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.

Food For Thought

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

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

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

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

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

A History of Kast Farms, Inc.

Adelbert Chapman was married in 1883 in Sweden, NY. Less than a year later, he moved his family thirteen miles west to the new farm, he purchased in the town of Gaines in Orleans County. Originally part of the Holland Land Company, Adelbert purchased the farm from members of the Rhodes family who established the farm in 1833. The property of the farm at the corner of Densmore Road and West Transit Church Road was situated in an ideal location. Located approximately seven miles south of Lake Ontario and about one mile south of Ridge Road, the area is perfect for growing a wide variety of crops. The proximity to the lake creates a microclimate beneficial for growing fruit and the variety of soil types allows for multiple vegetable and grain crops. The farm is also located less than two miles north of the Erie Canal, providing an excellent transportation route for produce to market and a source of supplies for the farm when originally purchased.

Like most early farms, the family maintained a variety of livestock and grew produce for themselves primarily, if there was surplus it was sold at market. Chickens, hogs, milking cows, sheep were all in residence. Apples, grapes, corn, cabbage, peas, green beans, tomatoes, hay, wheat, oats and sometimes barley were all grown in abundance on the original homestead. Apple orchards on the original farm purchase included varieties such as Greening, Baldwin and King (Charles or Permian). Portions of these orchards were replanted in the mid 1920’s and again in the late 40’s. Stanley recalls his father blasting out old stumps with Dynamite when he was very young.

When John T. Kast married Adelbert’s fourth daughter Ruth, in 1915, Adelbert built them a smaller house on the main farm approximately 100 yards from the big farmhouse. John & Ruth moved in there in 1916 and John and Adelbert began farming together. Tragedy struck the family in 1920 when Adelbert’s touring car was struck by the express trolley from Rochester and was killed along with three other members of his family (his daughter Fern and her two sons Harold and Ralph). John became the sole farmer on the Chapman farm at this time and he bought the farm from his mother in-law, Evelyn, in 1922. While all seven of John & Ruth’s children helped on the farm, only two stayed on the farm. Their oldest son Stanley and his younger brother Merwin worked together for over 60 years.

Stanley partnered with his father John T. in 1946 and progressively took on more ownership of the farm up until 1959 when he ultimately bought the entire farm from his father.

As Stanley took over the operation in the late 50’s and additionally as David became more involved, the farm began transitioning into a more commercial operation. Primary crops grown at this time were apples, sweet cherries, corn, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, wheat and cabbage. While livestock diminished during this period, a herd of sheep was maintained on the farm until the late 1970’s. David partnered with Stanley in 1966 to run the farm while Stanley’s wife Evelyn managed the books. Together they incorporated the farm in 1975.

In the early 80’s the push to increase acreage for fruit production began. Additional apple orchards were planted along with sour cherries. Processing vegetable acreage also increased at this time. Primary crops were once again apples, field & sweet corn, snap beans, and wheat. These crops became the staple for the farm for a number of years and continue to be so today. David and his wife Kathy took over full ownership of the farm in 1989. Kathy took on the office manager duties while David ran the farm operation. During this time, David also partnered with eight other local farm families to form Lake Ridge Fruit Company, LLC an apple packing and storage facility located in the town of Gaines in Orleans County. David served as president for over 20 years. Lake Ridge Fruit Company, LLC and its subsidiary, Lake Ontario Fruit, Inc. has since grown into one of the largest apple packing and storage operations in the Northeast.

John and Brett partnered with David and Kathy in 2015, both took different paths to the farm initially. Brett has been with the farm since 2001 and spent a year in Texas working on oil and natural gas rigs in 2007. He now serves in the role of Orchard Manager. NY 1 (SnapDragon), NY 2 (RubyFrost), Koru, Gala and Fuji have been the most recent additions to the orchards. John spent over 15 years working in the zoo field. He returned to the farm in May of 2013 after working at the Fort Worth Zoo in Fort Worth, TX for five years. He now serves in the role of Field Crop Manager. Since his return, the farm has expanded crops to include lima beans, soybeans and malting barley.

The Farm has had a long-standing relationship with Cornell University running test plots and new trial varieties of fruits and vegetables. The relationship began with tomato varieties and harvesters initially and continues with apples today. Test varieties of apples include: Honey Crisp, SweeTango, Lyndamac, Pink Lady, Gala, NY 2 (RubyFrost) & five other unnamed Cornell varieties.

Kast Farms was awarded the Conservation Farmer of the Year award in 2009 and received The New York State Century Farm Award in 2016.

 

Time for a Real Reality Check

 

This will be a very difficult article for many of you to read. I can assure you that it is even more difficult for me to draft. We have been discussing and advocating for changes to improve our labor situation on our respective farms. Many of you have traveled to countless meetings in various locations such as Albany and DC to make your case. The end result is we have kept the debate alive but in truth seen little positive changes. So what do we do? Being from New York State and being a farmer giving up simply does not seem like a choice. We each have faced more setbacks that we have had no control over in the past. Is this setback like bad weather and weak markets? I would argue no. To continue to beat the same drum in the same way may however not be the best usage of our efforts.

America has always had a shortage of farm labor ever since the last Pilgrim stubbed his toes on Plymouth Rock. Non-agriculture occupations have always loomed in a more positive light here. We actually fought a Civil War over this very topic. This  reluctance to change came close to destroying the Union. Time marches forward. Technology offers many changes to our work. In most work sites, technology has made the work less strenuous. The sad truth is that this is not the case in agriculture. Yes we have advanced machines to do many chores but the horse seems to have made out better than the field hands. The horse no longer pulls our farm tools but we still depend on a man to pick our fruit.

As farmers, we have always blindly accepted that the laws of supply and demand would decide the price of a bushel of apples. Yet we seem to not accept these same laws of supply and demand when it comes to our cost for labor. Today we have evolved and made great advances in our operations. New equipment, buildings and in general every advancement to our industry has been accepted and somehow we have found a way to finance this growth. So my question is, why is labor different?

I think it will continue to be the farm business that embraces new technologies that will survive. Supply and demand is very real. It is present in our ability to source the necessary human resources we need to remain world-wide competitive. Every industry has been forced with this similar dilemma. We have seen this in industry, entertainment, pro sports and more. In order to field the best human resources you have to offer the most attractive package. Agriculture is no longer immune to this truth.

I agree that we need a legal system to hire the best human resources necessary to operate in 2017. This may mean we need to source this labor from abroad. Many of the best hockey players and baseball players we watch every day are not US citizens. To remain at that elite level those enterprises have found a way to employ the necessary talent.

We need to accept that we are not the same agriculture of our grandfathers or for that matter our fathers.  We are today “agribusiness” not simply the “family farm” that only hired family members and distant uncles. Times have changed. We have changed. The farms of the future will accept this and make the needed changes to source the most talented team. Yesterday is gone. It will only return in our memory. We need to see the reality that farm labor comes with cost. It is rare and it is talented. If you wish to draw from this limited pool you need to be willing to invest in it.

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

 

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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