Home Farm Equipment Stressful times on N.Y. farms a year after labor law changes

Stressful times on N.Y. farms a year after labor law changes

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New York farms are nonetheless combating the consequences of a 60-hour extra time rule, which if lowered additional would possibly drive them out of enterprise, some producers say.

Burdensome labor prices, worker-employer tensions and misplaced productiveness are simply a few of the issues encountered because the Farm Laborers Honest Labor Practices Act took impact on Jan. 1, 2020.

Farmers say the measure, which incorporates a mandated weekly day of relaxation and permits staff to arrange, places New York agriculture at a aggressive drawback with different states.

“New York always seems to be the first ones on labor, on pesticides and everything else,” says Jim Bittner, proprietor of Niagara County-based Bittner Singer Orchards. “If different states don’t have these similar guidelines and restrictions, it places me at a enormous drawback.

“I have two sons here on the farm. We’re in a position now where they need to buy into the farm, and quite frankly, they’re really scratching their heads whether it makes sense. They’re wondering what they should do for the future. It’s one thing to be progressive, but you can’t go too far out in front of your neighbors or you’re going to stifle any production.”

A 3-member state Wage Board, together with David Fisher, president of New York Farm Bureau, spent most of 2020 soliciting enter about whether or not to advocate decreasing the extra time threshold to maybe 40 hours per week. Scores of farmers strongly opposed the concept in a collection of public hearings.

In late December, the board agreed to postpone any choices, giving farmers extra time to regulate to the 60-hour law, particularly in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, which triggered important monetary, operational and provide chain challenges.

The panel is chaired by Brenda McDuffie, Buffalo City League president and CEO, and likewise consists of labor consultant Denis Hughes, former New York State AFL-CIO president. The board just isn’t anticipated to reconvene till late this year on the earliest. McDuffie and Hughes have each indicated they favor a 40-hour extra time law for agriculture, the identical as most different industries, and would finally wish to see it adopted.

The final word resolution rests with Roberta Reardon, state labor commissioner.

Solely a handful of different states — Minnesota, Hawaii, Maryland and California — have some kind of extra time provision that varies on hours and weeks, and Washington state is contemplating it. There was some preliminary dialogue about a nationwide 60-hour extra time law. Bittner, who manages 400 acres, says he wouldn’t oppose this as it will stage the enjoying subject between New York and different states.

Within the meantime, he’s already eradicated labor-intensive crops that don’t pay a premium to make ends meet.

“On a fruit farm like ours, 50% of our total expense is labor,” Bittner says. “We spent $750,000 on payroll alone final year. As wage charges go up, you’re going to pay extra staff’ compensation insurance coverage, extra Social Safety. All these different issues add on to it.

“Up till a year in the past, I used to develop a lot of processing peaches for fruit cocktail, yogurt and ice cream. We’ve give up that fully, and I simply reduce down 65-year-old pear bushes that had been in full manufacturing. We’re additionally chopping again on contemporary candy cherries as a result of these are all harvested by hand. It’s the costliest crop to select. I can’t afford to lose cash rising a crop. We’re simply not going to do it anymore.

“We have 100 acres of open land; we just don’t know what to plant,” he provides. “Frankly, solar panels look better all the time in New York state.”

The farm is now targeted solely on rising apples, plums and contemporary peaches, and has applied dramatic new practices in an effort to economize.

“Peaches are now all short trees, and we’ve cut down a lot of big apple trees and gone to smaller ones,” Bittner says. “We’ve thrown away all our ladders. I have no use for 16- and 20-foot ladders anymore. I just ordered an elevated picking platform where people stand to pick. The bin’s going to be up there, too. We’re just trying to be more efficient with our labor.”

Stressful times

Danielle Volles manages the enterprise facet of issues at Volles Dairy Farm, which milks 1,550 cows and employs 28 folks in Onondaga County. She says the 60-hour law has created extra work and stress for farm homeowners who should make up for duties staff not do.

“My father-in-law, who was probably getting ready to retire, has recommitted to sticking around a bit longer just because we need the manpower,” Volles says.

The farm’s payroll rose $150,000 final year because it paid some staff extra time for important duties, and employed a few part-time staff at common pay to keep away from even increased extra time prices. “That’s an additional expense we really can’t afford,” she says. “We had to restructure our hours and days off.”

Labor is the primary controllable price that many fiscally troubled industries in the reduction of on, Volles says.

“Agriculture can’t do that. Cows have to be taken care of every day. You need a certain amount of people to do the work, and there’s only so many hours in a day,” she says. “Most farms are working 22 to 23 hours per day, seven days per week, significantly of their milking parlors. There aren’t any holidays. I couldn’t let go of anyone.

“If I had to pay all my people on a 40-hour week, I think we would go out of business. It would be a lose-lose situation for every farm.”

Courtesy of Bittner Singer Orchards

GOING SMALLER: Bittner Singer Orchards is getting rid of tall apple and peach bushes, going as a substitute with smaller bushes that don’t require as a lot labor to select them. They’ve additionally invested in a choosing platform to enhance labor effectivity.

McDuffie, Hughes and like-minded officers say different industries comparable to eating places and hospitality have 40-hour workweeks, and that agriculture shouldn’t be granted particular favors.

However Volles says the larger situation is that folks largely unfamiliar with agriculture are making choices that vastly have an effect on its survival.

“Weather, pricing, markets, supply and demand, we don’t have control over those things,” she says. “The factor about extra time, too, is that almost all industries have the flexibility to divest that further price. When minimal wage goes up, your sandwich on the restaurant goes up a greenback.

“In dairy, that’s not the case. We’re working in a mounted market. I’ve no management over what milk costs are, a lot much less what I’m getting paid. I don’t have wherever to divest these further payroll prices to. So, I’ve to chop internally, somewhere else, in some circumstances for issues we actually want.”

And this impacts the whole rural financial system.

“I haven’t bought new equipment in a couple of years; I’m not spending money in the community with the local tractor dealer,” Volles says. “I’m not utilizing mechanics as a lot. We’re attempting to make things better in-house extra.

“I really think we need to start looking at how important agriculture is,” she provides. “We can’t let people go out of business, and that’s what’s going to happen. You’ve seen over the past 20 to 30 years how many smaller farms have gone out. There aren’t many 200- and 300-cow dairies anymore, or even 500- and 600-cow dairies. That’s due to the rising cost of everything else and the low cost of milk.”

Extra time wanted

Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Ammerman says the ag trade isn’t searching for exemption from labor legal guidelines, however merely desires lawmakers to acknowledge the distinctive challenges farms cope with to develop meals, look after livestock and handle their land.

“Agriculture is a unique industry,” he says. “Farms must deal with perishable food, changing weather conditions, limited windows to plant and harvest, as well as taking care of animals around the clock. Our farms want to provide for their employees the best they can, but they must also be able to compete in the marketplace and make enough money to keep the farm going, which provides jobs and income for the farm family as well as those of their employees.”

Many fruit and dairy farms rely closely on overseas H-2A staff, particularly at peak harvest times. Bittner and Volles say they’ll lose such assist to different states if New York lowers the extra time threshold to one thing lower than 60 hours.

“Is a worker going to come to my farm when they can go to Pennsylvania and work all the hours they want?” Bittner says. “They just have to sit on the mandated day off. They aren’t happy, especially these guys who only come here for two months in September and October. They want to work every day.”

“Most foreign workers don’t come with their families,” Volles says. “They’re coming to raised their lives at house, for his or her wives, their kids. They’re sending cash house for meals, housing, and to allow them to reside good lives. They’re right here for work. That’s why they arrive.

“We need more time to decide whether or not a 60-hour week is going to work and what it’s going to do to agriculture,” she provides. “We can’t just make decisions without understanding completely what the effects of those decisions are going to be.”

Publish writes from japanese New York.

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