The flip side of this is that not always does the candidate with the most votes have the ability to make wise decisions.

The last 18 months have been incredibly stressful for all of us in agriculture here in New York State. In my opinion, the passage of the Farm Labor Act last year will have the greatest impact on our state’s agriculture going forward. At the last moment before the Act was voted upon there was a provision for a Wage Board to be put into place.  This Wage Board would have sole power to determine the direction this Act would have moving forward. A series of public hearings were crafted to report the public’s opinion of this Act. There has been only one so far. The Covid Virus has derailed previous well intended plans. There are rumors that we will have hearings held online before the end of the calendar year. The fact that we may have something with such deep consequences as these hearings not held in a public forum is very disturbing.

I recently made several calls around the State to growers and those running for office. I was trying to

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

see if I might encourage some face to face meetings with the farms and those running for office. The idea in theory was good. However, both sides were reluctant to hold face to face meetings due to the Covid Virus. End result was a failure to trade opinions between the parties. To me this is a huge failure. How can those running for office understand those they will be representing if they cannot have a dialogue? The pressure to have public officials elected that understand the current issues and are also in touch is critical.

The pandemic has caused deep economic gaps in our economy. The lack of commerce will be felt in less sales tax revenue. Legislators will be scrambling to fill this short fall. I also fear that legislators may have become a bit too used to enacting policy without going down the traditional channels. It is imperative, as we recover from this issue, that we work together to heal our economy. This can only happen if we have trust and open discussion.

I understand your time is limited. I am asking you to make every effort to research the candidates to elect the ones you feel will listen and enact sound policy. I am not advocating for any one candidate. I am not advocating for any one party. I am advocating we return this November the absolute best representatives that truly have your best interest in mind.

The winds of change are all around us. Some changes are healthy. I am suggesting that sound change comes with a price. That price is the time you take to research and vote for the best people to monitor the changes that will come our way. Without your efforts, you may be very alarmed at what changes we may harvest. That would be the highest price to pay if we failed to vote and vote responsibly.

New Crop in 2020 But is There Anything Else New?

There is a famous saying, “If you do the same thing over and over-looking for a better end, why should you expect any new outcome?”

Since early America we have been growing apples in New York State. Always received as a favorite fruit by the people consuming them. Primary usage has been fresh eating out of hand, cider or baking of desserts. Later we introduced apple sauce to the mix. Near the end of the last century we tried to link apples with health. In my mind only limited market success. Nothing negative but not really a shot in the arm for movement.

Fast forward to 2020. We have asparagus and strawberries every day of the year. Fruits and vegetables no longer have seasons associated with them. Today’s commodities are expected to be on the consumers shopping lists year-round. What are we offering new in 2020 other than a new club variety to be used as it was 300 years ago? Let’s be honest here and admit we are in a bit of a rut.

I took the time to drive around the area recently. I saw incredible innovations in horticulture skills and

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

applications. I witnessed an operation inside a major apple packing plant that was combining apples with potatoes, cucumbers, onions and carrots. This was to move 20 pounds of produce to national distribution. The combination of including apples with other commodities was moving product. It was keeping apples in the daily usage. It was not a stand-alone product, but it was moving product!

I think we have become victims of tradition. Ford Motor began making one car model. Henry quickly observed he needed to make different models, colors and even trucks. We live in a time when anything NEW has a noticeably short shelf life. What I am suggesting is we have a time proven product but a very stale delivery. For example, is the target of our promotions the housewife alone? True she has held most of this responsibility overtime. Ask yourself, how does an item get on her list? Have we as an industry offered enough fresh stimulus to rate being on this critical list?

I personally think we have failed miserably for years to influence the buying power of children. Disney certainly saw the wisdom of making entertainment designed for children. They In turn influenced the adults to become consumers. Children have special needs. They have loose or missing teeth! They have braces that make eating a challenge. Do we ignore these children during this critical time or search new ways to deliver our product to them in a form they can enjoy? I think slicing has been a success here. Question here is, have we done all we could to develop this market?

Open your imagination again. Peanuts grown in the south found a great partner in the north in grapes. Introducing the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hot dogs and french fries, macaroni and cheese and so on. My question is what product are we searching for and willing to promote to become our “peanut butter and jelly sandwich?’

Apples are a great product. However, I think we need to reintroduce the product to a new consumer. Every promotion will not be a winner. I think the challenge for the apple industry is for the marketing and sales departments to keep up with the horticultural advancements I witnessed in the modern orchard. We can not only improve the orchards. Our job is not completed until our product is in demand on a daily basis. Yes, it is a challenge, but as farmers I think we do our absolute best when faced with challenges.

Send me your ideas for the new apple “peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

Surprise! What Did America Learn About Agriculture?

It is hard to believe that this Virus could actually be a blessing in disguise. Humor me if you will and let us review some new perceptions that the US public may learned about agriculture.

To begin with, for the first time in most consumers shopping experience they were concerned about empty shelves in grocery stores. Most Americans never seriously ever questioned where the food was processed or, for that matter, where or how it was grown. In the beginning of this cycle they were mostly concerned about a shortage of toilet paper! Once they hoarded a safe supply, they began to notice that some food items were in short supply. Staples such as milk, meats and produce were suddenly in tighter supply. How could this be in America?

Everyone has heard the term “supply chain.” Again, I doubt many ever gave it much notice. The Corona virus however was having its way and impacting this chain. Packing facilities were not exempt from this pest impacting employees. When key numbers fell to this virus there simply was no alternative but to shut down and conform to new health guidelines. Replacement employees were not to be found. Was it really possible that the farmers were telling the truth? There was a limited supply of trained and willing employees to step in to fill this gap in the supply chain. Domestic citizens were receiving supplemental income and unemployment benefits. They were not willing to replace this workforce. Employers across this land were in short supply of workers. High unemployment yet no workers?

The national news reported that we were not short of milk or pork. What we were short of was key employees in the food chain.  It only took a short time for people to realize how short this chain is between farm and their dinner plates. Farms were dumping milk and diverting animals to alternative landing spots.

For many this was the first time they had ever been out of a job. As weeks stretched into months

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

bank reserves dwindled. People were forced to look to new sources of food for their families. Not since the Carter administration had we seen long lines of cars awaiting not gas but food. Food banks reserves quickly evaporated. New programs had to be created to make diverse care packages for those in need.

New consumer preferences sprang up in our stores. People were now more concerned with value that was within their budget. Stores reduced the total number of items in favor of traditional staple food items.  Durable food items such as apples, onions and potatoes suddenly became a wiser food purchase.

What I hope will come out of this pause in our normal food chain is an awareness that our food supply is not a certainty. It has needs and we all need to address these needs in a realistic manner. Our human resources in our food chains do have limitations. Those who select to work in this chain are not easily replaced. Just because we have high unemployment it does not necessarily mean people will flow into all jobs.

In conclusion, agriculture is a major player in small business. People too often lump farms in a separate group. In truth, they are perhaps the most important small business in our society. They create the food for our tables. When we hear news clips about the hard times that this virus has impacted on small business, think of the American Farms in this group. We all are important links in this nation supply chains.

Lessons from the Past

 

If we are honest with ourselves, I think most of us in the short run are slow to accept changes. We do not like situations thrust upon us from outside forces. In retrospect, it is often these changes that have saved us. They have forced us to stop our daily grind and search outside of the box for new solutions to everyday needs. History will support me in that innovation is encouraged when there is an emergency. We are seeing this currently with how the Covid 19 Virus has inspired new discoveries in our health care delivery.

I fell that fruit production is also at one of these crossroads. If we are going to be able to supply a fresh product to our consumers we will have to do so at an affordable rate. We are price takers yes. My observation on this is a bit different. As production costs have risen so also have returns to the farm.  My observation of over 50 years is that too often the per unit return is always enough to cover net production costs but very little to go towards renewal or profit. This fact is why we continue to see the number of farms annually decline. Those that survive, in my opinion, have accepted the challenge of innovate or perish. Survival of the fittest. This occurs in natural selection as well as farming.

Labor has been and will always be a challenge for our industry. We have such short term needs for labor that it makes it impossible to expect local communities to supply the necessary labor. Migrant inflows of short-term labor, while increasingly expensive, has always been sourced. I cannot recall a single farm that failed to find some degree of labor during these times of need. So long as this availability persist, we will not quite reach the tipping point of seeking a new solution.

In fruit production I see three periods of short term labor intensive need.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

Once the task is complete, we do not need the labor. Pruning, hand thinning and harvest are the three I have in mind. In my opinion we are currently at a crisis as to how to complete these tasks in a cost-efficient manner. To annually apply large numbers of increasingly expensive hand labor surely will reach a breaking point. My fear is, that as an industry, we have not reached a level where we accept this fact. The cotton industry, upon the close of the Civil Warm was saved by the cotton gin and the automation of planting and harvesting of cotton.

Our packing lines are in fact light years ahead of the cultural practices in our “modern” orchards. Many of the skills used in our packing lines need to be taken outside to our orchards. Use of cameras and infra light technology needs to be directed to our cultural needs. What is needed is the research push from the complacent production side of the fruit equation.

For the last two years the Horticultural Society has been in Albany planting the seed of such a change. We need to concentrate funds to direct technology to address the need for computer generated procedures on our trees. We believe that we may already have most of the technology to perform each of these before mentioned tasks. What has been missing is the catalyst from the growing industry that it Is ready to apply such technology. We have already been working with a high-tech company that is interested in such work. They are now only on the outside looking in. We need to encourage them to proceed and that upon completion we will be ready to apply this service.

Really what it always comes down to is that we seldom pursue the new technology until it is absolutely necessary. I again refer to what is happening in real time with the Covid 19 Virus. We must learn new skills to function in our orchards that will allow us to control our production costs. I think it is the correct time to encourage our efforts in a new, more progressive manner. Change can be a very positive driver under the correct leadership. We need to learn some lessons from our past.

A Final Farewell to George Frederick Lamont

On March 13, 2020 we all lost a generational person. George was simply in a field of his own.  I find it very “George” that he passed on Friday the 13th. He always had his own spin on any event. I think George’s greatest gift was he was never satisfied. This is not to say he was a negative thinker. On the contrary he simply felt we just have not researched enough to be content. He unlike most embraced change. If everything was to remain fixed, we would all be driving horses. To George it never was a question if the glass was half full or half empty. If we were questioning the state of the bloody glass it was long overdue to get a new glass.

I will not begin to list his many personal and industry accomplishments. To all of you, like myself, we each have a favorite story of just how George Lamont interacted with your life. My first memory of George was in the living room of my home growing up. George was the youngest member at this gathering of forward-thinking apple leaders.  He was already looked upon as an innovator that deserved to be heard by seasoned leaders in our industry.  If George was involved in any discussion it was a certainty that he would be questioning why we were not heading in a new direction.

Today the fruit industry is facing grave challenges in marketing, new labor regulations, varietal shifts

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

and a list that seems to increase daily. In truth this was the world of George Lamont. He always projected a calm air of confidence that we would survive the current challenges and rise to a better place as a result. For every question there must be an answer. It may take a while to uncover but it was always there if you had the imagination to look beyond the present.

Even in his later years he created challenges most people would not ever consider. The last time I personally talked to George was at Jim Allen’s retirement party. He told me that he was living in Saranac Lake. I asked him why there? He quickly named the highest mountains in the Adirondacks. It was his personal challenge to climb each one. I do not know if he ever finished this last project. If not, it was certainly not for trying.

As I have already reported we face numerous challenges ahead in our industry. We do not know today how we will resolve these new hurtles. I guess we each should ask ourselves if an 80-year-old man can have the vision to climb the highest peaks in the Adirondacks than we should not feel any mountain that lies ahead of us is too tall. When we do solve this new series of challenges do not be surprised if you hear George in the back of your mind ask you “What took you so long? We still have much to do.”

George you will be missed but never replaced. Word of advice George be a little patient with Saint Peter! I doubt he has had many the likes of you to deal with!

Farm Labor Wage Board Hearings

Last June the New York State Legislature passed the Farm Laborers Fair Practice Act. It has many new regulations for the new rules of farm worker employment. The two most obvious rules were the establishment of a 60-hour overtime limit and the right for farm workers to join a union of their choice. At the very last hour during final debates a Wage Board was added to the bill. The singular purpose of this wage board is to determine if the 60-hour standard is fair and accurate. This board, upon review, may hold it at 60 or lower it to a lower number. It cannot remove it or raise the limit above 60. This wage board is to be made up of three representatives. One from NY Farm Bureau, one from the AFL-CIO and one from NYS Labor.

One of the unsettling aspects of the passage of this Act was that there was no set time for the industry to adjust to this new 60-hour standard. Other similar passages in other States have always allowed a 5-year or longer period of time. This was very obviously omitted from this Act. Therefore, the industry has no security that this 60-hour level will remain a standard. Lurking in everyone’s mind is the very real possibility that the newly established wage board will institute a lower level.

The Wage Board will meet five times in early spring. This will range from February 28 to April 23, 2020. These will be public hearings at which time people may have three minutes to make a statement as to the ruling in question. It will be absolutely essential for many voices from agriculture to take the time to express their concerns. Failure to do so will send a strong message that agriculture is in full support of a lower standard for overtime on our farms.

All concerned citizens will be afforded the opportunity to express their opinion. This means advocates for a 40-hour standard will be sharing the stage. We must counter this by offering concise logical reasons this simply has no economic room at this time on our farms.

I will be in attendance at the last 4 hearings. I personally will offer comments at two of the hearings. It is

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

so critical that despite your very busy work schedules you present at least at one of these hearings. We will only curtail future damage if we present a consistent argument. Below you will find some supporting reading for you on this. You must register on-line before the hearing. You will not be offered an opportunity to speak if you do not register. Below you will find the web address for you to register. www.ny.gov/content/flflpa-wage-board-hearings-sign

If you have any difficulty feel free to reach out to me for help.

You may struggle with what to say. Three minutes is really not very long. They stick to the three-minute time. Do not waist time with polite openings. Get directly to the issue. You will be asked to leave a written copy. The fact that you present will be as important as what you say. Your silence will be filled by voices for advocates for 40 hours. Can you really justify this? This is perhaps the most critical battle you will ever have to face. Farming in 2020 has no room for survival at 40 hours. The grocery stores will be fully stocked but not with food from New York farms.

Message From Brian Reeves – PLEASE PARTICIPATE IN THE WAGE BOARD HEARINGS THIS MARCH AND APRIL

 As you can see by the attached announcement, the NYSDOL has scheduled 5 hearings across the state for the newly appointed Wage Board.  It is imperative that farmers and farmworkers turn out and tell their stories.  If we are to have any chance of convincing Albany to keep the overtime threshold at 60-hours, we need to tell our story of how lowering the threshold will threaten the viability of our farms.  While our economic story is critical, we must also make sure that farmworkers turn out also and tell why they do not want their hours cut any more.  These hearings come at a bad time for us, many of us don’t have many of our workers hear yet and we will be getting very busy soon, but we must make the effort to show up and be heard.  I have attached some guidelines on how to have your workers testify and I believe Farm Bureau also has some tips on testifying.  Please reach out to me if you need any help.

 Brian Reeves 315-243-1660

 NYSDOL Announces Farm Labor Wage Board Hearings

The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) has announced that the wage board will hold five hearings across the state, beginning this Friday and going through April. The wage board was created by the recently enacted Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act and is statutorily required to hold its first hearing by March 1st to consider lowering the current 60-hour work week threshold for overtime. Under the Act, the Wage Board must hold at least three hearings at which the public will be afforded an opportunity to provide comments.  The board will hold five hearings in various parts of the state and consider the input it gathers from farmers and other stakeholders.

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher, a NEDPA member from Madrid, NY holds one seat on the three-member wage board. The other two members include Brenda McDuffie, appointed by the DOL Commissioner, and Denis Hughes, representing AFL-CIO. McDuffie is the chair of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and President and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. Hughes has served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and is past President of NY AFL-CIO.

Public hearings are scheduled as follows: 

  •  Friday, February 28– 11am – Albany – New York State Museum Cultural Education Center, Clark Auditorium, 222 Madison Avenue, Albany, NY 12230
  • Friday, March 13– 11am – Syracuse – Onondaga Community College, Storer Auditorium,  4585 W. Seneca Turnpike, Syracuse, NY  13215
  • Monday, March 23– 11am– Binghamton – Binghamton University, Symposium Hall, Center of Excellence Building Innovative Technology Complex, 45 Murray Hill Road, Vestal, NY 13850
  •  Thursday, April 16– 11am – Long Island – Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville, NY 11738
  • Thursday, April 23– 11am – Batavia – Geneseo Community College, William Stuart Forum, 1 College Rd., Batavia, NY

    All attendees are encouraged to preregister. Those making public comment will be scheduled in the order of registration. Individuals can register at: http://www.labor.ny.gov/farmwageboard.

TALKING POINTS FOR FARM WORKERS AT THE WAGE BOARD HEARINGS

 1.Overtime after 60 hours

Most farm workers I have talked to have said they want to make as much money as they can to send back to their families.  At first, the payment of time-and-one-half sounds good until the farmer explains that they won’t be able to pay that much and will try to limit their hours to close to 60 per week.  Most farmworkers are not pleased with the reduction in hours per week, but often times 60 is not that much less than most weeks they have worked in the past so they can live with it.  But most workers have made it clear that if the hours decrease much more, they will go to other states which will freely allow them to work more hours and make more money per week.  Explaining this to the farm worker is critical so they can explain in the hearing they don’t want this restriction on work and will try to go where they can get more hours.

  1. Mandatory 1 day of rest per week which the worker can opt out of and if they opt out, all hours worked are paid at time-and-one-half

The vast majority of farms have determined that they can’t afford much overtime, so they require one 24-hour period off each week.  This automatically reduces the potential number of hours a worker will be paid for each week and again the workers are not happy about it.

  1. I often hear farmers talk about how much less money their workers can make working in Mexico.  Whenever labor advocates hear this they bristle at the comment and claim that this is the USA and the pay and/or housing should be much better than Mexico.  

A better way to approach this subject would be to have the farm worker talk about the opportunity that working in the US provides, and describe the decent house his family can afford in Mexico, and how he is able to provide a better living for his family because he has a chance to work on our farms in the US.

  1.  I would suggest having conversations with ALL of your workers (both domestic and immigrant) about the purpose of these hearings and if you have any doubts about the language comprehension, consider hiring a good translator to avoid any misunderstanding later. I hope these tips are helpful and should only be followed if it fits for your farm.  The more discussion you can have with your farm workers about the issues the more comfortable they will be talking about them when the time comes.  

 

Life is a Series of Choices

If you really stop to think of it every one of us is on a different life path. Yes, we may have many similarities with family and friends but none of us are exactly alike. The reason is because when presented with a “life altering” decision we each have different keys to making that decision.

There is no one perfect formula to how to manage your business. Every farm has select pressure points. In 2020 you will be asked to begin to make choices as to how to coexist with the new Farm Labor Act here in New York State. One choice you will not have is to decide to ignore it. It is the law so we must accept it for what it is and learn to function within its rules.

Most every person I have confronted is nervous as to how to deal with the pending possibility of having a labor union on their farm. At the Becker Forum this last January Brad Goehring, a wine grower from California, addressed the group. California has had many seasons of dealing with labor unions. His message was really quite simple. Your help really has no desire to join a labor union so long as you choose to be a good employer. Less than 10% of the farm labor in California is currently under union direction. Farm workers do not want to be told what they can and cannot do by a union. They most certainly do not wish to have to pay dues.

I feel very confident in stating that as an employer you value your work force. You have bu

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

ilt your team many times over decades. It is the single most important production piece in your portfolio. As needs and wages changed you found ways to meet these demands. In short you made choices that were in the best interest of your farm and everyone associated with it. This is what being a good employer does. You do not fear a union organizer coming to promise new things which they in truth have no control over. They can claim to say they will get workers higher wages but in truth they do not have that power. You on the other hand can act on your promises.

In 2020 we will need to illustrate to our legislators that we are choosing to comply with this new legislation. To try to undermine the basic tenants of the Act will only encourage new legislation that is not necessary. The Democratic controlled Senate has very little in common with production agriculture. From Niagara County to Albany there is only one Democratic Senator. Senator Rachel May in the 53rd district in the Syracuse area is the lone Senator. Senator Tim Kennedy from Erie County in the 63rd district in South Buffalo is the closest. To further illustrate the divide the Republican Senators in New York have in excess of $5 billion of farm assets in their collective districts. The majority of Democratic Senators have a grand total of $365 million in farm assets. We have an enormous educational challenge ahead of us if we are to garner the needed votes to approve the funding for all the various agricultural programs that flow through Albany.

So, we end by accepting that individually and collectively we have many choices to make in 2020. Individually I trust you will make the best choices for your farm and family. Collectively we need to invest in educating our legislators as to the mutual need for a strong and progressive agriculture in New York State. Unfortunately, we all cannot live on a farm in New York State. We all are consumers of the tremendous products and clean water that are a product of our choices.

2020 year of Opportunity and New Directions

You did not select being a fruit farmer because of the constant repetition in the work. Farming is, at times, too unpredictable but it certainly stretches your personal skills to the max. Let’s take a moment and try to for see what might be lying in wait for us in the next year.

To begin, it will be the first year under the new farm worker bill. Every farm will be attempting to maximize the work schedules and fall close to or slightly above the new overtime limits of 60 hours. I am not too nervous over this as I see it having some side benefits as it forces employers to place higher emphasis on the work tasks assigned. We will each learn to meet this challenge. Honestly I see this as a challenge but need not be one that will drastically put farms in grave risks.

The next needed fresh look or perhaps opportunity will for each farm to stop and reassess the variety

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

break down in their portfolios. As an industry we have always seen new varieties enter and in time push aside older ones. The only difference today it that this evolution seems to now come at a faster pace. The consumer will have the final verdict as to what they will place in their cart. Our farms will forever, moving forward, be driven by this shopping cart choice. Take the time to ask, observe and then act to make certain you are investing those new 60 hour work weeks in the correct spot.

Thirdly we need to understand that the marketing order will be up for certification in 2 years. This offers a great opportunity to review past directions and take a fresh look at how this order can be structured to best serve the present needs of your farm. I strongly encourage you to maintain the order. That being said I just as strongly need you to ask yourself how you want the order to be administered to best help you bring improved financial returns to your farm. If you see the order as an expense than I think you have failed to give the order the direction it deserves to be an asset. Orders only work when they have the support and creative inputs to be successful.

I think fruit production in the future will be different. That is good. We began by agreeing we are not the type of worker who can survive 52 weeks a year doing the same task. We are lucky living here in the north. Once a year it forces us to take a step back due to weather to review what we are doing. Spring will be knocking on your door too soon. Take Mother Nature’s cue and review before you plunge into perhaps outdated tasks. The future is yours to design.

Callie Baker –Lessons She Taught Me

Last Friday evening my foreman passed away in her sleep. She was going to be 12 this December. She was by my side as I wrote these messages to each of you. Her dedication and loyalty was a constant reminder of exactly what it takes to be a farmer. She never complained about today but instead looked forward to tomorrow. As they say in agriculture, hope springs eternally each year. To her it was the excitement of just the fresh air hitting her as we rode to our next destination. In short, she never complained and looked forward to the next new adventure.

Her passing made me pause. Nothing lasts forever. Everything worthwhile needs hope. My question today is, are we on the verge of an enormous shift in all of agriculture? I see the erosion of the traditional family farm. The family farm is still the base but economic necessity is making those that continue need the core of generations before. Recently we loss John Fowler. He was fifth generation. He did not get to where he was alone. It took dedication from many Fowler’s long gone.

Change is going to happen in everything we come in touch with today. Farming is not exempt. To build the base necessary to have a commercial farm today it almost has to come from inspiration from generations before you. I have often jokingly referred to farming as the “curse of our Fathers.” Most of the large farms of today are a result of generations learning their trade and expanding to adapt to change.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

I said earlier that “everything worthwhile needs hope.”  I am very concerned that not all those who are willing to take up the challenge of agriculture will always have that feeling, like Callie did, that tomorrow would be exciting and full of opportunity.

As a fruit farmer you collectively agree to have funds deducted from your account to invest in applied research. In the short run, funds could most likely be better used to buy that new tractor you desperately need. Research is a gamble, with no certainty to success. The only certainty you have is, if you do not have research you will stagnate and fall by the wayside. There would be no new orchard systems or exciting varieties to grow without it. Research is for the future. Research offers hope and new opportunity.

Callie reminded us all that no matter how good things are today they will not last forever. Change is on the horizon. Farming is not for everyone. In fact, it is for a very select few. Life depends on the constant renewal of food supplies. We must not allow the remaining few who are willing to accept the “curse of their Fathers” to ever lose hope.

Our challenge then is to somehow educate, enlighten and convince all those mouths we feed each day. We have no choice but to protect agriculture and all those who are willing to accept the challenge of feeding us.

Callie would hate to think that there never again would be a pickup truck window rumbling down a farm lane to ride in. For all the future “Callie’

s” let’s make certain we keep this industry full of hope. Time will record if we allowed this industry to pass away. Remember nothing last forever