Economy & Market Forces, Employers & Employment, H-2A, Legislation, Regulations & Compliance

Farmers Urge Congress to Fix Barriers to Job Creation

From NYFB.org, New York Farm Bureau, 27 Apr 2011.

Federal mandates and regulations are making the agricultural businesses that support New York’s economy and food system unsustainable.

That was the message from Farm Bureau members who testified before a Congressional panel last week, stressing that farms can help stimulate the economy if an ongoing barrage of new federal regulation is put in check.

“Whether as a blunt sledgehammer or micromanaging guardian, overzealous regulation is killing our family farms, depriving it of any potential for growth and eroding our local food infrastructure,” said Jonathan Taylor, a dairy farmer and New York Farm Bureau board member.”Without question, producers of all sizes and sectors identify the myriad of regulatory stresses from the federal and state level as the #1 obstacle to business growth, profitability, and in some cases, business survival.”

Taylor and other farmers testified at a field hearing of the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending. The hearing was hosted by Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle in Irondequoit and Syracuse.

“Agriculture and dairy farmers are among the leading industry in NYS. They need government to get out of the way of their hard work and sacrifice so they can be successful. Instead we are allowing far reaching government regulations to put our farmers out of business, said Rep. Buerkle.“I intend to bring the concerns expressed at the hearings to the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington.”

“When the government considers what it is going to regulate and who those regulations will impact it needs to do so with careful consideration,” she added. “I don’t believe most people realize just how big our agricultural community is here in Central New York and the burden we place on them with excessive regulation.”

“We are grateful to Congresswoman Buerkle for giving our farmers an opportunity to identify and offer solutions to the overregulation that is threatening their businesses,” said Dean Norton, president of New York Farm Bureau. “Federal agencies have been turning out new regulations at an unprecedented pace, all without considering the impact on businesses, job growth or the economy. For every new farm job in New York, three jobs are created off the farm, allowing agriculture to serve as an engine for economic recovery.”

Buerkle and Congressman Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania heard testimony from local municipalities and members of the business and agricultural community on the regulatory impediments to job creation and the delivery of municipal services.

“During a time of such economic concern, it is important to discuss the potential for a stronger, more reliable agricultural sector, which in turn, will create jobs in all parts of the economy and help our recovery,” said Cathy Martin, a fruit and vegetable grower from Monroe County.

New York’s family farms are experiencing an unprecedented level of federal regulatory and agency oversight in the sectors of environmental management, labor and food safety.

Taylor offered an example of the type of regulation that, coupled with other mandates, can put farms out of business. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering how to apply Clean Air Act greenhouse gas emissions standards to livestock.

“It’s really difficult – if not impossible – for farmers to control the amount of “emissions” from their animals, a natural process, so this regulation is equivalent to a cow tax, a penalty just for growing food,” he said.

Farmers said the burden to comply with the mass of federal regulations and red tape is more time consuming than farming itself.

“The amount of actual time that I and my family have to spend complying with various federal regulations has escalated to the point where I spend more time in an office, on a computer, and filing paperwork, than I do actually working with the cows, crops, and personnelthat it takes to run my farm,” said Nancy Hourigan, a dairy farmer representing Onondaga County Farm Bureau.

Farmers gave suggestions for relief and pressed the committee to hold President Obama and other leaders to their promise to help ease regulatory burdens for businesses.

“So how can the federal government help New York State family farms like mine? First and foremost, just stop imposing new mandates,” Hourigan said. “Follow the spirit of the Regulatory Review Commission that President Obama discussed and actually implement the recommendations to reduce the amount of time I spend filing paperwork.”

Farmers testified that one of the most urgent needs is fixing the federal H2A program.

As the nation’s only legal program for farmers to access agricultural guestworkers when there isn’t enough domestic labor available, H2A has been hindered by massive paperwork requirements and administrative delays that have put many farmers in jeopardy of not getting the workers they need in time for planting and harvest.

“In order for agriculture to continue to thrive, there must be a streamlined process to bring in seasonal, temporary labor when necessary,” said Andrew Reeves, a vegetable grower from Baldwinsville, N.Y.

Reeves testified about the many problems in overlapping paperwork requirements, difficulty in navigating the byzantine system of red tape and the slowness of the labor department in processing H2A applications.

Reeves offered many solutions for fixing the program, including allowing for applications to be submitted to the state and federal labor departments simultaneously, allowing for farmers to require experienced and trained workers and for more flexibility in granting farmers workers during certain time windows.

Other farmers underscored the need to fix administrative hold-ups in the program.

“Extreme delays have caused a loss in my crops,” said Martin. “If we don’t have a reliable workforce in agriculture to plant, pick, cultivate, and tend to animals, then our farms will not survive and job creation throughout New York and the U.S. will fail.”

Taylor also urged Congress to think about the future of food production.

“If my children choose to carry on as the fifth generation in our family to produce food, I hope that together, we can help them have the opportunity to do that,” he said.

Copies of the full testimony of the farmers can be found on the Testimony/Comments page of this website.

Source: NYFB.org, New York Farm Bureau, “Farmers Urge Congress to Fix Barriers to Job Creation,” 27 Apr 2011.

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