Growing Ag in New York

On Tuesday, December 12, 2017, Paul Baker who is the Executive Director of the NYSHS, was asked to address a Congressional

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

Committee concerning agriculture in NYS.  Below is his presentation.

Thank you for first of all calling this topic to the forum. The very fact that we are having this discussion is positive. Agriculture has always been a huge economic driver in New York State.  That being said I would caution that history is a report on the past. Simply because past history has reported a trend does not guarantee future directions. We live in a global economy that, due to rapid advances in communication and transportation, our planet is virtually becoming much smaller. No longer do oceans present huge barriers to trade. What happens inside the borders of New York State will have economic implications on all trade statewide, nationally and globally.

The question today is what can we do to grow NY AG? I would first offer that we need to accept that Agriculture by its very nature is not confined to local business alternatives. A New York farmer produces milk or apples for consumers far outside  his neighborhood or State lines. Agriculture does not face the same challenges as do providers of local services. A consumer may not like the price of a cup of coffee at the corner deli but she will not reach out or travel to a coffee deli in a faraway areas for an alternative.  His market place is dictated by supply and demand factors that are set by factors that are driven by national and global economy. An apple grown in a Western New York orchard has just as great an opportunity to be enjoyed by a consumer at a local Wegmans or in a home in Tel Aviv.

I feel we must help New York Agriculture to be competitive in this already described market. To fail to do so will send sales opportunities to more progressive locations. No longer can we feel that our New York consumers are ours alone due to their proximity. Yes the local trend will continue to have its niche but the lion’s share of the volume of products will flow to the larger market place.

I personally feel we can do much to place NY Ag in a strong competitive position. Our climate is our own. It is different from the desert climate of Washington State where the largest volume of apples are grown. Cultural practices that are suited for a California or Washington State setting will most likely have little applications for our New York farms.  For this fact alone we need to collectively invest in research to develop cultural practices that reduce pesticide dependence and increase our quality. I feel that this research should be a shared investment. The producers, I feel, need to illustrate to the State that this research is of value to them. They need to show that they have some “skin” in the game. Research is absolutely necessary for any enterprise to continue moving forward today. We should partner to make certain it is on target and constantly seeking fresher solutions to the new challenges of the day.

The acid test for you as a legislator I would offer is, how does this request strengthen or weaken our ability to be competitive?  We first have a collective responsibility to every New York citizen to make certain we are maintaining the purity of our water and land. The consumers have every right to expect that the bounty that flows from our farms is safe and nutritious.  Once meeting these standards we then must move to enhance the economic stability of agriculture in this state. There is a danger that societies can make that just because we have a history of a particular industry it will always remain. I need not remind each of you of the many industries that have continued but are no longer here in New York State. Agriculture will remain here only so long as it can remain economically solvent. If too many restrictions are placed upon it above the national norm it will seek relocation.

We are blessed with abundant water, rich fertile lands, a challenging climate and a huge market. If agriculture is to continue here in New York Sate it will because of the wise decisions both private and public powers make. We will dictate our own future. We have huge advantages here in New York State. My wish is that we will have the vision to see the entire picture and develop a strong path forward.

Food Safety Survey

If you have not already heard, there is still time to participate in the Local Food Safety Collaborative’s (LFSC) food safety survey! LFSC is a collaboration between National Farmers Union and the FDA. The survey is one component of a needs assessment to address the needs of small producers and processors with regards to food safety and compliance with applicable Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations. After discussion with many stakeholders it was decided to keep the survey open to ensure more growers could participate. Surveys will be accepted until October 31, 2017.

 The survey can be accessed at www.localfoodsafety.org/survey and is now extended until October 31, 2017. It is available in both English and Spanish. Participation is voluntary and should take no more than 20 minutes. Participants may also elect to be entered in a raffle to win one of twenty $100 gift cards.

We Need to Tell Our Story

Some of you may have taken the time to travel to visit your legislators in either Washington, DC or Albany, NY over the past years. If you had I am certain you were encouraged to make your conversations personal. Help put a face on the issue rather than some obtuse distant issue that never impacted anyone. The harsh reality is that legislators react most often to issues that could possibly increase or decrease their opportunities to get elected come next polling time. They need to be impressed that to not address this will impact voters in their districts.

Last Saturday marked the travel day from the farm I have been assisting this fall. I checked my personal records and the date I had last year was November 10. This is a difference of some 20 possible work days for these workers. They will be returning to their homes with a much lighter wallet simply because the crop was much lighter. Mother Nature is at times very harsh. When I circulated these men I asked if they planned to return.  In every case they were optimistic that next season would be better

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

and yes they would be back. In almost 100% of these men this is their only opportunity to earn much needed money for the families they have waiting for them in Jamaica. I am certain the story is similar for those from other countries as well.

As I was waiting with these men to be placed on buses to send them home I could not help but be impressed with other forms of agriculture that was traveling by. Huge combines heading to their next field were common. These farms had zero need for the labor these men had to offer. Perhaps even more important the products they were harvesting, while of value, offered little to employment to citizens in the community. The acreage on this fruit farm could potentially be used to service these combines. If they are so directed it would mean the loss of hundreds of local jobs year round that help in the storage, packing and shipping of the apple crop. Jobs lost means votes lost. Economic opportunities lost hurt communities.

Lamzy Brown, Tapper, Fingers, Lesbert, Rambo are some of the names of these men from Jamaica. They each have a story. They each are crucial to the community they come to harvest fruit each year. The reality is that if they did not make the trip each year we would not be growing apples but rather corn or soybeans. The local towns according to Google have populations of 1,423 and 1,295.  I have to think that the successful harvest of this fruit offers critical employment options in these communities. This story is repeated all over New York and across this country.

When we take the time to visit our legislators I ask you to put a face on the issue. Speak up for not only those in your communities but for the Lamzy Browns who are a critical part of your existence. I personally tire of the arguments from Washington as they debate but do not understand the issues surrounding the vertical implications of a sound guest worker program. I am sad to say that as I am drafting this the latest effort in Washington, DC is being carved up by people who have no skin in the game. Their lives will not be impacted back in those communities that depend on the successful harvest each year of the apple crop. The Goodlatte bill while not perfect would be a very positive step in addressing a very old and ignored issue in this land.

My

opinion is that it will be yet another effort destroyed by those who have perhaps told their story more effectively.

Help Wanted

We have perhaps created a perfect solution or perhaps we are the architects of our own demise. You make your own conclusions. Here are a few of my observations after being back on the farm once again to assist in harvest.

First of all, many of the farms have converted to the H2A systems of sourcing their labor for harvest. Some have redefined the term harvest and are expanding the duties to machinery operation, orchard pruning and packing house. The shift is rapid and in almost every experience once an operation moves to H2A they remain there. Many will, in the first year, only try a small portion of their needs. Most will convert 100% in the second year. Size of operation has little to do with which operation joins. The range is from very small to multi orders of several employees. The reality is that the traditional streams have eroded in both quantity and quality of workmanship.

Second reality is that there is a huge demand for domestic help. Farm after farm reports that they simply cannot find people to fill necessary positions in their operations. In many cases the labor pool is retired baby boomers more than younger ones. This shortage is opening up discussions with farms to consider writing broader responsibilities for new H2A employees in future contracts.

Generally, across the area, the shortages are not only on farms or packing house operations. Reports are common from all types of enterprises that they simply cannot source enough skilled

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

or entry level workers to meet their needs. Job opportunities exceed willing applicants. You may notice I said applicants not people. The reality is that too many US workers find life quite comfortable “collecting” rather than accepting a full-time job.

Generation Z, those born after 1998, are now entering the workforce. They make up 25% of our population. Studies have consistently stated that 62% of these anticipate a severe challenge to work with or for a Baby Boomer. Most of our farms and packing houses are currently managed by Baby Boomers! They will work for the millennials (those born 1980 to 2000)

at a higher rate This new generation of workers simply has little if any desire to work on a farm or in a packing house. Large milk processing plants cannot find enough help as they find this new generation will not conform to production rules. One being that no cell phones are allowed on the production floor during operation hours. Traditionally farms and packing house jobs have been a frequent place for entry level new employees to begin their careers. It seems in today’s market this is not the case.

One Congressman I talked to recently stated that he has grave concerns when the Baby Boomers finally exit the job market. He said the sad truth is most must work because their social security and pensions are not sufficient to cover their living costs.

The dilemma, as I see it, is that modern US agriculture is heading towards being 100% dependent on the federal governm

ent to not either remove the H2A programs or make them so expensive that farms can no longer do labor intensive crops. Between State and Federal legislation on labor we may see it impossible to farm in New York State. One simple reality is already playing out. Simply raising the minimum wages does nothing to increasing the willingness of new workers to look to our operations for employment.

If you ever wondered if you need to be involved in all of these debates over labor rules and compliance, I ask you to tell me where you see your workforce coming in the very near future.

Two Dynamic Topics are on the Table this Summer

RMA to Discuss the Future of Apple Crop Insurance in NYS

 I am certain each of you know the threat Mother Nature places upon your operations each year. To counter this risk, the RMA has developed an Apple Crop Insurance Program. Like any federal supported program there are those who question the fairness to the US taxpayers. Over the last five years the northeast sector, including Michigan, has suffered devastating losses due to climate related events. As a result, many feel that the cost to insure fresh apples in this sector is too expensive for the US taxpayer to continue at the same rate of risk. On the table will be talks to raise the grower dollar contribution to this program.

On August 16, in Rochester, New York, I will be attending and participating in an open discussion with the leaders of RMA as to the future of our Apple Crop Insurance Program. I will be very strong in my opinion that this program is absolutely essential to maintaining a healthy NY apple industry. Crop insurance is not cheap.  All insurance programs offer a risk/reward element. I have been very outspoken that without crop insurance I feel many very good apple operations would either be out of business today or be carrying a huge debt to cover these climate related events. As an industry, we are willing to pay for our insurance. The levels, however, can be raised to a level that prohibits participation.

H-2C

 Currently being circulated within the House of Representatives is a 46-page document that outlines the House vision for solving the agriculture guest worker issues. I have read this several times and applaud the House for putting so much time and effort into this study. It is in the discussion stages and there is a great deal of back and forth as industry and staff debate the content. In my opinion, this is the most complete effort to address this issue since Ag Jobs.

If approved and signed by the White House, this program would go into effect 18 months after passage. It would replace the H-2A programs. It is a much more enlightened document that offers a path forward for today’s agriculture to staff their needs while maintaining border security. Final wording is not on the table at this time, of course. I do see an honest effort to apply the needs we have been advocating for all of these years. The House is reaching out to the industry for comments and we will be there to offer constructive comments.

In short, if we can continue to draft this H-2C program, I feel it offers the most enlightened efforts to fix agriculture labor needs while maintaining border security. I am confident that we, for the first time, have a strong piece of legislation coming from the House that will offer security to our labor issues that have been in flux since 1987. I consider monitoring this document issue number one for the NYS Horticulture Society. We will keep everyone in the loop as this develops.

Who will be the farmers of the next generation?

It is a simple truth that as human beings we are most comfortable with the things we fully understand. New concepts present a challenge to this comfort zone. In most every instance I can imagine when confronted with change you need to accept it in small bites. To try to tackle an enormous change is, in most cases, a good formula for frustration leading to failure.

When I was an active farmer I tried to attend as many of the educational seminars that were applicable to my operation. Many times I learned as much from discussions with my peers at these meetings as I did from the structured presentation. In truth, probably well over 75% of the information was redundant to me or ideas I had tested and decided that they offered no practical usage on my farm. It was in that remaining 25% that drew me to these meetings. If I could learn what to do and often times equally important what not to do I felt I was moving ahead.

I had a recent opportunity to be in conversations with a group of growers about what was the cost of attending a seminar. The opinion was expressed that if it exceeded a set amount it was simply too rich and they were wise to not attend. Now of course all presentations are not great eye opening events. For the sake of this example let us say the fee was $100. What can you really buy today with $100 on a farm?  Maybe one day of labor from a minimum wage employee? If that seminar helped you to avoid a compliance audit, a housing violation, an EPA investigation was it then worth it? The answer is of course yes. Education has never been easy and it has always come at a cost. The farmer that will be successfully running a farm in the next decade will have embraced this truth.

I will not expose who has been quoted saying this but I fully agree with the statement. It is the grower that refuses to embrace change and adapt to these policy changes that will be out of business within 10 years or less. Not all changes are ones we advocated but when those changes become the public policy (Law) then we must learn to work around them. To ignore them is to make a direct call to being audited and investigated. Ignorance because you did not attend these workshops will never be an acceptable defense. The next generation successful farmer will be aware of these changes and be making corrective steps to deal with them.

I encourage each of you to make yourselves aware of the many opportunities you have to keep current on CHANGE.  It will always be waiting for you each year. Observe your peers that you see as doing well. Those that appear to be finding ways to meet these new demands. You can survive tomorrow but not if you refuse it and only operate as you did yesterday.

Spring 2017

Editorial – What Single Trait Drives Research?

  1. NEWA (Network for Environment and Weather Applications) Provides Fruit IPM and Production Tools from 400 Weather Stations
  2.  Bitter Pit in Honeycrisp on G-41 vs M9-337: Observations from an Orchard Visit
  3. Tannin Additions to Improve the Quality of Hard Cider Made from Dessert Apples
  4. Stress-Induced Watercore in ‘NY2’ Fruit: Causes and Mitigation
  5. News on Ooze, the Fire Blight Spreader
  6. Apple Harvest Platforms: Quantifying Efficiency and Determining Economic Benefits
  7. Insect Mating Disruption – An Alternative Pest Management Strategy for Long Island Tree Fruit Orchards

Spring 2017 Issue

Food For Thought

As we begin a new crop season I want to share some alarming facts about the food you will produce in 2017. Most of this data comes from a series of articles by National Geographic in March 2016. Hunger knows no borders. As a human race, we need to do more to salvage the nutrition we discard annually. This problem is global in nature. Each society and nation has its own particular reasons for this waste. The net result is nutritious food never reaches those who are starving.

Industrialized countries lose fewer fruits and vegetables in production, but consumers waste more. In developing countries more is lost in production, but consumers throw out less. Globally 46% of fruits and vegetables never make it to a fork. Every year 2.9 trillion pounds of food-about a third of the production never gets consumed globally.

You should be asking yourself where does this break down develop? In the US 20% is lost at harvest many times due to color or size. Wholesale and Grocery are responsible or a 9% shrink. As a consuming public we, on average, discard 19% of our food. Here in the US we discard as much as 6 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables due to aesthetic reasons alone. We buy too often based on our perception of perfection that has zero to do with food quality.

Today we spend almost an equal amount on food in restaurants as we do in grocery stores. Too often portions are served in excess of our appetites. In the last 50 years todays “cup of coffee” is actually closer to 2 than 1 cup. Dinner plates are 36% bigger than 50 years ago. Yet we continue to fill our plates only to discard nutritious food.

I share this with you as you consider that in today’s market place there is virtually no market for anything less than perfect. Maybe this will help give you the courage to thin a little harder or remove varieties that are no longer aesthetically perfect by 2017 standards.

Be Careful What You Wish For

In the last two issues of the Fruit Grower News the cover page has lead titles of “Labor Pains” and “Helping Hands.” In each month, the number one topic of concern is not over production but who will harvest this production. As the borders to the south become less porous and the birth rates in nations below the Rio Grande approach those equal to our own we are seeing less help appearing at our farms from north to south. Reality is hitting home that to meet the human resource needs of agriculture there is one route, H2A.

Many of the farms here in NYS have a long history of usage of this program. Many more are feeling the shortages and looking for the first time at a program they vowed openly to avoid. Their perception is correct about the shortages. In 2011 when we had 77,260 H2A workers in this country. In 2016 that number rose to 165,741. This works out to a 215% increase in 5 years. Everyone feels that 2017 will be higher still.  Companies are moving to this program simply because they have no certainty under the traditional models that they can fill their needs.

I think an important reality for those of you in the fruit business is that only 6% of this number will be picking apples. That means almost every type of agriculture, from every geographic region, will be drawing on this program. It is actually amazing that the current USDA staffs have been able to keep up as well as they have, given the many federal freezes on hiring of new employees.

I have heard for decades farmers complain about the program. Is it perfect? Is it at times too slow? Does it cost you more than your traditional hiring?  The answers to each of these questions is yes of course. I contend that until we find a collective national voice to give us the necessary guest worker system that we best try to work within this model. Imagine if those politicians we have been complaining to for decades about this program decided to drop it? Be careful what you wish for.