Norris: Albany Has Obligation to Agriculture

A Column from Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,C,I,Ref-Lockport)

Last month, the United States Census report showed that an additional 50,000 New Yorkers have moved out of state. This number is on top of the over one million who have fled to other states in the past decade. As our state’s population continues to shrink, we are facing some very real and very concerning consequences of this population loss: our state could potentially lose as many as two congressional districts, the state Legislature will continue to be comprised of representatives dominantly from downstate, and declining populations could result in reduced resources for schools, libraries, and communities upstate. But one thing is for certain, the tax burden will continue to fall on property owners and this will continue to erode our state’s agriculture industry.

Every day it seems we hear of another farm on the brink of closure. In recent months, dairy farmers have been hit particularly hard forcing dozens of generations-old farms to close across our state. The dairy and milk industry are responsible for close to 26,000 of the state’s nearly 200,000 agriculture jobs. The dairy industry alone contributes the same amount of jobs that the much-maligned New York City Amazon deal would have brought to our state. And, sadly, Albany downstate leaders are doing virtually nothing to protect these dairy industry jobs.

On top of this, the downstate controlled State Senate is looking at legislation (S.3843) that would have a major impact on our farmers by allowing farm workers to unionize. The bill was introduced by a state senator from New York City and is widely opposed by those in the industry, but because of the one-party and downstate control now in Albany, there is a possibility the measure could become law.

This legislation is outrageous and it would cripple our local farms and agricultural industry. Working in the agricultural industry is seasonal and very dependent on weather conditions. Often times, farmers are required to already provide housing and transportation to workers on top of their wages. This radical change will severely impact the costs to farmers which will directly increase the cost of produce on consumers. If this measure should come up for a vote, I will certainly vote “NO.”

Please know that I am working hard to make sure the values and priorities of Western New York are heard in Albany, and that includes doing everything I can to support and protect agriculture. For example, my legislative record has been recognized by the State Farm Bureau in 2017 and 2018 with the distinguished Circle of Friends Award and I was very pleased to support legislation that would help new and beginning farmers to grow and expand (A.5060 of 2017-18) but, after passage in both houses, the governor vetoed the bill. It is critical that New York protects this $5.05 billion industry, not only to support the over 7-million acres of farmland in our landscape, our quality of life, and our access to fresh and nutrient-rich foods, but also to preserve this tradition and our friends and neighbors who improve all of our lives because they are in farming.