Ways to Reduce Your Labor in 2019

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

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

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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%