By the time you read this, assuming it does not get put on your future read pile, I will be back assisting in another harvest. I find these periods of helping with harvest vital to my staying in touch with you. Yes, I was fifth generation farm family. The truth is I suspect that no matter what your craft, if you are more than 10 years removed from active duty your true perspective is flawed. Much is the same as when I farmed but much is new.
I am a believer that if you wish to truly judge a topic it is best to experience it, if possible. A good example might be in education. If a teacher has not taught a classroom in over 10 years, I question if they understand all the baggage each child brings to class. Similarly, if a principal judges his faculty on his experiences of years teaching in the past I question his true perspective. My years of farming are a base, but I need to take off my dress shoes and lace up the work boots, in my opinion, to truly see the challenges. I am grateful for the opportunity to attempt to stay current.
If all that I have stated to this point makes sense to you than I ask you a second question. How can our elected officials make sound decisions on your behalf? They can if they have access to people who wear those work boots and make the effort to enlighten them. If the “boots on the ground” crowd decides to stay away that void is quickly filled by those who have zero feedback from the farms. In the last few years I have been very encouraged to see new faces (many times with familiar last names) stepping up to make the effort to discuss the issues when called upon. There is no substitute for living the realities of agriculture 2018.
The last view point I wish to make is that of your consumer. We need to continue to inform and share our farming experiences with our consumers. Each year most of our consumers have no contact with you, the producer. They are not your enemy but they clearly have no sense of reality of your pressures. On a daily basis I see farm vehicles drive by my home that exceed the net value of the homes they are passing. Is it any wonder the average consumer is left with the initial opinion that the farmer is doing quite well. The second startling reality that most of the American consumers has no idea how small a percentage of the Farm Bill goes to serving farms. They assume their tax dollars are helping each of you at a very high cost to their taxes.
In closing, I am making the case that each of us must make the time to discuss our issues. We also must make certain we are current on our opinions. I find today a very big question that is floated to me is on trade. Make certain you research your answers before sharing one. As I have already stated, the halls of Congress are filled with people who have never stepped one foot on a farm. Each year changes the narrative. It is essential we each keep informed and then be willing to share our opinions for the advancement of all.
On Tuesday, December 12, 2017, Paul Baker who is the Executive Director of the NYSHS, was asked to address a Congressional
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.
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
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.
opinion is that it will be yet another effort destroyed by those who have perhaps told their story more effectively.