Farmers and agricultural industry leaders in the North Country had the ears of state lawmakers yesterday in Watertown. The forum, hosted by State Senator Patty Ritchie, was one of 10 being held throughout the state on the topic of regulatory reform in a variety of industries.
One by one, farmers told the panel of four state senators about the complex government bureaucracy they must navigate to operate nearly every aspect of their businesses. They detailed the costs in time, manpower and money of their efforts to comply with a dizzying array of regulations.
Ritchie chairs the Senate Agricultural Committee. She told the several dozen people who turned up that their comments would give lawmakers a fine-grained look at farmers' priorities for reform.“I know from many who are here today, I've heard firsthand from you all the rules and regulations that you have to deal with, and I think this is a perfect opportunity for my colleagues to hear directly from you, and for us to go back to Albany and try to deal with it,” she said.
Over three hours, farmers voiced their frustrations with rules governing everything from farm vehicle licensing to equipment inspection schedules. But a few major themes emerged: labor issues, the incompatibility of federal and state requirements, and the need for technological upgrades to the electrical system, internet access, and the state's paper-based documentation process.
Ron Robbins owns North Harbor Dairy in Sackets Harbor. His business includes 950 dairy cows, 7,000 acres of crops, an agricultural tourism attraction, a trucking business, and more. He gave the panel a vivid illustration of the scope of government regulation he deals with. “We have Department of Ag and Markets, Department of Health, Department of Labor, Department of Transportation. We have Department of Taxation and Finance; we have the Department of Environmental Conservation,”he said. “The list is long, and we have to do something almost every day to comply with one or several of those agencies.”
And those are just the state agencies – there are federal ones, too. Robbins said he or someone on his staff spends an average of two to three hours a day on regulatory compliance. He's considering hiring an employee dedicated to that task.
After the forum, Ritchie said members of the Senate majority coalition who are leading the regulatory reform hearings will continue to gather recommendations from different industries throughout the state. She said their goal is to target 1,000 specific regulations for elimination when the Senate reconvenes in January.