Will We Ever Reach the Ultimate Success for our Commodity?

Today you can fly from St. Louis to LA in 4 hours. Not so long ago it took 5 months by covered wagon to make this same trip, under ideal conditions. If you had problems, Denver became your new home. Your wagon could cover, on a good day, 20 miles. It carried no more than the capacity of a modern pick-up truck. My point is obvious, I hope. Once you move ahead you never really go back. What will it be like in 50 years to grow apples in New York State? What I know for certain is that it will be very different.

I used to operate a fruit farm. I was fourth generation. At that time, we packed most of our own fruit. It was almost a daily ritual that my Father would come into the packing house to visit. The first place he always went was to the cull bin. I knew the second place with certainty! He would come to question my sanity. He would tell me that I was discarding better apples than he ever raised? What was wrong with my management skills? My Father is gone today but I never really was certain that he could accept the grading standards of those days. The truth is, each year we produce a higher quality product. It has better condition and eating ability. Our consumers have grown to see this “perfection” as the new norm.

Everything in 2018 is better than it was a few years before. ‘New” is a short-lasting piece of time.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

Change is the norm in everything, not just in agriculture. We must be willing to change with the times. Markets, varieties, customer preferences last as long as the new cell phone models. To accept this, we need to be willing to constantly self-examine all aspects of our business. People will always be looking for someone else to grow their food. Gone forever are the days of populations that were self-sufficient in this task. Not so long ago the world population had more people living in urban settings than rural. In short, this means people are looking for someone else to provide the food and fiber they need to survive.

To meet this reality, we must continue to invest in all forms of research. We need to be willing to accept that change is the new norm. To resist or ignore this is a path to ruin. This means we must take long objective looks at how we both grow and market our crops. Referring back to my Father visiting my packing house, he was not comfortable with how rapidly the industry was evolving. His way of doing business had changed and was never coming back.

I have just concluded my 15th year of helping a modern fruit farm with harvest. I am very grateful for this opportunity to experience first-hand the new reality in fruit production.  I think it is important if I am to be credible in representing our industry that I get my boots dirty on the ground. If I did not, I would be like my Father visiting the cull bin years ago. People will always need fruit. It is our challenge to understand their needs and then surpass their expectations. Those that are successful in the future will always be ten steps ahead of the pack. Embrace the challenge and support those that are willing to invest in ways to improve today. We truly are a work in progress.

Perception verses Reality

Recently I was asked to appear on a three-person panel to discuss modern agriculture in a heavily agriculture-based area. The people in attendance were from all walks of the community. It was not my typical audience where I traditionally am speaking to my peers. I am not certain which side learned more that day? The other two people on my side of the panel did an excellent job of speaking to the audience. They were neither too technical not so simplistic to serve no real message.  The underlying message that I took from this day was that here in the heart of agriculture, land not inner city, we were totally a mystery to these interested people.

I suppose I expected a greater appreciation of agriculture here in farm land. I did not expect those who have lived their entire life with concrete verses soil under their feet to appreciate our challenges. The group was attentive but almost in shock when hearing the individual financial, compliance and marketing challenges that farms were up against. In the end, I got the feeling they saw us as a group who had just informed them that Santa Claus was a myth. They wanted the safety of knowing their food, which was grown just down the road, was safe and CHEAP. One man came up to me at the end and stated that he really did not care about our challenges. He had more than enough of his own. He wanted his food “perfect and cheaper.”

I personally dislike when people throw statistics at me to win their point. It is fair to state that today

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

Americans have very little knowledge of 2018 agriculture. They all have busy days and too many distractions to really care if we are being profitable or over legislated. What they see is that apples in the retail aisle are priced in dollars per pound not pennies. They only see perfect cosmetic fruit and must assume this is simply how Mother Nature delivers it to us. Since they are all consumers they feel they have the right to address an opinion on how we farm regardless if it has any reality to their desires. For example, they wish us to deliver this cosmetically perfect fruit to them totally organic and pesticide free. They also want us to do this with the minimum use of the ten fingers we seem to feel are critical to this delivery. Life should be so simple.

I personally had hopes that the millennials would bring a new awareness to the science of modern agriculture. I had hoped that they would not be so easily swayed when the topics of GMOs and the true safety of all our food supplies grown within our borders.  This does not seem to be the reality. This group wants more organic and absolutely zero GMOs. They do not wish to understand how modern agriculture techniques can reduce pesticide and fertilizer usage. They do not want to know why we need to import our labor when we have US citizens on unemployment. In short, we seem to be a group that wishes to ignore progress and continue to farm as we have for centuries. Here their “perception is reality.”

I take from this experience that we are even more in need of consumer education. Since we are all consumers we should share a common respect for the process of producing that food supply. I was wrong to assume that there was a stark difference between the people living in a rural setting verses an urban one. In fact, people living in the rural see first-hand the expensive machines going by their homes that in many instances are worth more than their homes. Hard to feel compassion for those who can afford such machines.

I feel that marketing and new opportunities to address the public need to address this reality. We each fear what we do not understand. No one likes the first day of school or the first day on a new job. We each find ways to comfort ourselves as to what is happening outside of our world. We need to invest in finding ways to make their reality based upon truth more so than perception. We need to articulate our story and not allow all the messaging to flow from uninformed sources. We live in a world that if it appears on your phone it must be true. If we wish to be understood, we must be willing to invest in the message.

 

Ways to Reduce Your Labor in 2019

Everyone who is managing a commercial apple orchard in New York State is concerned with whether they will have enough labor to harvest the new crop. I operated my family farm for over 30 years. Too often I was guilty of the concepts I will challenge you with. I know that what I am suggesting is not easy, but it may be the difference between you just surviving and seeing a profit.

To begin let me pose a question to you. Are you managing orchards that are productive but not profitable? Have the markets shifted away from these blocks? Will these blocks struggle to break even? If this is the case than you need to ask yourself why you are continuing to operate these blocks. Bushels alone do not guarantee profit. If those bushels have to be sold at a discount to move them are they doing you any good? Have newer strains found shelf space in their place? Am I having to house extra men to harvest these apples? Am I mowing, fertilizing, spraying and pruning these blocks often times more in an effort to meet color requirements? More than 100 apple varieties are grown commercially in the United States. Fifteen of those varieties represent 90% of the production.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

Most of agriculture’s history enjoyed the fact that if you were able to grow a crop you could find a use for it. Distribution systems were such that you could find a “profitable” utilization for your efforts. In essence, if you grew it there would be a consumer waiting for it. Those days are gone here and globally. Today we need to farm from the shopping cart to our farm gate. They decide if they want your product. They have more choices than demand for each product. They are no longer in a consumer position to accept marginal quality.

Recently it was announced that the Gala variety has replaced the Red Delicious (dates back to 1870) as the most popular variety. Long standing varieties such as the Macintosh, that was discovered in 1811, and the Cortland, that was discovered around 1900, are understandably under great consumer challenge. Newer varieties have arrived. Consumers have diversity today in the market place. As they review and cast their vote at the checkout counters we need to take notice. They are sending us clear messages as to what they prefer. If we ignore this then we should not be surprised when our sales for older varieties decline.

I am not suggesting that any one variety is no longer profitable. I am asking each of you to evaluate your particular marketing program and react to those trends. At one time in my farm history I grew profitably over 100 acres of pears. The markets I was associated with made this a profitable venture. In the last years I was managing my farm it all changed. I was investing in removal of pears in favor of other newer apple varieties. What was once a sound program had shifted due to consumer buying trends.  As I alluded to earlier, I was guilty of holding on too long as well.

In conclusion, before you expand your housing take a good look at what you are needing to harvest. If you are gearing up to harvest crops that are productive but not profitable you need to step back. We all need to shift to meet consumer demands. The entire globe is eating better. Consumers everywhere have a higher income that allows them to select what they will eat. Be certain you are striving to match those trends.

 

Another Season Is Here Already

By the time you read this, assuming it does not get put on your future read pile, I will be back assisting in another harvest. I find these periods of helping with harvest vital to my staying in touch with you.  Yes, I was fifth generation farm family. The truth is I suspect that no matter what your craft, if you are more than 10 years removed from active duty your true perspective is flawed.  Much is the same as when I farmed but much is new.

I am a believer that if you wish to truly judge a topic it is best to experience it, if possible. A good example might be in education. If a teacher has not taught a classroom in over 10 years, I question if they understand all the baggage each child brings to class. Similarly, if a principal judges his faculty on his experiences of years teaching in the past I question his true perspective. My years of farming are a base, but I need to take off my dress shoes and lace up the work boots, in my opinion, to truly see the challenges. I am grateful for the opportunity to attempt to stay current.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

If all that I have stated to this point makes sense to you than I ask you a second question. How can our elected officials make sound decisions on your behalf? They can if they have access to people who wear those work boots and make the effort to enlighten them. If the “boots on the ground” crowd decides to stay away that void is quickly filled by those who have zero feedback from the farms. In the last few years I have been very encouraged to see new faces (many times with familiar last names) stepping up to make the effort to discuss the issues when called upon. There is no substitute for living the realities of agriculture 2018.

The last view point I wish to make is that of your consumer. We need to continue to inform and share our farming experiences with our consumers. Each year most of our consumers have no contact with you, the producer. They are not your enemy but they clearly have no sense of reality of your pressures.  On a daily basis I see farm vehicles drive by my home that exceed the net value of the homes they are passing. Is it any wonder the average consumer is left with the initial opinion that the farmer is doing quite well. The second startling reality that most of the American consumers has no idea how small a percentage of the Farm Bill goes to serving farms.  They assume their tax dollars are helping each of you at a very high cost to their taxes.

In closing, I am making the case that each of us must make the time to discuss our issues. We also must make certain we are current on our opinions. I find today a very big question that is floated to me is on trade. Make certain you research your answers before sharing one. As I have already stated, the halls of Congress are filled with people who have never stepped one foot on a farm.  Each year changes the narrative. It is essential we each keep informed and then be willing to share our opinions for the advancement of all.

My Observations from My One Acre Piece of Land

Unless your operation is in Maine or south of the Mason Dixon line we all pretty much sound alike. A second thing we all have in common is we are each in the midst of a total rebuild. What you grew two years ago, variety wise, may be less or more valuable today. In most cases the less valuable category seems to be growing. Your consumers have less and less awareness of where or how the apples they consume got to their respective store shelf. Local does still have its niche for some varieties but nationally it is being driven by four to five recognized varieties. Consumers are looking for honey crisp, gala, fuji, red delicious and their old personal favorite from years of shopping locally.

The per capita consumption is stable. Regardless of the introductions of newer varieties the shopper is still consuming about the same volume. This tells me that each year as new varieties emerge we will see it displace a once popular variety. The real trick is to predict which variety will be accepted and which variety will be dropped. To make an inaccurate selection can be fatal. Similarly, to hold onto a variety expecting it to remain in high demand once the consumer has moved on is equally fatal. Orchards today are much more capable of being worked to a different variety than those of the traditional style planting. While this can be done it takes time and delays necessary cash flows.

I have stated that there seems to be a centering of a top five variety list by the produce buyers. This list

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

may alter year to year. Each orchard is limited by its location. Apples grown in the southern portion of Virginia will not be able to compete with varieties grown further north. Similarly, just because the buyers want a fuji it does not mean you can produce it if your growing season is too short. We need to match our selections to our location.

The next area of commonality is the human resource factors. Regardless of where you grow apples you will be looking for some supply of guest workers. The peeked short term need for labor will always make this a reality. Canadian growers are equally dependent on sourcing guest workers. If you wish to grow apples on a commercial level you need to be proficient in sourcing guest workers and then providing good temporary housing. The truth is, there are presently more jobs than workers. If you wish to insure a supply of good help you will need to invest as much effort in this as in growing that perfect apple. Housing seems to be the most limiting factor in today’s market. If you do not have enough labor you will be forced to, at times, abandon some blocks to pick your higher valued crops on time.

Finally, your ability to gather good information will determine your ability to survive. You will never reach a level where you have all the facts. We need to collectively work to support research both for horticulture and market trends.  We need more than ever the ability to influence both our respective State and Federal public policy makers. They need to be kept in touch with all of the changing pressures we are facing. No matter if your farm is in Washington or New York or somewhere in between you need to be supporting efforts to influence sound applied research. Knowledge is power, and it never was truer than today on your farms.

Apples are a global product. They are grown all over the globe. They are being consumed today in more places than ever before. As the saying goes, if your choice is to be an apple farmer you need to decide how you best fit into this industry. We will be facing perhaps the largest domestic crop in decades. Many will have a strong year and for some who are unable to cope with the need to change this will be a very difficult year. We are all a product of a long series of choices. Be certain you are doing all you can to arm yourself with the most current information so you may make those choices.

In closing, I was talking to a grower recently. He offered that he intended to cut back his operation. I asked him if he was down-scaling?  He said no simply making wiser choices. He said there were areas that he felt the best he could do moving forward was break even. He intended to remove those acres and concentrate on the acres he saw profit potential. Often times less is not stepping back but moving ahead.

 

Unemployment Insurance on Federally Inegligible Farm Labor

We have each heard over the years about how New York State is a very difficult State to do business in. Equally, as property owners, we pay some of the highest rates in the nation. On the flip side our education systems from kindergarten to college rank among the finest. Unfortunately, this leads us to what I term “Reverse Darwinism.” In short, we see the most ambitious and educated having to flee out of State to find employment to match their goals. This leaves us with hard working families having to see their children leave to other areas. I personally have two daughters who now, for employment opportunities, live in North Carolina and Kansas.

On the national news this morning it was reported that 14 States are now enjoying the lowest unemployment in years. New York was not one of them. California and Texas however were. This tells me that other areas are finding ways to combine jobs and opportunities. Here in New York we just approved a State budget. Agriculture, the largest industry in the Up State by far, received a flat budget. All of agriculture is facing difficult times. Global competition is a reality not just a topic of conversation. Prices are simply not keeping up with costs of doing business. I was in Wyoming County earlier this month at a meeting with Congressman Collins and the under Secretary of Agriculture. Wyoming is the largest dairy county in New York State. The room was packed. It was reported that 17 dairy farms were for sale. The price of milk is averaging $4 a hundred weight below cost of production. Times are very tough for the largest farm sector in our State.

So why do I tell you all of this? Here in New York we do not seem to be able to not find ways to defuse good efforts to enhance our progress. While our budget was flat we did approve funding to help in areas of research and promotion. Could we have done more to stimulate and partner with privat

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

e business? Of course. The underlying cancer here is the cost of doing business here in New York verses outside the borders of our State. Despite the fact New York was not one of those 14 States with lower unemployment we have annually a very difficult time to find the human resources we need to staff the largest industry in upstate New York. As an industry we are forced to source labor from outside our area. Hence the rise of the legal federal program H2A. Federally and in EVERY OTHER STATE BUT NEW YORK such employers are exempt from having to pay unemployment on these workers because they are, by law, not eligible to ever be covered by it. Here in New York State we have passed a law to make these employers pay for unemployment on these employees that may never be eligible to draw on the fund. Depending on an employer’s rating this rate can be as high as 9%. To make matters even more ridiculous, now New York State Department of Labor is saying an employer has to include a value for the free housing they are required to provide under the federal law. This only increases the final value of funds an employer has to pay into this fund. Many of us are wondering why NYSDOL stopped at the value of free housing? We have to provide free transportation from their homes to work here and back to their homes as well. Maybe this will be added next.

In short, this is nothing short of a money grab to put funds in the general unemployment fund at the expense of the legal farm employers. In times such as we are experiencing this should be stopped and seen as a national disgrace.

Senator Betty Little and 11 other Senators have a bill (S 139) to remove this from being a law. Assemblyman William Magee has a similar bill (A 4480) in the Assembly to remove this as well. Unfortunately, in the Assembly this is not gaining any traction. This is the most scandalous piece of legislation I have ever come across. It needs to be removed. The fact is it will not unless we make some noise to protest this. Agriculture Affiliates and the New York State Horticulture Society have drafted just shy of 100 letters to the New York Legislators to ask them to act on this. If you agree with me that this is wrong than I ask you to address your opposition to your elected representatives. To simply sit by and allow this is wrong. As I already alluded to what will be the next way they can increase the base to collect more from our industry. If you do not mind paying for something you can never collect on than sit by and wait for the next new charges.

When Will We Stop Being A Work In Process?

I am going to ask you a simple question. You may GOOGLE this later to fact check my answer. What do the following companies all have in common? Dell, GM, Ford, Kodak, Block Buster, Micro Soft, Motorola, Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us, Sony, Yahoo, Xerox, Border Books, Blackberry, Polaroid and of course the home of the Twinkie, Hostess? They are examples of once strong companies that felt they owned the MARKET and did not need to invest in research. I might even be so bold to include the Washington apple industry. I can recall a few short years ago when Washington felt the entire world would always crave a red or yellow delicious apple. They scoffed at eastern growers for having such a vast line of varieties. I need not tell you, orchards in Washington State bear little resemblance to life in the not so distant past.

At the close of WW11 farms could actually conduct business with the attitude, ‘if we grow what we want the markets will consume it’. Business ran from the plow to the consumer. Today all is changed. Informed agriculture realizes that the flow is from the shopping cart back to the plow. Today we are many generations removed from an American society that nearly every family could lay a connection to some farm roots. The modern consumer craves for the taste of the produce from the past. The rise of grown local and the home grown labels that are today common. They want flavor and safety in knowing the produce they are consuming is safe. What they do not understand they shy away from. (GMOs for example.)

To meet this trend we must not be an industry from the above list. We must find ways to produce for the modern consumer. She is as diverse as the many cars on the road. Henry Ford was certain we all would be happy to drive ‘black’ cars. GM and Ford had to almost declare bankruptcy before they were willing to make much improved, longer lasting more fuel efficient cars.

The New York industry to its credit has been re-inventing itself. We have much more to accomplish. Not only must we be willing to offer newer, crisper better flavors to our consumers. They want us to do so with safer chemicals to both the end users and the environment. To accomplish this we need to invest in research. Not too long ago the industry voted to double its self-assessment for applied research. This spurred a respect for our willingness to change. The NYS Senate when presented with our story matched our contribution. Great news. The issue is are we doing enough and fast enough?

There are two major categories for research. Private and publically funded. Private is of course important but it carries with it the baggage of being both biased and self-serving. I am not certain if the general public always trusts BIG BUSINESS to make all of these decisions.  Publically funded research may be the way to go to meet the needs of a hungry industry for knowledge and in keeping the consumer’s confidence.

As a grower I tended to make my farming decisions heavily from Extension or University studies. I felt they offered a much more objective opinion.  We must find ways to embrace knowledge from all sides. The challenge is how to finance this? I think we are on the correct path. We need to continue to be willing to invest our own funds from our own pockets.  As I have indicated we have a new partner. That consumer who no longer has a distant agriculture tie to her food supply, I think is willing to see public funds to drive this innovation. The gains we make are not for the sole benefit of the few farmers but all consumers. You may grow apples but your family consumes food from the entire food supply.

So the correct reply to my title is I hope we never feel so complacent that we resist innovation. As farmers we claim to be GROWERS. We must always strive for new ways to be better growers. Investing in research is essential to our continued survival.

 

 

USDA RMA Sets Listening Sessions too Review the Apple Crop Insurance Policy

 

 

USDA RMA Sets Listening Sessions to Review the Apple Crop Insurance Policy

February 26, 2018

Since July 2017, many apple growers attended or participated in meetings held by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) where the Agency discussed concerns with the higher than acceptable loss ratios experienced by the apple policy in certain parts of the country. The law under which the crop insurance program operates requires that the ratio of loss payouts to premium and federal subsidy income must not exceed a 1:1 ratio. Loss payouts (indemnity payments) must not exceed the total sum of premiums paid by growers and the federal premium subsidy. The federal subsidy for crop insurance premiums has averaged roughly 65% of the total premium cost in recent years.

As part of the in-depth analysis of the current policy, the RMA has developed a framework under which they plan to gather information and develop proposals to deal with the identified problems.

The first stage of the process calls for the RMA to hire a contractor with substantial expertise in crop insurance to conduct a study of the apple contract and to seek input from growers and insurance representatives. The contractor selected by RMA is Agralytica of Alexandria, Virginia.

Today, the RMA announced a series of listening sessions to be conducted by Agralytica inVirginiaNew YorkMichigan, and Washington State.  (Click on these links for additionalinformation.)

The announcement of the listening sessions also included an opportunity for an individual meeting. Instructions on arranging an individual meeting is below.

If anyone would like an individual meeting, Agralytica staff will be available at the above locations. To arrange a time, contact Andre Williamson by cell at 240-432-0308 or by email at awilliamson@agralytica.com. Alternatively, anyone who cannot attend can submit e-mailed comments. Please us “Apple policy” as your subject line.

Feel free to contact me with any additional questions you may have.

 

 

      USApple.org Questions? Contact us at 703.442.8850

Annual Message

I have heard often that what happens in California is a good indication of which direction the country is heading. That may be true many times but for those of us here in New York State I think we may have a second read on this concept. Today California is deeply troubled by the reality that for farms to field a legal workforce they need to move heavily to the H2A program. This means that they must now become concerned with housing on a scale that frankly they are not prepared to cope with. No longer can they hire an employee and tell them to report to work the next day. Now they must provide approved housing for each new hire. Labor shortages are increasing in the West each day due to the requirements of compliance to H2A. I say welcome to our reality!

Here in New York we are seeing a sharp increase in the usage of the H2A program. The reality is that the labor pool that may migrate north is depleted and no longer able to fill our needs. To insure a labor supply adequate to meet your needs means you must make use of the H2A program. It may be cumbersome but it is workable if one follows the steps provided. Farm size has little to do with who is using this program. I know of several farms that are asking for only 2 employees. The point is, if you have a labor need no one is exempt.

Dairy continues to be the industry most at risk. We have seen countless attempts in Washington to get some relief for this industry. To date the seasonality clause remains the heavy lift. Many in dairy have expressed a strong desire to be allowed to participate in the H2A program. Some form of this may occur but thus far it remains a roadblock. The current H2C efforts if passed would offer some paths to relief. I see too many issues with this piece of legislation to ever make it to the finish line. The fact that we are still attempting to draft a good piece of legislation is the one bright take away from this H2C effort. If Dairy ever does get acceptance into the H2A program I think many will find themselves in the same position as California. Housing may be a huge barrier for this group to overcome.

Agriculture Affiliates/NYS Horticulture Society has agreed to participate in the 2018 Becker Forum. I have enclosed an agenda in this mailing for your review.  I would strongly encourage each farm to have some representation in Syracuse on January 15, 2018. We will have a one day review of many of the questions we will be facing both in Albany and DC in 2018. Second, we will have speakers from the State and Federal government to report on the most current news. We are offering a panel of three farms that have made the transition successfully to H2A. They will be a resource for all of you to hear what their observations of this process have been. As always we will allow a Q and A for you at the end to express your opinions. Please attend and consider sponsoring this program.

It may appear that we are fighting an uphill battle with regards to labor. I can understand this. I would

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

offer that we are making progress. Both in State and Nationally I see a broadening acceptance that Agriculture is very important to our economic security. Food security is a factor. From East to West we are seeing a centering of issues that I feel will only help to push sound guest worker legislation forward. New York State has been and will continue to be a leader in this growth. It is the participation of many of you that has kept our needs and issues current. We will with your participation and support continue to articulate your needs. I cannot state it more clearly that failure to be present when these issues are discussed is to surrender to concepts we know will offer only failure to our operations.

Thank you for your support;

 

Adverse Effect Wage Rates

State                              2017                              2018                                        %Change

New York                      $12.38                            $12.83                                     3.63%

Arizona                          $10.95                            $10.46                                     -4.47%

California                       $12.57                            $13.18                                     4.85%

Florida                           $11.12                            $11.29                                     1.53%

Georgia                          $10.62                            $10.95                                     3.11%

Hawaii                           $13.14                            $14.37                                     9.36%

Michigan                        $12.75                            $13.06                                     2.43%

New Hampshire              $12.38                            $12.83                                     3.63%

North Carolina               $11.27                            $11.46                                     1.69%

New Jersey                     $12.19                            $12.05                                     -1.15%

Ohio                               $13.01                            $12.93                                     -0.61%

Oregon                           $13.38                            $14.12                                     5.53%

Pennsylvania                  $12.19                            $12.05                                      -1.15%

Texas                             $11.00                            $11.87                                     2.42%

Vermont                         $12.38                            $12.83                                     3.63%

Virginia                          $11.27                            $11.46                                     1.69%

Washington                    $13.38                            $14.12                                     5.53%

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.