The governor’s executive budget cuts between 20 and 30% of the agricultural programs that farmers depend on during a time when farmers are already suffering, according to Jeff Williams, director of public policy at the New York Farm Bureau.
“We are in a pandemic. The food system was shut down for restaurants and schools and now it’s at an ebb. A lot of our economy goes into food production and food preparation,” Williams explained. “You know, 10 pound bags of mozzarella cheese, a family isn’t going to buy that in a grocery store but a restaurant will.”
Restaurants in New York City have been closed or operating take-out businesses. Just today, Governor Cuomo said indoor dining in New York City can resume on Friday at 25% capacity.
Other programs which have been slashed in the governor’s budget include Harvest NY, which provides farmers with the latest scientific research and how it can be applied on the farm; North Country agricultural development; and the Maple Research Program at Cornell.
“We lead the nation in maple research, so it’s really important,” Williams said of the $125K program, which the governor cut by $50K.
These tiny programs act as the agricultural industry’s economic development arm.
Farms aren’t like other businesses. Farmers don’t work 9 to 5, and for many, their business is also their home. It’s also likely that the farm was handed down to them from their parents, and their parents before them. So, when the farm is struggling, it becomes personal, and takes an enormous mental health toll.
“There’s not a lot of hope at the end of the day,” said Williams. “We’ve got increasing labor costs. We’ve got 60-hour overtime now which is the biggest change in agriculture in a hundred years. Labor costs go up and profit margins go below the cost of production. That causes any business owner to become extremely stressed.”
That hopelessness is one reason why the cut to yet another program, FarmNet, is so painful. It assists farmers with both business development and transition, as well as mental health counseling.
Williams says FarmNet has been overwhelmed by requests for mental health services. This year’s executive budget eliminates $500k that had been earmarked for the program in the past.
Finally, Williams told Capital Tonight that farmers say it’s critical that farm workers get vaccinated.
“Farm workers are the first part of the huge food supply chain in New York state and are critical to feeding consumers in rural and urban areas,” Williams said. “A lot of them are starting to come in to New York state from their H2a program, a federal guest visa program. And we need to ensure their health of the seasonal workers as well as the year-round workers.”