For years dairy farmers have been under fire from changing laws and milk prices that don’t keep up with inflation. Will the new labor law be the final nail in the coffin of Mom-and-Pop dairy farms?

The new law, recommended by the Farm Labor Wage Board and accepted by New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, will require overtime to be paid to farm workers after 40 hours in a work week and cap the hours worked in a week at 60. The overtime paid out is to be subsided as a tax credit and is scheduled to be implemented over the next decade, lowering the overtime requirements by four hours every other year.

Also included to help with the cost of overtime was a boost of the New York State Investment Tax Credit from 4% to 20% for farm businesses. The Farm Workforce Retention Tax Credit was also increased to $1,200 per employee. However, many farmers are saying that this won’t be enough and that the increase in labor costs will wipe out their already thin margins. It will put New York at a disadvantage as a dairy farming state.

On Oct. 12, local farmers and vendors from local businesses met with NYS Assemblymembers Chris Tague and Robert Smullen, candidate for NYS Assembly District 111 Joseph Mastroianni and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik and at Dykeman and Sons Dairy Farm. Ray Dykeman invited these politicians and local farmers to his farm to discuss their concerns with the new law as well as what could be done to secure a future for dairy farming in New York.

Farmers concerned about future of dairy in NYS

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik has spoken out against the Farm Labor Wage Board recommendation to lower the overtime threshold. Photos by Michael Wren

New York is the fifth largest dairy producing state in the U.S. (dropping from third place in 2017). This drop in ranking was due to both an increase in other states’ production (such as California and Texas) and a decrease in New York State production.

It’s not just the dairy industry at stake in New York; there are many secondary businesses that rely on a strong dairy industry in order to succeed. Wes Ostander, owner of Randall Implements Co. Inc., noted that sales of agricultural equipment are down to around 50% of total business now. “There is a lot of ag-related business that needs dairy,” said Ostrander.

“This economy cannot survive without agriculture,” pointed out Tague.

“We don’t need subsidies in agriculture, we need a level playing field,” said Jason Lloyd of Maple Downs Farms, in reference to the new laws. “People are going to leave [the state].”

The farmers also note that if workers are capped at 60 hours they will need to bring in more workers to handle the workload, which will require more housing, as H-2A laws require housing to be provided. According to the farmers who attended, some of their H-2A workers who want the extra work have already said they will leave to another state where they can get the hours they are looking for.

Stefanik, who has already spoken out against the Wage Board’s recommendation to lower the overtime threshold, told farmers that “help is on the way.” Stefanik has been a longtime supporter of agriculture in New York and plans to continue to challenge this decision and fight for Upstate farmers.

Ray Dykeman invited politicians and local farmers to his farm to discuss their concerns with the new law as well as what could be done to secure a future for dairy farming in New York.

This new law comes at a time when many generational farmers are looking to retire and pass the reins down to their children. However, with the current state of the market, they are worried that continuing in the dairy industry might not be possible in New York anymore.

All who attended the meeting agreed that something will have to change if New York hopes to remain a contender in the dairy industry.

by Michael Wren