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.

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.