A Final Farewell to George Frederick Lamont

On March 13, 2020 we all lost a generational person. George was simply in a field of his own.  I find it very “George” that he passed on Friday the 13th. He always had his own spin on any event. I think George’s greatest gift was he was never satisfied. This is not to say he was a negative thinker. On the contrary he simply felt we just have not researched enough to be content. He unlike most embraced change. If everything was to remain fixed, we would all be driving horses. To George it never was a question if the glass was half full or half empty. If we were questioning the state of the bloody glass it was long overdue to get a new glass.

I will not begin to list his many personal and industry accomplishments. To all of you, like myself, we each have a favorite story of just how George Lamont interacted with your life. My first memory of George was in the living room of my home growing up. George was the youngest member at this gathering of forward-thinking apple leaders.  He was already looked upon as an innovator that deserved to be heard by seasoned leaders in our industry.  If George was involved in any discussion it was a certainty that he would be questioning why we were not heading in a new direction.

Today the fruit industry is facing grave challenges in marketing, new labor regulations, varietal shifts

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

and a list that seems to increase daily. In truth this was the world of George Lamont. He always projected a calm air of confidence that we would survive the current challenges and rise to a better place as a result. For every question there must be an answer. It may take a while to uncover but it was always there if you had the imagination to look beyond the present.

Even in his later years he created challenges most people would not ever consider. The last time I personally talked to George was at Jim Allen’s retirement party. He told me that he was living in Saranac Lake. I asked him why there? He quickly named the highest mountains in the Adirondacks. It was his personal challenge to climb each one. I do not know if he ever finished this last project. If not, it was certainly not for trying.

As I have already reported we face numerous challenges ahead in our industry. We do not know today how we will resolve these new hurtles. I guess we each should ask ourselves if an 80-year-old man can have the vision to climb the highest peaks in the Adirondacks than we should not feel any mountain that lies ahead of us is too tall. When we do solve this new series of challenges do not be surprised if you hear George in the back of your mind ask you “What took you so long? We still have much to do.”

George you will be missed but never replaced. Word of advice George be a little patient with Saint Peter! I doubt he has had many the likes of you to deal with!

Winter of Many Changes

By Paul Baker, NYSHS Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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