NEW YORK STATE — Some of the best vegetables in the world are grown right here in New York State. With clean waterways, excellent soils and a favorable growing climate, our vegetable industry is the second largest agricultural sector in the state and one of the most diverse in the country.
The industry is multi-colored in shape, size and business plan, ranging from commercial operations that farm thousands of acres and wholesale throughout the East Coast, to farmers tending to a few highly productive acres. and market directly to the consumer. New York’s vegetable growers are proud to support their families, employees, and communities, while providing essential nutrition to the nation and the world.
But, the question is: how will we stay in business in the years to come?
New York is an expensive state. Despite an abundance of natural resources, we face high taxes and ever-changing regulations unlike our out-of-state competition. However, it is the high cost of labor and associated costs that other industries do not pay, such as housing, utilities and transportation, that will be our demise. Combined with a potentially lower overtime threshold, the future of farming in New York State is quite uncertain.
Even though our industry is mechanized, we still need labor to plant, prune and pick the delicious vegetables and fruits that consumers expect in the supermarket, which is why 30-50% of our expenses are attributed to costs. labor related. Without a continued focus on addressing these issues in New York, our competition in other states and countries will drive us out of the fresh vegetable business.
For example, Pennsylvania vegetable growers are only required to pay $7.25 per hour for no-overtime labor, compared to $13.20 in NYS (probably $15 per hour ) with a threshold of 60 overtime hours. H-2A labor spending in PA is also lower than NY, at $15.54 per hour versus $15.66 per hour. It’s hard to compete with commercial producers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or any other state serving the same markets when so much of our spending is driven by public policy. The threat of lowering the overtime threshold to 40 hours is forcing all vegetable growers to seriously consider whether we can continue in NYS.
In addition, unfair competition from Canadian market gardeners cuts us off from the farm. A “one-way” border allows Canadian fresh produce to enter US markets and outperform New York produce due to government trade policies and a favorable exchange rate.
Vegetables transported north are welcome only when the Canadian supply cannot meet consumer demands. The US market is often considered a “terminal market”, which means that Canadian producers will take whatever they can get for their products because they don’t want them to come back.
So where does NY stand on the overtime threshold for farms?
Well, the refundable overtime tax credit, included in this year’s state budget, could offset extra payroll costs if overtime is reduced. But this policy requires farmers to be accountable for government subsidies. I’m not sure I want my business plan to be based on government funds to keep me in the dark.
Plus, the complexity of this overtime tax credit is such that prospective H-2A seasonal farm workers will look to New York as a place where they could work up to 60 hours a week if farmers pay hours. overtime for the past 20 hours. Or they can choose states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, or New Jersey, all with many outstanding H-2A job applications, and get as many hours as they want. I already know farm workers who left to work in other states because they were unhappy with the current 60-hour overtime threshold. It is unfortunate that agricultural workers are the first to be penalized if overtime is further reduced.
The solution is to maintain the current threshold of 60 hours. If policymakers insist on change over time, then they should pursue change at the federal level to ensure our farms can remain viable and competitive. We must continue to strengthen relationships with elected leaders, invest in basic and applied research to discover new technological approaches to current challenges, and find ways to minimize costs and labor requirements on farms.
Brian Reeves is owner of Reeves Farms in Baldwinsville, president of the NYS Vegetable Growers Association, and supporter of the Grow NY Farms Coalition.