Heading into the 2015 legislative session, the top priority for the New York Farm Bureau is immigration reform, said Dean Norton, bureau president, during a media conference call this morning.
The Elba resident is in Washington, D.C., this week meeting with members of New York's congressional delegation to represent farmers' interests.
"We need a stable, legal, reliable workforce," Norton said. "What we have now is broken. A stable workforce on our farms means a stable rural economy."
The Farm Bureau is calling on Washington to create a visa program or temporary worker program that will make it easier for farmers to hire and retain farm workers and not worry about all of their workers being taken away by immigration officials without notice.
"Everybody (in Washington) understands there's a problem, but neither side trusts and has faith in the other side to deal fairly," Norton said. "Both sides want to hold immigration as a political football."
The Farm Bureau is also looking for clarification from the FDA on food safety rules and there's been some progress on that front, Norton said.
Until recently, a small dairy farm with gross revenue of $500,000 that also grows a few strawberries for a fruit stand would face reams of regulations for the strawberry operation, but the FDA will start to apply those rules to $500,000 per crop, so the strawberry operation would not be covered in that circumstance.
Still a top priority for the Farm Bureau is the EPA's proposed rule change on what constitutes navigable waters. Farmers remain concerned that rule changes would bring into regulation small --- even very small -- bodies of water on farms.
"We continue to push the EPA for a clarification on the rules," Norton said. "Of the comments sent in by individuals, 58 percent of the comments ask the EPA to start over and become better partners with agriculture and come up with rules that are better for everybody."
Also on today's conferance call was Elisabeth Walters, director of national affairs, who said the Farm Bureau is paying close attention to the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, and is pushing for trade reform and reforms in tax structure to encourage more farmers to donate crops to local food pantries.
Norton said farmers want greater access to foreign markets, which means trade agreements, and the president should have greater authority to reach trade deals.
Rep. Chris Collins has publicly opposed the idea, and Norton said he would be meeting with Collins today to discuss the issue with him.
"The reason we're in favor of it is that our trading partners want to deal with one person, not negotiate with 365," Norton said.