We Need to Step Back and Find New Uses for the Apple

Earlier this year I challenged each of you to come up with a new use for the apple. My example was what positives flowed from the introduction of taking raw peanuts and creating peanut butter? This then merged with jelly to yield an American classic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We still are looking for that new mix for our consumers.

If we step back even more and begin to unpeel the onion so to speak, I think we are already slow to invest in apple food research. We have a nutritional crisis on our current doorsteps. US citizens are no longer dying from starvation, but they are dying from obesity. Today 1 in 3 young Americans are too fat to enter the armed services. Since the 60’s obesity has tripled to now be 42% of our population.  No surprise this has led to increased health care costs. There is a reason most health insurance companies will pay for your health club membership.

Food companies see this and are investing huge sums in food research. Traditional protein sources have come from our animal production. The heavy meats and milk products today are destroying our health. We need to invest in ways to have consumers enjoy the taste of their meat products but from plant-based crops. Burger King has the Impossible Whopper now in their menu. They are not alone. Many other companies are investing in this shift away from the dominance of animal-based foods.

People have long predicted that the world population would grow faster than our ability to produce enough calories. What has happened in fact is due to our creativity on the farms we are producing more food than the world is consuming. This has kept food priced below where it should be. Result, we are eating too much because of price and taste.

China will soon be facing a huge food challenge. Due to improved earning capacity the Chinese have gone away from basic food dependence such as rice to more meat based. The demand for this meat-based food simply will not be available for this growing population. This will cause both domestic and international stress.

To try to draw this to a conclusion. We still must feed the growing world/US population in the future. Meat based food production is taking too much of the available acreage. We must learn to reduce the percentage of calories we consume from this group. It will never go away. Soy milk can replace some of the need for dairy based milk for example. We grow apples. We can grow given demand more than we currently do. We need to be investing in food research to use the apple in newer ways. Who would have thought that you could pour a glass of milk from almonds?

In short, we need to make certain our apples are being used even more in the future. If we combine all sales of farmer’s markets, CSA, pick your own, roadside markets, farm to school and direct sale to restaurants from our farms it represents less than 1% of the food we produce in this country. Commercial agriculture is a necessity to feed this planet.

The hope that local and organic will increase consumption has not become a reality. Only 2% of all farm commodities are grown organically. Less than 1% of our acreage is devoted to this usage. To win the health and obesity issues that are on our table we need to encourage new consumption trends. I suggest we make certain apples are in the heart of this revolution.

If you are interested in this topic, I suggest you read Resetting the Table by Robert Paarlberg.

How Do You Measure the True Cost of Your Labor?

If you had an employee who dropped 66% of your apples you would no doubt have serious concerns as to his value. In baseball a player who fails to get a hit just 66% of the time would be destined for Cooperstown. Employee grading then has a very task-oriented factor to it.

There is little doubt that the cost of our labor will creep up on an annual basis. If the productivity of that same employee remains constant than we are paying more each year and getting less in return. It must be the responsibility of the employer to research and find improved techniques for that employee to return more production per hour. This may seem obvious, but have we really challenged our researchers enough to return to us this needed improvement in productivity?

In fruit production we have made great strides in this. Dwarf trees, sleds for harvest, improved automation in our packing houses just to site three. We cannot stop searching for new techniques.

In the year 2000 I was asked to name one improvement that forever changed agriculture. Some of the early answers were electrical power on the farms and improved diesel equipment. I selected the hydraulic cylinder. This allowed an employee to lift not pounds but tons with tremendous simplicity. Forklifts completely altered how we handled our products. If we are to progress, we must find the next “hydraulic cylinder.”

The New York State Horticulture Society is asking for a research request this year of $750,000. Once again, we need to discover new procedures in the growing of our apples. Applied cultural research. At the same time, we need to devote research dollars to improving the tasks we wish our employees to handle. We need to find that new “hydraulic cylinder.”

I hope you will join us in supporting this increase in research funding. I am certain those new procedures are right in front of us. We simply must have the wisdom to see and implement them. As new demands are placed upon our farms, we must be willing to embrace new ways to do the same task. We can meet the challenges so long as we seek that better mouse trap! Change is a good thing. I am excited to uncover fruit production in the not-so-distant future.

Words Do Matter

We are each victims of our limited environment. We find comfort in living each day only reading the headlines. Our lives are so full that this quick assessment of the day’s topics is really all we have time to connect with. We each hear a specific word and our brain quickly assigns it to a definition.

As an industry, we need to help program our neighbors and customers to 2021. When the average person hears the term “farm worker” or even more refined “farm employee” it creates an image. Not being critical, I would venture a guess that the image is of a man (not a woman) toiling in the sun performing some menial task. This stereotype hurts us. It is there because we have not taken sufficient effort to foster a more accurate one.

I imagine the public sees this individual making minimum wage with little to no benefits. That being the case, it is no wonder that this public has compassion for this individual. When they hear that this person does not receive overtime protection until after 60 hours, they feel concerned. We have a choice. We can choose to allow this backward definition or work to educate. In my opinion, if we do not act today to redefine this image there is no doubt, we will receive more regulations placed upon both our employees and ourselves.

In less than one year the Wage Board will meet to review the working standards once again for our employees. We have this limited time to educate our peers in our communities that these are highly skilled and motivated people. They do what they do because of their training. Really no different from any employees on any job. No one forces them to their daily work. They do so because it is the job of their personal selection.

Most are employed well above the minimum wage. Many are salaried. Many come from as far away as South Africa to operate equipment often with a higher value than the homes in our communities.  They have unique skills that the average citizen does not. This skill is why they are here to work. They often receive many non-cash perks such as free transportation from their homeland and free housing.

To suggest that this is a very misunderstood person is a gross understatement. We are extremely fortunate to have their services. Most local citizens do not have the ability to step in and perform these necessary tasks. The performance of these skills opens thousands of local jobs in our communities.

What is in danger here is that a small group of people will make their decisions from the old stereotype. They will not pause to ask this employee why he or she is here in our State. They will not ask what conditions of employment make working in New York State his final destination. When the time is taken to dig deeper it will become clear that the job work agreements currently in place are both fair and necessary to both sides.  To alter the work option to only 40 hours would force this skilled employee to seek work elsewhere.

We must each make it our personal responsibility to educate the truth, not the false image of years gone by. To do this we must tell our tale in our churches, our schools, and our communities. We have the soils, the climate, and the long tradition of agriculture in New York State. We produce a product that every consumer on the globe needs three times a day. I encourage each of you to begin the education of our farms story. It is a proud story which needs to be protected.

Is There a Light at the End of This Debate?

Outside of my window winter is in full force. Nothing even remotely resembles spring. The Wage Board has rendered us a temporary reprieve as far as any new threshold for overtime. In 2021 we can continue to hone our labor management skills at the 60-hour level. In the short term this offers us some time to shift our operations to meet this challenge. As farmers, unlike other industries, we are better prepared to look at issues in longer time slots than a single year. Orchards take years to mature. We need to treat this issue in a similar manner. Where we are today in 2021 will most likely be a short resting spot from the final landing spot on this issue.

In my opinion, the debate is only on hold. I think there are many social indicators in and outside of our State that indicate sweeping changes are developing. I think it is almost a certainty that we will see a national $15 minimum wage. We all are aware that state minimum wages have little similarity in actual paid beginning wages. One only has to hold up two charts and see this. If you compare each state minimum wage against the state required Adverse Effect Wage rate you will see little similarity. In Georgia, the state minimum wage is $5.15 per hour while the adverse effect wage rate is $11.71.  The Georgia wage could never be used as the federal rate is $7.25. Raising the federal rate to a universally realistic rate for everyone to $15 does help keep production costs across state lines in line. The real differential will be the application of overtime levels.

The National Council of Agriculture Employers did a study in April 2020. They found a remarkably high inflated US unemployment rate due to Covid-19. They reported that there were 275,000 agricultural jobs listed yet only saw 337,000 people even making an inquiry. Needless to say, very few of these inquiries resulted in a job being taken. In short, high unemployment rates and higher state minimum wage rates do not equal farm hires.

I think we should examine trends in hours of weekly employment. In the US employees reported 41.5 hours. I find that at the same time 11.1% of US employees worked in excess of 50 hours per week. This tells me that many people are in need of more than 40 hours per week to meet household needs. I wonder how many of those 11.1% would have liked to remain at their primary job instead of seeking other odd jobs offering a lower hourly wage.

I think, while it may be difficult for most of us, we must accept new levels of comfort. Today’s employee will not work the hours of past generations. Everywhere we look we see business making better usage of the fewer man hours today’s employee will share with us. Stores have cut hours by having self-checkouts. On the NYS Thruway we no longer have employees in toll booths. Our challenge today is when we cannot find enough workers, we must find ways to make them more productive for us.

The light at the end of this debate, as I see it, is we must first accept that we must get our work done with fewer hands. To do this we must find new means of increasing the fewer man hours we have. Automation will be in essence the new “man” on the job.

The push to bring all our farm workers to a 40-hour work week will not end. In the short time we must learn new methods to accomplish the job. To refuse to do this is to fail. We no longer walk to work. First, we rode a horse. Next, we drove a car. Today we do not even leave our homes, we ZOOM!  The only thing we know for certain is that tomorrow will be different from today. We need to evolve. I think in time we will be able to focus on the new light at the end of the tunnel.

Wage Board Final Vote on December 31, 2020

The Wage Board kept us all hanging until the very last afternoon of the year.  After several open comments from the public, they voted. Before voting the three-member Board held several discussions. These discussions were open to the public. Only the Board was able to discuss the subject.

On the final hour, a vote was taken. In essence, the verdict was that we needed at least one more year before we could feel confident on any lowering of the overtime threshold. Dennis Hughes, representing the AFL-CIO made a motion to submit new language. He wanted to lower the overtime by 2.5 hours each year for 8 years. This would move the overtime from a 60-hour level to 40 in 8 years. He felt that the farm workers have already been denied the 40-hour protection now for 80 years. He was terribly upset at the decision to wait one more year. He felt it was an unnecessary delay. His amendment was not accepted. This report will now be sent to the governor for his review.

In my opinion, we dodged a bullet here for one year. While I see it as a victory for agriculture, I feel the war is not over. In fact, this decision may actually spark new opposition from the non-agriculture population.

The Chair felt that the past year had placed unusual harm on all small business due to Covid-19. I really do not know if she would have supported the same verdict under a normal year.

David Fischer represented agriculture on our collective behalf. He is the President of New York State Farm Bureau. I do not want to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I think there are a few points left out.

The four main points I would hope we would build upon before next year are the following:

  1. I do not think there was enough discussion as to what the farm workers wanted. How any change would impact their quality of life?
  2. What would be the impact on future farmers? Would they feel confident or concerned about farming here in New York?
  3. The negative impact it would have on farmland value and farm net worth.
  4. The loss for non-farm workers who are dependent on farm products that create the need for their jobs.

For the next season we can operate as we did in 2020. I think we need to continue to weigh in on the impact any changes will have on the entire New York economy. As I said, yes, we won this battle, but the war is far from over.

Curse of Our Fathers

Harvest 2020 is now in the books. Time to review and reflect. For myself I have had the opportunity of sharing in the ritual of harvest. I never grew up in the old West, but I imagine harvest was similar to being on a cattle drive. Sounds fantastic in the beginning but sandwiched between the start and the finish are tired bones and long unglamorous moments, but for the very few who have had the opportunity it was priceless. There is an expression that to really understand an event you have to walk in those shoes. To those who never wore those ‘shoes’ you can only imagine.

So, my question is what motivates a person to desire the right to wear those shoes? Over the years I have jokingly said of Sons in the business it is because of the “Curse of our Fathers”. Over the decades we have had many generations of Fathers who have passed on this “curse”! I just tried to list the names of successful Family operations. I back spaced because I could not create a list without omitting a worthy family. The point is we have been strengthened and advanced because of the decades of family commitment to the New York fruit industry.

The vision of these generations needs to be recognized. The one driving constant was what we were doing today was only a first step to the improved future. This unselfish vision was once again illustrated by the re

commitment to our apple marketing order. This unselfish family positive vote opens so many new opportunities for research, marketing, legislative voice and more.

I think I have shared my point and approval of the marketing order being passed again. I really do not feel it is a “curse” but a very unique “blessing”. Enjoy the winter. It is noticeably short! Plan and dream of better harvests yet ahead. To those of you who have the opportunity to experience this “curse” enjoy your good fortune.

Allow me to share with you one of my favorite moments in life. Once all the crops are harvested, safely in storage. I prayed for a furious storm to rage over my house.  The louder and more powerful the better! I would lie there and just smile from ear to ear and say I withstood all that Mother Nature had to challenge me with! See you next spring old friend!

Interview with 100 Jamaicans

I am again in the middle of harvest. This usually gives me the opportunity to talk to growers, packers, and storage operators. I also have the opportunity to talk one on one with Jamaican employees here on H2A contracts. I want to do two things here share with you my collective observations of these men and second perhaps be a voice for them in this life changing discussion surrounding the Wage Board.

First, I am very impressed with the accurate knowledge these men have of the Overtime legislation. You may notice here that I do not refer to this as a collective bargaining/union discussion. To a man they reject the concept of unions and dues.

It is almost unanimous that these men wish to continue working here in New York State.  It has become an extremely critical way for them to support their families. The greatest share of these men have found annual employment with a singular employer. They refer to the farm they work on as their own. Many know the geography of these orchards as well or better than their employers. They understand the ebbs and flow of the industry. They know the pressure that frost, hail, drought, and market pricing places have on their employer as well as offering them a living wage.

To this end they know that the economics of these farms has its economic limits. They understand that it would be wonderful to receive overtime after 40 hours. However, they know that if this were to happen, they would be extremely limited in their hours. Their season is short. To not have the opportunity to work at least 60 hours would mean they would take a huge seasonal reduction in pay. They do not wish to seek new employment but feel it would be necessary if they were to earn the desired income, they need to support their families.

To this reality, they say they can function with the rules as they are presently in place. Any reduction in hours would force the majority to look to new out of State employment. They understand the present legislation and strongly hope that there are no new standards. They are preparing a self-written letter stating this opinion. They have asked me to give them reading materials to help prepare this letter. They will discuss it and plan to sign on each man. We will send this to the Wage Board as their voice on the topic. This is especially important that they have the opportunity to offer their opinion on this ruling.

I am extremely impressed with the level of knowledge this group has as to the importance of the Wage Board. Make no mistake they feel extremely nervous as to the decision coming from this body.

I wanted to share with each of you the feelings of these workers. So often we selfishly only state how it will impact our lives. Make no mistake about it, this decision impacts families here is New York State as well as in Jamaica.

Paul Baker

Executive Director

Testimony Given to Wage Board

On Monday, August 31st, along with a wide cast of concerned people, I offered testimony to the NYS Wage Board. It was very encouraging to hear the voices of so many people. In all the opinions offered by those in agriculture I felt they presented a very clear vision of what could happen. It was nice to hear voices from younger future farmers in this discussion. In all, I was very pleased to hear the effort put forward.

I am sharing the two testimonies I have offered this year. I can only hope that calm cool minds will see the wisdom in not making this transition any more costly. As many people stated, they accept the legislation, they are asking for time to transition under this act.

Apple Facts

Fruit farm A expects to harvest 120,000 bushels of apples this year. History has told them that they should expect, on average, that a person will harvest 100 bushels/day. So this farm will need 1200 man days to harvest this crop. The farm has 24 beds. This means each bed (man) should pick 5000 bushels. So this man has 50 days to accomplish this. In the past the men have averaged 60 hours per week. If we are forced to cut each man’s hours back to 40 hours per week than we will need more days to harvest or more men to accomplish the job.

Weather and fruit ripening dictate that we do not have more time. We must accomplish this task in the 50 days. So the only solution is that we need more men. If a man picks 100 bushels each day then he will harvest 400 bushels per week. So 120,000 bushels divided by 400 bushels will mean we need 300 man weeks if we hold the worker to 40 hours per week. So we have gone from 24 men harvesting 120,000 bushels in 50 days to now needing 30 men to pick the crop.

So we will need 6 more beds and pay transportation cost of $1300 per man, Visa of $190 per man an additional $150 per man travel for extra time and food from port to port. So Fruit Farm A will have to first construct housing for 6 more men. Second, the additional travel will be $1640 plus free housing while on  the farm per extra man. This is $9840 additional variable cost to get the same amount of work completed. His costs have risen by 19.5% to get the same amount of work done.  Plus the costs of new housing.

In short, this is a deal breaker. The original 24 men will not be happy only getting 40 hours per week. Realistically I expect this group to source employment in other regions. The idle time will no doubt become an issue. Buyers of this crop will not offer a premium for this fruit. They will source the highest quality for the lowest price.

In short, this fruit farm will be priced out of the market. His cost per bushel will be higher than other regions. He has no way to cover the extra labor cost. The employee will be forced to find employment in another state. Packing house jobs, storage, trucking and more will be lost.

There is a reason that for decades agriculture has been exempt from overtime. The seasonal glut needed makes it impossible to fill harvest jobs for such a short window of time. The perishable nature of this commodity is what makes farming different. The fact that we offer overtime at any level will not attract new employees to meet the  seasonal needs.

In conclusion, I think New York State agriculture can and will adjust to the 60 hour level. Many will

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

choose to drop out or convert to agriculture that is mechanized. To move this to a lower level will force a drastic change in our industry. Farmers do not have to farm in New York State. It will be difficult but if they wish to farm they can relocate. I fail to see what industry will rush to fill the void by this exodus. I am asking for a study to validate my claims. To rush to 40 hours without understanding the net effect will be irresponsible. There is no need to add additional burdens on this industry.

Testimony Presented to Wage Board in Syracuse, NY, March 13, 2020

Early in March I had to run an errand to the east side of Buffalo, NY. I was traveling on a major route about 8 AM. The traffic was only a fraction of the normal weekday. In truth, the roads back in the country had more traffic. This was a reminder to me that here in 2020 we are as a State totally committed to the 40 hour work week. This single regulation is the deciding driver to the length of the work week in the non-agricultural environment.

On the farm we do not have the luxury of saying it can wait till Monday and a fresh set of 40 hours. Livestock has to be fed. Animals are giving birth. Cows need to be milked. Fruit and vegetable crops need to be protected from frosts, insects, disease and ultimately harvested at the proper time. The 24-hour necessity of applying these skills makes it impossible to dictate one 40-hour period each seven days that can be able to do the proper job.

Farms of all types are dealing with live products. Just like a doctor cannot tell a pregnant mother to only deliver in his set 40 hour period of service. The current 60 hour standard will impose economic pressures on our farms and their employees. Commodity prices will not offer a bonus to farms who offer overtime wages. If a farm cannot maintain production costs below sales offerings it will go out of business. The loss of this singular farm unfortunately will, in reality, have little impact on total supply. However, if this story is repeated enough it will impact community values. What will have an immediate impact will be the employees who no longer have a job. Really how have we helped improve the quality of life for these employees?

Overtime came into play during the American depression. The unemployment rate was soaring. FDR saw long bread lines and people seeking some employment. He instituted the 40 hour work week. Any hours after 40 would mean the employer would have to pay 150 % of the agreed wage. FDR was quoted as saying no employer would be willing to pay this and remain competitive. The end result was that it forced employers to curtail hours and reach into the unemployed to offer employment. Same amount of work but now it was being shared by more people. In today’s agriculture we do not have a waiting work force wanting employment for many diverse reasons.

We are an import state to meet our seasonal workforce needs. Employees will have little interest in coming to New York State if they cannot get the maximum opportunity to earn wages in a very short window of time. Simply put, employment options in other states will be the benefactor of such legislation. Farms will be forced to divert to less labor intensive crops. Production will contract. Business and employment will decline. Again how are we helping anyone?

November 3, 2020 Election Day

The fast-approaching elections will be upon us before we know it. As a farmer they may come upon you faster than other people. Once harvest begins few of you will have time to devote to anything but harvest and family.  It is with this in mind that I am addressing this message. The great thing about living in a democracy is that right or wrong those who gather the most votes win the right to direct public policy. The flip side of this is that not always does the candidate with the most votes have the ability to make wise decisions.

The last 18 months have been incredibly stressful for all of us in agriculture here in New York State. In my opinion, the passage of the Farm Labor Act last year will have the greatest impact on our state’s agriculture going forward. At the last moment before the Act was voted upon there was a provision for a Wage Board to be put into place.  This Wage Board would have sole power to determine the direction this Act would have moving forward. A series of public hearings were crafted to report the public’s opinion of this Act. There has been only one so far. The Covid Virus has derailed previous well intended plans. There are rumors that we will have hearings held online before the end of the calendar year. The fact that we may have something with such deep consequences as these hearings not held in a public forum is very disturbing.

I recently made several calls around the State to growers and those running for office. I was trying to

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

see if I might encourage some face to face meetings with the farms and those running for office. The idea in theory was good. However, both sides were reluctant to hold face to face meetings due to the Covid Virus. End result was a failure to trade opinions between the parties. To me this is a huge failure. How can those running for office understand those they will be representing if they cannot have a dialogue? The pressure to have public officials elected that understand the current issues and are also in touch is critical.

The pandemic has caused deep economic gaps in our economy. The lack of commerce will be felt in less sales tax revenue. Legislators will be scrambling to fill this short fall. I also fear that legislators may have become a bit too used to enacting policy without going down the traditional channels. It is imperative, as we recover from this issue, that we work together to heal our economy. This can only happen if we have trust and open discussion.

I understand your time is limited. I am asking you to make every effort to research the candidates to elect the ones you feel will listen and enact sound policy. I am not advocating for any one candidate. I am not advocating for any one party. I am advocating we return this November the absolute best representatives that truly have your best interest in mind.

The winds of change are all around us. Some changes are healthy. I am suggesting that sound change comes with a price. That price is the time you take to research and vote for the best people to monitor the changes that will come our way. Without your efforts, you may be very alarmed at what changes we may harvest. That would be the highest price to pay if we failed to vote and vote responsibly.

New Crop in 2020 But is There Anything Else New?

There is a famous saying, “If you do the same thing over and over-looking for a better end, why should you expect any new outcome?”

Since early America we have been growing apples in New York State. Always received as a favorite fruit by the people consuming them. Primary usage has been fresh eating out of hand, cider or baking of desserts. Later we introduced apple sauce to the mix. Near the end of the last century we tried to link apples with health. In my mind only limited market success. Nothing negative but not really a shot in the arm for movement.

Fast forward to 2020. We have asparagus and strawberries every day of the year. Fruits and vegetables no longer have seasons associated with them. Today’s commodities are expected to be on the consumers shopping lists year-round. What are we offering new in 2020 other than a new club variety to be used as it was 300 years ago? Let’s be honest here and admit we are in a bit of a rut.

I took the time to drive around the area recently. I saw incredible innovations in horticulture skills and

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

applications. I witnessed an operation inside a major apple packing plant that was combining apples with potatoes, cucumbers, onions and carrots. This was to move 20 pounds of produce to national distribution. The combination of including apples with other commodities was moving product. It was keeping apples in the daily usage. It was not a stand-alone product, but it was moving product!

I think we have become victims of tradition. Ford Motor began making one car model. Henry quickly observed he needed to make different models, colors and even trucks. We live in a time when anything NEW has a noticeably short shelf life. What I am suggesting is we have a time proven product but a very stale delivery. For example, is the target of our promotions the housewife alone? True she has held most of this responsibility overtime. Ask yourself, how does an item get on her list? Have we as an industry offered enough fresh stimulus to rate being on this critical list?

I personally think we have failed miserably for years to influence the buying power of children. Disney certainly saw the wisdom of making entertainment designed for children. They In turn influenced the adults to become consumers. Children have special needs. They have loose or missing teeth! They have braces that make eating a challenge. Do we ignore these children during this critical time or search new ways to deliver our product to them in a form they can enjoy? I think slicing has been a success here. Question here is, have we done all we could to develop this market?

Open your imagination again. Peanuts grown in the south found a great partner in the north in grapes. Introducing the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hot dogs and french fries, macaroni and cheese and so on. My question is what product are we searching for and willing to promote to become our “peanut butter and jelly sandwich?’

Apples are a great product. However, I think we need to reintroduce the product to a new consumer. Every promotion will not be a winner. I think the challenge for the apple industry is for the marketing and sales departments to keep up with the horticultural advancements I witnessed in the modern orchard. We can not only improve the orchards. Our job is not completed until our product is in demand on a daily basis. Yes, it is a challenge, but as farmers I think we do our absolute best when faced with challenges.

Send me your ideas for the new apple “peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”