MARK GILLESPIE/County New file photo
U.S. Rep. Kathy Hochul and New York State Senator Pat Gallivan met with area farmers at a roundtable meeting at York Town Hall in May.
DC and Albany come to the farm
Congresswoman Kathy Hochul recognized right away that the farmers in Friday’s roundtable meeting at York Town Hall were giving up a sunny spring morning to meet with her rather than planting or milking cows.
She wasted no time getting to the point of why she believes agriculture is of vital importance. “Food security is national security,” she said. “We buy food from countries who might be our friends today, but might not be in the future.”
Hochul joined State Senator Pat Gallivan to hear from two dozen farmers and farm industry representatives on matters of immigration reform, energy tax credits, labor law and the dairy market.
Both Hochul and Gallivan admitted they had little first-hand experience working on the farm and count on their constituents to keep them up to date.
“These meetings help us become educated on issues of importance,” said Gallivan, whose 59th state senate district is falls almost completely within Hochul’s 26th Congressional District.
Hochul touted her role in urging the U.S. Department of Labor to adopt an online filing system for H-2A visas used by temporary immigrant workers.
“Government should be on your side, not on your back,” she said, pointing out the 18 pounds of paperwork farmowners now have to fill out every year to secure the H-2A visas.
The new system, which will store account data for future use — streamlining the application process — will be made available by the Department of Labor later this year.
Andrew Smith of Lawnell Farms in Piffard addressed a proposed law that would restrict children from operating farm machinery.
“No one cares more about the safety of my child than me,” explained Smith, “but this law would limit the ability of young people to work on the family farm and cultivate the love of farming early.”
Hochul agreed, telling the story of meeting a 15-year-old boy who told her he’d been working his family farm “for ten years.”
Asked about government efforts to bring New York State farm products into the state’s school cafeterias, Senator Gallivan described a 2002 “New York Farm to School Initiative” which makes it easier for schools to purchase foods produced in the state. In cooperation with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service, the program also provides for educational programs that help students understand where the food they buy is grown.
Alan Hainsworth of Hainsworth Farms in Mount Morris operates a digester which turns farm waste into methane which can be used to generate heat. However, at 2.5 cents a kilowatt, buying electricity is cheaper than buying gasoline to haul solid waste.
“The government supports the oil industry with subsidies. Why can’t the dairy industry get money to help us truck this waste around?” Hainsworth wondered.
He also spoke of the fear dairy farmers have of losing milking time to Homeland Security raids of undocumented dairy workers.
“You’ve confirmed why its important that I leave Washington and come out here as often as I can,” replied Hochul.
She told Hainsworth that the federal government should create a job bank for legal dairy workers to help farmers avoid hiring illegal immigrants.
“When you use a legal program, you don’t have to worry about the middle of the night round-ups and the helicopters circling overhead.”
In Albany, progress toward agricultural reform has been slow — but Senator Gallivan urged farmers to be patient because New York is headed in the right direction.
“Two years ago, we were the highest-taxed state in the nation. But each year since, we’ve reduced spending in our $130 billion budget from the year before. We’ve taken the host of fees farms have to pay and reduced them. Your income is being taxed at the lowest rate in 50 years.”
Jeff Mulligan of Mulligan Farms in Avon told the Congresswoman that an incompatibility between Chinese demand for dry milk and U.S. market demand has added up to missed opportunity.
The U.S. government purchases non-fat dry milk for school lunches and low-income food programs, leading U.S. farms to favor this variety. China, on the other hand, prefers whole dry milk, leading that country to turn to other nations for imports.
Hal Cole of the Cole Bean Company in Avon spoke of how his industry has been squeezed by demand for other products like soybeans — which farmers prefer to plant due to higher profit margins.
He also told Hochul and Gallivan that his family’s grain elevator often contains corn grown in Canada bound for U.S. ethanol plants, a fact that is “hurting farmers.”
“Ethanol producers who benefit from federal tax credits should be supplied by U.S. farms,” said Hochul.
Afterward, members of the Congresswoman’s and Senator’s staff met with farmers one-on-one. Hochul continue to Rochester where she addressed concerns at the University of Rochester over impending hikes in student loan interest rates.