As most farm fields sit idle over the winter season, there is still much to cultivate beyond the farm, including the positions of lawmakers in Albany who are currently debating bills that will have a big impact on agriculture in this state. Perhaps no issue could impact our farms more than the proposed $15 minimum wage.
Governor Cuomo announced his support last year, and it has galvanized farms in every region to take a firm stance against it. New York Farm Bureau is “all in on no” in its opposition. While we do not begrudge anyone looking to make a better wage, it can’t be done on the backs of farmers who many times don’t make minimum wage themselves.
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that a $15 minimum wage in New York will cost our farmers $500 million or 25 percent of their net farm income. Where will that money come from to make up for the lost revenue? It won’t come from asking for more money in your milk check. Farmers have no control over what they receive. It won’t come from the grocery stores that are concerned about keeping food prices low for their own customers. They can instead buy cheaper fruit and vegetables from Mexico and bypass local growers. It won’t come from consumers at the green markets in New York City who will find better prices from farms in Connecticut or New Jersey that can afford to sell their products at a lower price because they don’t have to pay a $15 minimum wage. The list goes on and on.
What is often lost in the discussion is that all wages will go up. Those employees who currently make more than the minimum will still want to earn more than new hires or those with less experience. It also means more money will be going to pay for unemployment and workers compensation insurance. This is money that the farmers can’t just pass on to customers. As we know, farmers are price takers not makers. They only receive what the market will give them. Members have told me they simply can’t afford it and fear closing up shop, growing less labor-intensive crops like fruits and vegetables or reducing their labor force to make way for automation. This proposal is not a good economic development strategy for rural New York.
No doubt, our farmers will voice these same concerns over the coming months, and you can be assured that New York Farm Bureau will stand firm. We are among the leaders of a coalition of two dozen business organizations that are offering up a minimum wage reality check and explaining to lawmakers in detail how this will impact small business in the state.
New York Farm Bureau’s State Directors have also written letters to the editors of newspapers across the state expressing their concerns. Members have signed large banners asking the Governor, Assembly and Senate to oppose the $15 minimum wage and keep barn doors open.
All of that is in addition to the hundreds of New York Farm Bureau members who have already e-lobbied their lawmakers or who have visited their Senators and Assembly members in district office meetings that the county Farm Bureaus have organized. It will also be a central theme of our lobby day next month in Albany. A few hundred farmers will travel to the Capitol to meet face to face with their representatives. This is the real power of New York Farm Bureau. Members developing relationships with lawmakers and helping them understand how their decisions affect their constituents. No farmer can sit idly by on this issue. It will take everyone working together to support the industry as a whole.
If we do not stop this well-intentioned, but misguided policy, it will be the hard-working family farmers in this state who will feel the brunt of the hike. For years, we have seen the Governor lift up agriculture as one of the bright spots of the economy upstate and on Long Island. With this plan, you can turn out the lights!