Agriculture is important to New York’s economy and is an intrinsic part of New York’s culture and heritage. For generations, New York farm families have provided healthy foods to feed the state, the nation and the world. As I travel throughout the state, I am continually impressed by the contributions farmers make to our rural communities and the tremendous positive impact they have on the economy. That is why I have worked so hard to advance policies that help our farms to thrive and grow.
Ensuring that agriculture is able to flourish and the unique needs of New York agriculture are considered in federal programs is a top priority for me. New York has benefited tremendously from numerous federal farm programs including the increased funding for conservation, specialty crops, MILC and biofuels that I helped secure in the 2008 farm bill The last two years are a grim reminder of the importance of sustaining a strong safety net for our farmers and the need for programs that enhance rural economies, and I will fight for this in the next farm bill.
A healthy dairy industry is crucial to New York’s economy. The extreme low dairy prices we saw in 2009 demonstrated how vital dairy is to communities across New York that rely on the dairy industry as an economic engine. It is imperative that New York retain a vibrant dairy industry both for its economic benefits and for the high-quality dairy products it delivers to consumers across the region. As Congress considers dairy reform legislation, I will fight to ensure that any reform benefits NY which has smaller farms and a higher cost of production than other regions of the country.
Increasing export markets is important to American farmers and I have consistently fought for trade policies that attain greater market access for American products without allowing foreign countries to dump products into our market. I have long advocated for programs that promote U.S. exports such as the Market Access Program (MAP)
and the Dairy Export Incentive Program (DEIP)
. I am also working to level the playing field for U.S. farmers by ensuring that all nations play by the rules. I have introduced legislation that would prevent foreign dairy byproducts from circumventing our trade quotas, pressed countries such as India to uphold our trade deals and accept American dairy products, and pushed the U.S. Trade Representative to crack down on products being shipped to the U.S. like misbranded honey or un-inspected ‘organic’ products.
Time and again, NY farmers have told me that attaining skilled labor is crucial to the future of our agriculture industry. NY in particular is in great need of skilled labor to pick our fruits and vegetables, milk cows and assist on farms. It is important that farmers be able to hire skilled foreign workers and get these workers at the time that they need them. I am a strong supporter of the Ag Jobs bill; it is a part of my comprehensive immigration proposal, and I have worked hard to pass it in the Senate.
Promoting American dairy
Increasing American agriculture exports will help our farmers by increasing demand for their products. That is why I have consistently pushed for other nations to allow fair access to their markets for American goods. I have secured commitments from the United States Trade Representative to push Indian trade officials to open their domestic market to the our dairy exports and am continuing to press Indian officials to accept American dairy products.
After hearing from New York dairy farmers that foreign imports of dairy products were circumventing our trade rules and entering the US, I introduced legislation to end this practice. The Milk Import Tariff Equity Act would close a loophole in federal law that allows for the unlimited importation of foreign Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC) for use in food. Over the last decade, MPC imports have more than doubled -- undermining the market for domestic powdered milk, reducing the farm price for milk, and costing New York dairy farmers millions every year. As MPC's have replaced powdered dry milk in the market, they have driven down the price of milk for New York's farmers and resulted in significant losses in revenue. Some foreign producers in countries including New Zealand, Australia, Canada and some European countries also mix small amounts of milk protein with powdered dry milk, to avoid existing tariff rate quotas (TRQs) on powdered milk.
Standing up against regulations that would burden farmers
After learning that the Environmental Protect Agency (EPA)
was considering regulating milk tanks under the Clean Water Act
, I called on EPA to exempt dairy farmers from this provision intended for oil companies and introduced legislation requiring EPA to finalize a rule to exempting milk tanks. If required to comply, dairy farmers would have to develop and implement plans to handle a milk spill – the same provision that requires oil companies to develop plans to deal with oil spills. The EPA claims the authority to require such spill prevention plans because milk contains animal fat – an oil. The current administration is considering a rule exempting farmers from these requirements but farmers worried that they would be forced to comply if regulations are not completed soon. In response, EPA stated that it is moving forward on finalizing its rule and committed to extending compliance for milk tanks until a final rule is in place.
Preventing farmers from losing crops due to worker shortages
For nearly 30 years New York farmers have relied on the H-2A program
for seasonal labor to help them harvest their fall crops. The program permits U.S. employers to bring temporary foreign workers into the country to perform seasonal agricultural work. Unfortunately, glitches in the visa process can cause havoc for farmers and last fall, for example, many New York apple and vegetable farmers were at risk of not being able to get the necessary H-2A visas for Jamaican workers they had petitioned for and were counting on to harvest their fall crops. I worked U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
to help expedite the grower‘s submissions to USCIS for agency review to ensure the growers would get the labor they needed. As a result, the workers arrived on time, preventing growers from losing millions of dollars in crops that would have gone unharvested.
Ensuring Farmers Have Access to Federal Programs
I personally called the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
in June to urge the USDA
to expand soybean crop insurance to 14 New York counties. Vilsack heeded by call and USDA has since expanded this essential insurance program to Chemung, Chenango, Clinton, Columbia, Dutchess, Essex, Franklin, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Otsego, St. Lawrence, Tioga and Washington counties. Being able to buy soybean crop insurance will allow farmers to expand into this lucrative industry. Soybean coverage had previously not been offered in many parts of Upstate New York, forcing producers to rely on catastrophic coverage, higher-priced private coverage, or go without insurance. Also, without inclusion in the federal insurance program many farmers were unable to take on the risk of producing this new crop sidelining the type of entrepreneurship needed to create jobs and grow regional economies.