Agricultural issues discussed during campaign stop at local farms

U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, and Republican candidate for the 19th congressional district Marcus Molinaro both said Monday they would support reforming and expanding the federal agricultural visa program to help farmers to gain better access to legal immigrant workers, while lambasted New York State’s expansion of overtime rights for farmworkers.

Stefanik and Molinaro spoke about agricultural issues and met with small business owners during Monday’s campaign stops at Shults Farm in Canajoharie and the fireman’s house in Fort Plain.

Stefanik, the 3rd Republican in the House of Representatives, said next year there will be a new US farm bill in which she hopes many of the problems faced by local farmers can be solved with better funding. and better federal policies. She said, if Molinaro wins the 19th congressional district — in the Aug. 23 special election against Democrat Pat Ryan to fill the remainder of the current lieutenant’s term. Gov. Antonio Delgado, who resigned his seat in May, and/or the general election in November — she will ensure he sits on the House Agriculture Committee.

Stefanik linked the need to increase access to legal immigrant labor to the need for increased security at US borders.

“You can look at my file, the H2A [visa] program — I’ve long been a proponent specifically for farmers. Agriculture has long been the backbone of the North Country and upstate New York,” she said. “I have a long, long history on this issue, but we also absolutely need to secure the border and return to President Trump’s effective border policies that were opened wide under Joe Biden.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics show that monthly arrests of illegal migrants at the southwest border for most months of Biden’s first two years exceeded or equaled most months of Trump’s tenure. The highest spike in monthly arrests under Trump was in the spring of 2019, when there were around 130,000 arrests per month, which was the highest number of arrests in the previous six-year period. .

MaryBeth Shults said many family farms along her route had decided to allow solar panels to be installed on what had been good farmland, and she said she didn’t blame them, given how it is difficult to find affordable labor to work on their farms. She said she supports the expansion of agricultural visa programs to help support agriculture in Montgomery County and elsewhere in upstate New York.

“Nobody here wants to work, so might as well let the people who want to work here come to work,” Shults said.

She said her family, who have allowed solar panels but only on farmland, still have children and grandchildren ready to work their farm, but they are afraid of what the future may bring, especially Since New York State reformed its labor laws to allow agriculture workers have been receiving overtime pay.

“The overtime situation in New York State needs to go away,” she said. “We don’t hire a lot of labor here, but the impact is beyond us. Our processors and those kinds of situations, they won’t be able to bear the costs. »

In December, the three-member Labor Wage Council voted 2-1 to reduce the overtime pay threshold for agricultural workers from 60 hours per week to 40 hours per week. The Labor Wages Commission is due to meet again on September 6 where it will decide on its final recommendations in the form of a report to be given to Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, who will then be responsible for accepting or rejecting the new overtime rules, which would then be phased in over a 10-year period.

David Shults said farm labor issues affect all aspects of farming, including milking cows, raising lambs and ‘contract labour’. He said lowering the overtime threshold is a bad idea, which is “killing” agricultural businesses.

Molinaro said he supports federal policies aimed at increasing farmers’ access to legal immigrant labor, but he’s concerned that New York state’s farm labor overtime law will further increases costs.

“Access to more labor will be overtaken by the policies Democrats are pushing in Albany,” he said.

David Shults said he was a Republican and would likely support Stefanik in November. The Shults expressed some confusion about which congressional district they will be in after the congressional redistricting takes effect.

For clarity, eligible voters in the five western towns of Montgomery County, Canajoharie, Minden, Root, Palatine and St. Johnsville, will be able to vote in Tuesday’s 19th Congressional District special election, but will then be eligible. to vote in the November general election for the 21st congressional district.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard of all this, it’s how political I am,” said David Shults.

David Shults said the only state or federal politician before Stefanik and Molinaro who ever seemed to care about agricultural issues was U.S. Representative Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, when he represented West Montgomery County, but then added that he had not seen Tonko. since he stopped representing that part of the county. He said he criticized Biden for not lowering gas prices.

“Why can’t he control gas prices? asked David Shults. “He can control other prices. He tries to control the prices of pharmaceutical products. I mean it doesn’t, but why can’t it control gas prices? »

However, David Shults was less certain that Montgomery County should suspend the gasoline sales tax, which legislation signed by Governor Kathy Hochul allowed counties to do through the end of this year.

“I’m not going to save for that one, I’ll be honest with you,” David Shults said, even as MaryBeth indicated she thought the county should suspend the tax.

Stefanik castigated the inflation that has occurred with many agricultural supplies, some of which are directly linked to rising oil prices, especially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia is one of the largest potash fertilizer producers as well as a major global oil supplier.

MaryBeth Shults expressed frustration that there aren’t more programs available to help fund construction on farms.

“I’m so sick of treading water all the time, just trying to stay afloat, instead of building,” she said. “We pinch pennies every day.”

Molinaro said New York State has money available for farmland, but only if there is a local match. He said he thinks the federal government should start providing funds for more agricultural development funding.

“So, [in Dutchess County, the county government] invests $1 million, then [New York state] gives us $2 million, and nonprofits give another $1 million,” he said, describing a farmland development funding program in his home county, where he is currently. county manager. “But if the [federal government] could come and help, we might not need the counties to do it, and in the poorer counties they can’t do it.

Lori Shults said her family is not ready to give up farming just yet. Lori helped lead a tour of her family farm for federal and state officials, including Congressman Robert Smullen and state Senate candidate Rich Amedure. She and MaryBeth took the officials through the families’ tomato greenhouses and an expanse of “experimental crops” the family grows. Lori said they decided to plant peppers directly in the ground rather than in raised beds. She said the peppers did well and they will definitely replant them next year.