Time To Act

Most of you will not read what I am about to write for a month or more. That is not that important except for the fact it will be approaching Spring and the time to make very definite plans on your source of labor for 2017 is approaching. The status of labor supply under the Trump Presidency remains uncertain at best. As a producer in New York we must decide if we are entering the race against Mother Nature to produce a new crop before the realities of winter in New York end our growing season. We are not California and blessed with a very long, extended season of growing opportunities. We get one shot each year to produce one crop.

Paul Baker

If you have any intentions of entering the H2A program for the first time I would contend that the hour of decision is upon you. Very quickly the time needed to prepare for this will have come and past by you. Unfortunately, we do not have an “overnight” order plan for you to participate in. Each operation is unique. Each farm must assess the risk it is taking in this quest to source the needed labor for their operations success.

For this discussion, let us not consider what may happen in Albany before their legislative session ends in June. Today lets you and I play “immigration roulette.”  If you are going to remain static and continue as in the past you need to be aware of the risks you are assuming. How confident is your belief that come that critical hour you will have the necessary hands needed to harvest that singular crop in 2017?

I receive, on average, at least one call a day from a producer telling me of his issues with ICE or Border Patrol. This is up over previous years. Most calls have a repeating story line. It goes like this:  One or more of your employees were stopped for some legal reason, speeding, license violation, whatever. They were not taken while at your place of business. In many cases the story is the same. These are people who have worked with you for multiple years. They have families and you count on them. However, when their records are checked against an E-Verify microscope they are revealed to be holding improper identification. If later released and you are made aware of this truth the burden falls upon you. It is a felony for your employee to present false documents for employment. If you continue to employ this worker, you are waiving your immunity and now you will face a very stiff fine, perhaps even being charged with a felony yourself. I see a rise in this type of intervention. Until we have a new policy of record we will see a renewed surveillance of people as to their legality. This becomes a virtual “northern wall.”

You can have your workforce checked for status today. If you feel certain they are legal I would consider doing this. My caution to you is be prepared to accept the results. You may find that long standing key employees that have been with you for years have no legal status. Your larger harvest crews may be cut in half. The reality is if you do have them checked you will most likely scare 100% of them away.  Those found to be holding bad paper will no longer be able to work for you.  If they do, you place your business in definite financial risks. You have no legal excuse for employing these employees.

Many people may feel I am advocating for the H2A program. I am not. I am advocating that you protect your own interests with logic and not emotion. Every one of us who has employed people on our operations has a respect and loyalty to them. We count on them as do they upon you. The sad truth is that the law does not have a statute of forgiveness for being here illegally. I doubt any nation has one. Each year the economic reality is we basically play “immigration roulette” with our help when we do not know their true legal status. If they fail this test then you may be leaving your entire year’s work out in the fields. Most farms cannot afford such a reality. So you have to ask yourself, as Dirty Harry said in the movie, “Do you feel lucky?”

Paul Baker NYSHS Executive Director 3568 Saunders Settlement Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132 FAX: (716) 219-4089  |  Cell: (716) 807-6827 E-Mail: pbaker.hort@roadrunner.com

 

Winter of Many Changes

By Paul Baker, NYSHS Executive Director

For many of you, this winter will be very demanding. The stress of unprecedented low rainfall and less than exciting returns has left many of you frustrated. In my experience, I have found such years the ones that demand you to be at your very best. When the markets are at their most demanding it is time to tighten your management skills.

Labor last year was, in my observation, at its most stressed level. I do not know one single operation that reported having to turn away labor. The exact opposite was the case. If operations were not in the H2A program then each morning they were waiting for the arrival of a very uncertain workforce. Workers were in high demand and they took full advantage of the opportunity. Shortages at key times in harvest were a huge reason why many apples were picked too late. The low resulting pressures have led to low returns this winter.

Farms of all types are looking at H2A for the first time. This is happening across the nation. Washington, California, Georgia, Michigan and Florida, the largest user of this system are increasing the usage of this program. It will be interesting to see if the bottle neck in Chicago will be staffed to handle this increase. If you are intending to use this program, you need to begin today and take full advantage of the time you are allowed to complete the multiple steps. Expect delays as Chicago simply does not have the manpower to make this a quick and easy turn around.

If this were not enough for you to be concerned about you need not look any further than to your state capital in Albany, NY. Earlier in the month my board (NYSHS) was in Albany and we learned of a bill S=2721 introduced by a freshman Senator from Manhattan. Senator Alcantara has introduced the most demanding bill in my memory for reform of farm Labor in New York State. This bill has all of the previous requests for collective bargaining, days of rest and more. In the past years such bills have reached out for overtime after 10 hours per day and after 60 hours per week for farm employees. This bill is asking for overtime after 8 hours each day and 40 hours per week. Needless to say this would be the most aggressive farm labor program in US history if passed by the State.

In talking with the Governor’s office they say “do not be too worried about this.” I find such a bill quite a worry and one we need to gear up to confront. We must present reasons why such a bill would do enormous long term damage to not only the farming industry but the entire Up State economy.

I went into Senator Alcantara’s office to discuss this bill. I met with her chief of staff. I asked what was the underlying reason for her pressing his bill? The answer was that she had heard that there were many Spanish workers in Up State New York that were not being treated and paid fairly. She herself is of Spanish origin so this was her way of reaching out to protect them. I asked if she has actually ever had a discussion with any of these workers. The answer was she had not personally ever met or talked to any. This type of emotional agenda is extremely dangerous. If passed, I need not explain what it would do to your operations and employees.

I leave you with the reality that despite low returns each of you must discover how to do a better job in 2017. If labor is tight this may be the year to remove marginal orchards. You must be creative in managing and sourcing your employee recruitment. Many of you have wished to remain politically silent.  I suggest that with the new Trump administration and what potentially could come out of Albany you simply must voice your concerns. To not do so is to offer power to those who do not have the most understanding of your operations.

Time to look into the TEA Leaves about labor in 2017

Hard to believe that we have begun yet another year. Last year will be easy for most of you to let go as it was one of extreme drought and weak markets. As a result, each operation has to self- appraise and reduce all unwanted risks from your operation. With such conditions, we each need to sharpen our managerial skills.

In 2016, we each witnessed the election of a new President. A Republican now resides in the White House and he has a majority in the Congress as well. As Craig Regelbrugge says, “the only certainty is uncertainty.” President elect Trump has made a tightening of the Southern border a top priority. Whether his wall will be in the form of bricks or increased security only time will tell. What we can expect is that traffic of undocumented north will be slowed if not stopped. This may lead us to be faced with an E-Verify national standard. This test is one that many feel more than 50% of the current agriculture workforce could not meet. All this moves to one conclusion, labor will be in short supply for our farms in 2017.

President Elect Trump has a slogan that he will “Make America Great Again.” We all hope he is successful. If he is able to inspire new industry, it will mean we will be in competition with non-agriculture enterprises for this already tight labor supply. With fewer new workers and a national acceptance that our current farm staff is aging, labor will be hard to find.

The H2A program, while not new, has seen tremendous new interest in 2016. Florida is today the number one State to use this program. Not very long ago Washington State had very few employers using this program.  Today Washington is in the top 5 in States to use this program. Michigan has moved in the last 2 years in a similar pattern. Nationally we saw 165,000 workers registered. This was a 16% increase. Chicago had 8,684 applications to process. Already a burden larger than the current staff can handle in a timely fashion. Congress is not moving to improve this capacity as we sit awaiting the largest new wave of applications to date.

If labor is a key component on your farm, I think you must look realistically at the climate here in New York State. Our minimum wage will increase by $.70. In real dollars to you when you factor in the related other charges it comes to almost exactly a $1 increase to you per hour. There is no such thing as cheap labor.

Second, if the NYS legislature should pass an overtime provision I fear it would virtually close the door on any migratory workers from coming to New York. History has proven that these workers will not stay if offered only 40 and many if limited to 60 hours per week. Michigan and Pennsylvania will be the beneficiary of our legislator’s poor decision.

So, here is where we sit. Florida can keep most of its labor busy for up to 10 months. If there is any need to migrate north Georgia and South Carolina will embrace all of this. The northern migration as we have known it is virtually over. If an employer in New York State is to attract workers, he will have to first take the time to recruit and then offer transportation, improved housing and a competitive wage package. This limited labor pool has many options. The roads in New York will not be filled with new faces looking to work on your farms.

Each of you needs to assess your own operations.  Can you pass E-Verify? Can you compete with your neighbor to hire sufficient qualified help? Do you have housing that will be attractive to this work force? Are you willing to take a fresh look at labor? For most of you, it will be easier to find a new tractor than to replace a key employee.

Agriculture Affiliates will be hosting a one-day conference in Syracuse, NY on January 30, 2017 at the Doubletree Hotel off of Carrier Circle. The day will be divided into two parts. In the morning we will have Craig Regelbrugge lead us off and give his read of the “tea leaves” as a result of the election. If you have never heard Craig, you should plan to attend simply for his presentation.  Next, we will have a three member panel that will give their experiences in the past and looking ahead on how they will staff their labor needs. We will have vegetable, dairy and fruit represented here. Next, Kam Quarles from Will and Emery law Firm in Washington, DC will reveal what he sees as the demand on labor across the country.

We will break for lunch and begin the second half of the agenda. In the afternoon, we will have speakers from NYSDOL and NYS Department of Health who will address how you need to begin to prepare to apply for H2A employees. This will be in effect a H2A 101 type hour. Joe Hobbs will then try to explain the role of an agent in his seminar on “Role and selection of an H2a Agent.”

Then we will have Ann Margarete Pointer give a few comments on how to be in compliance during this entire process. She will also be front and center to answer your questions on such questions as to your rights and responsibilities as an employer. She is considered one of the top, if not the top, farm labor lawyers in the country.

The day will end with a half-hour of general questions from the floor to all of our presenters. I think this is one day you need to mark down and make certain you are present.

You do not need to be a member of Agriculture Affiliates or NYS Horticultural Society to attend this conference.

For more information, please see information on this website.

Paul Baker NYSHS Executive Director 3568 Saunders Settlement Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132 FAX: (716) 219-4089  |  Cell: (716) 807-6827 E-Mail: pbaker.hort@roadrunner.com

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Crop Insurance time is upon us?

By Paul Baker, NYSHS Executive Director

Very soon each of you will have to decide to invest or not in the 2017 crop insurance program. In many ways it seems unfair in that we have not even gotten a clear picture of the success or failure of the current year. I would not be honest if I told you that each year is a carbon copy of the previous. Weather is a challenge regardless of your personal views on the topic of global warming.  I want to give some fresh perspective to you as to if crop insurance is a good investment (BET) or not.

Baker
Baker

I think we first must be realistic about the current times we are living in. While the economy is not surging people are for the most part doing quite well. We certainly do not want to see anyone go hungry. I have seen many statistics that suggest that here in the USA we waste nearly 40% of the food we produce. It is either not consumed or diverted at harvest or packing times for a multitude of cosmetic reasons. So this tells me that if our food is not virtually perfect it is discarded. Very high expectations.

We live is a fast paced society that only honors the very best. Second place is only famous if you work for Avis. Here are a few examples to illustrate my point. We have played 94 World Series.

Over those 94 years 35 have gone to 7 games. So 37% of the time some team is a loser because they lost one more game over the entire season. We have played 50 Super Bowls and outside of the Buffalo Bills how many fans can tell you the teams that lost those 50 Super Bowls? If you want a non-sport example how many people can name the Presidential candidate’s name that lost in the last ten elections?

I want to take you back to baseball for the last example. If in your major league career you fail to hit safely 65% of the time you will most likely be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That works out to hitting safely at a 350 batting average. Here is where life throws you a curve. As a grower if you were only successful with 35% of your crops you would be out of business,  To produce a product that will evade that already mentioned 40% defect rate you must be striving for returns above 80%. To do less over time will mean a serious decline in your profitability.

The reality is that the bar is set very high. The reasons why a piece of fruit is discarded is enormous. I need not tell you all of them. The returns alone for the inferior product usually do not pay the variable cost of production. Here is where we need to take a fresh look at the wisdom of crop insurance.

One needs to understand that insurance is a calculated gamble. When you take out a fire insurance policy on your home you are hedging against it burning down in the next 365 days. Nearly all of us carry this insurance. Nearly every insurance company will take your policy. I looked it up. You have a .000069% chance that your home will burn down. I am not suggesting that you cancel your fire insurance. I simply want to illustrate the risk factor.

Some growers tell me that they cannot afford to have apple crop insurance. When I see the frequency that apple growers have been compensated for a “sub-par” crop, I tend to think it is a pretty good “BET”. This year for example you may have dodged early frost, hail and wind damage. Who would have thought we would experience the driest summer in 100 years. The expression “size does matter” takes on a whole new meaning.

I think if you are a commercial apple grower you need to seriously evaluate the risk you are taking to not have this insurance. The market place has virtually no interest in anything less than 100%. With so many factors out of your control I think you need to look at crop insurance in 2017 as essential as any other fundamental cost of production. If your risk of not producing that perfect crop were .000069% I would certainly agree you can skip it! The program is set up to assist you in staying in business. It is not here to get you a seat on the beach next winter. If you are serious about being a producer in this market driven economy I think you need to take advantage of this tool.

Paul Baker
NYSHS Executive Director
3568 Saunders Settlement Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132
FAX: (716) 219-4089  |  Cell: (716) 807-6827
E-Mail: pbaker.hort@roadrunner.com

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What if?

By Paul Baker, NYSHS Executive Director

Sept. 1, in my mind, marks the official beginning of our fruit harvest.

Baker
Baker

Nationally and here in New York we are expecting another large crop. For the most part Mother Nature has been rather easy on all of the primary apple regions. No weather t r a g e d y means a big crop. Supply and demand usually tells us big crops drive down our prices. The question here when dealing with supply and demand is “who are our customers and how much do they wish to consume”?

We usually look at a U.S. crop to be marketed to a U.S. customer for the most part. Today with everything still on the tree and much yet to be decided politically by end of harvest I want to play the “what if” card.

Today the U.S. population is about 325 million. Our numbers are fairly steady as our birth rates have actually deceased over the last decade. We represent about 4.4 percent of the world’s population. China for example, the largest in population, is at 1.4 billion and India is close at 1.3 billion. Indonesia is a little shy of our population. Some important bench marks to keep in mind for this discussion are that since 1970 we have doubled the world population. Second in 2005 for the first time in history the urban populations were higher than the rural on the planet. In short more and more people are dependent on commercial agriculture as populations move from the land to the city.

The second area to consider today is what direction are we headed in this nation as far as public policy shifts. If we shift to a much more aggressive global market agenda we could see us seeking to take advantage of the 95 percent of the planet that does not live within our borders. While our domestic population remains quite steady globally we see the birth rates to be over twice the death rate. Combine this with the fact that that for many reasons we all are living longer we have an increased market share every year that needs our food. The end result is the planet needs every day more calories to take care of its increasing population.

So if the planet needs food who is in the best place to provide it? The world is for the most part static as far as land. What is not static is that as urban growth continues it takes farm land and converts it to urban streets of concrete.

Combine this with land that has not been as protected against pollution as our own we see areas of the world having to scramble to find good places to produce crops. Last we know that the most limiting element in crops is water. Fresh water is in high demand everywhere.

So that is table I have set before you in this mind game. While our population domestically is flat the rest of the world is expanding. New lives mean new demands for food. Water is critically short on most regions of the world. Here in the United States we have enormous under used water resources waiting to be put to its most productive usage. If we adapt a much more enlightened public policy that actually encourages agriculture rather than seeks to over regulate it we could see unprecedented growth in our ability to be the world’s bread basket.

The ugly truth is that despite every effort to suppress American farmers they have continued to be successful in delivering record crops. If we had public policy put in place to assist agriculture in labor and production technologies there is no limit to what we could produce. Then once we have the product we establish strong export markets. In short we have the land, water and technology to help feed the planet. We are in the best position to do this over any other country.

So I remain optimistic about agriculture. Food will never be set aside as out dated. Food will never go the route of the chariot. If we as a nation can organize our efforts, I think the future is very bright. We can easily market the crops of 2016 and beyond. We must continue to educate the public and private sectors of the land as to the potential that awaits us. It would be a great tragedy if short sighted public opinions and public policy saw American agriculture be down sized. Opportunity is knocking. The question will be as a nation are we prepared to respond?

Paul Baker
NYSHS Executive Director
3568 Saunders Settlement Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132
FAX: (716) 219-4089  |  Cell: (716) 807-6827
E-Mail: pbaker.hort@roadrunner.com

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Are You Ready?

Three days ago the calendar suggested that spring was here. We have already changed the clocks to allow us the maximum sun time. The question is, as you trade in your winter gear for short sleeves, are we ready for this season? Perhaps a better question is are we any better prepared to face the risks associated with growing the 2011 crop? I think we are and I will attempt to explain why in this report.

NYS Board of Directors from the Horticultural Society on February 10 traveled in unison to Capitol Hill to tell their Congressional members, in person, exactly how upset they were that there has been zero positive movement to relieve the guest worker issue back home. In fact, it could be actually stated, and they did, that because of the interference of the Federal Government it is now even more difficult to place legal farm workers on the land in New York State. Growers quoted financial costs that they were absorbing due to the failure of the Federal DOL to process their H2A documents in an efficient manner. They made this message on this day in both Senate offices and eight up-state Congressional offices. The message was loud and it was heard. How do I know it was heard? Two offices in particular were prompted into action directly as a result of these visits. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and Congressman Bill Owens have been actively involved to set the process in a corrective mode. They are currently both leading efforts to streamline the H2A process, if for no other area than the growers of New York State. Senator Schumer is working in the Senate to deliver a package to move the immigration issue to a vote. Senator Gillibrand has been very active in setting up contacts for all growers to contact her office if they require assistance in this process. She has gathered and delivered a strong voice of protest to DOL and encouraged Homeland Security to find a quick solution to the Jamaican deductions issue so that we will not have a repeat of 2010. These actions would not have been taken if it were not for efforts made by your Board of Directors to travel to DC to make not only their case but that of all growers.

Congresswoman Slaughter is holding a question and answer for growers in her region to directly pose to the Federal DOL. Her insistence on this issue on March 30, 2011 will leave no doubt in the minds of those in the DOL offices that they are on the clock and expected to perform in a judicious and timely manner.

Beware A Strong Southerly Wind

On February 16, 2011, I was in Kearneysville, West Virginia to chair a meeting to encourage research to counter the brown Marmorated stink bug (BMSB). Last season this pest reached levels of destruction that totally destroyed crops and vegetation in the mid-Atlantic regions of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. The BMSB did make some movement into Adams County, Pa. but was not at a level there that it was a commercial issue. Fruit growers, however, in all of these regions are concerned as to how they will counter this pest because there is currently no successful treatment to control the BMSB.

Our mission was to encourage continued funding for the USDA station in light of loud cries from Washington to cut spending to such facilities. We joined US Apple and other representatives from the North East to pull out all of the stops to find a suitable program for this pest which arrived here from the Pacific Rim countries less than a decade ago. Since this pest has no known natural enemies and can over winter in our areas it has grown today to a level of commercial risk. I have sent reports to Albany, NY about the possible impact this pest may have on our State’s horticulture. I have asked Commissioner Aubertine to make every effort to encourage DEC to move swiftly to clear passage of any remedy if one does present itself.

Changing of the Guard

On March 14, 2011 we saw Peter Fleckenstein from Beak and Skiff replace Walt Blackler on our Board of Directors. We all want to thank Walt for his years of unselfish service to our industry. Walt will continue to represent the Horticultural Society on the NYS Research Board in Albany, NY. Tom DeMarree will serve his second term as chair of the Board. This is an excellent board that is very engaged in the programs and willing to go the extra mile for the industry. On two occasions when I was needed to be in Washington, DC and Kearneysville, West Virginia, Doug Fox covered the meetings in Syracuse for Council of Agricultural Organizations and later Rod Dressel and Chuck Mead gave a presentation at the Hudson Valley Fruit School. I think it is worthy to note the commitment of this board to represent your needs. We already sited the trip to DC by Rod Dressel, Chuck Mead, Bruce Kirby, John Ivison, Doug Fox and Will Gunnison on February 10. Dan Sievert was with me on February 3 as well to call on the Hill on similar issues.