Agriculture is New York state’s most critical and most vulnerable industries wrapped up into a single vital whole. So, with this in mind, the state must make robust investments in agriculture to help small- and mid-sized farms stay afloat and adopt sustainable practices amid a world of climate change — especially if the Farm Workers Wage Board votes this week to slash its threshold for overtime pay.
The Wage Board under the state Labor Department must vote on or before Wednesday to accept or reject a proposal to lower the agriculture overtime threshold to 40 hours from its current standard of 60. The proposed decrease is intended to improve pay for farm laborers and put industry standards on par with others, but farmers and workers alike have vehemently protested the measure.
At stake here is the future of many family farms that will be forced to shift their priorities.
“The effects of climate change are already here, setting the stage for severe environmental changes across our country, and with flooding, fires and droughts ravaging many of our other core agricultural states, New York is set to become the breadbasket of our country once again,” state Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, said. “For far too long, we have undervalued and underinvested in New York agriculture. Year after year, farming costs have skyrocketed while the price for food has plummeted, leaving many small and mid-size family farms on the brink of closure. This fact, paired with the environmental trends we’re seeing, is a recipe for disaster for the future of our food security and economy.”
If approved, the overtime restriction and planned minimum wage hikes would result in a 42% increase in labor costs for small farms, according to a recent Farm Credit East report.
If we continue to raise costs without meaningful financial investment to create a more stable bottom line, New York will lose an entire generation of family farms and their highly skilled workers. Together, labor and agriculture have sobering, but critical, decisions to make to develop a path that prioritizes food security and the survival of the farming community.