The central New York agriculture community got a chance to get the ear of Rep. Dan Maffei (D-Syracuse) this week, highlighting several areas where action by the federal government could help farmers and food processors do their jobs.
Topic number one on the agriculture agenda is to urge Congress to pass the Farm Bill, that’s been languishing in Congress for two years. Bill Byrne of Byrne Dairy is optimistic as lawmakers seem to be reaching consensus on the dairy policy in the Farm Bill, one of the big sticking points.
"I think they’ll settle this thing, and we’ll move on. But we really need to settle the Farm Bill, and I think if there’s one message that came out of today’s meeting is to get that done,” said Byrne.
Beyond that, an issue that may be putting the biggest strain on upstate farmers at this point, is the lack of an immigration policy. Kevin Ellis of Cayuga Milk Ingredients says that’s the number one constraint on dairy farmers right now in upstate New York.
"Because people are fearful that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will come in and take their employees away at any time, and with that incredible amount of uncertainty, people aren’t willing to risk any more of their assets," said Ellis.
Mark James of the Central New York Farm Bureau, agreed that the fear of getting in trouble with the feds for hiring an illegal immigrant weighs heavily on farmers.
“I personally witnessed a raid by ICE on a fruit farm in Wayne County, and it’s very disconcerting, because the farmer has no reliable way to discern whether an applicant has good papers or bad papers," said James. "They’re not document experts. And if they make the wrong decision, and say no you can’t work on my farm, they may be involved in a civil rights lawsuit.”
Experts at the session say many farmers are don't even want to come out and talk about the need for policy that allows immigrants to work on farms, but many farmers say they need immigrant workers to expand their business. Kevin Ellis, of Cayuga Milk Ingredients, says farmers need immigrants to do much of the work on a farm.
“We’d like to see some sort of program that allows immigrants to come to this country and perform the duties that, for whatever the reason, Americans don’t apply for and fulfill these jobs that are so important to our economic success,” said Ellis.
Maffei says he’ll take the farmers' concerns back to Washington.