According to the New York Farm Bureau, the lobby group for the state’s agricultural community, net farm income plunged to one-third of the total 2013 income in 2016.
And that drop, as the Press-Republican reports, was largely precipitated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to sign a state-mandated increase in the minimum wage for labor into law in 2016. Although the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the state’s is now $10.40 per hour in upstate counties, increasing to $12.50 on December 31, 2020. Federal statistics reveal the average farm wage in New York is now roughly $13 an hour.
Several farmers told the Press-Republican that the combination of higher minimum wages, rising costs and depressed commodity prices have led to the closing of several farms; Joseph Giroux, a Beekmantown dairy farmer, acknowledged, “We’ve had a few farms go out because they just couldn’t compete anymore.” Farm Bureau President David Fisher echoed, “There is a lot of stress in the countryside,” adding, “If the state is going to force a higher wage on farms, they should be prepared to offer greater assistance to offset the costs.”
Alan Buhr, who operates New Royal Orchards in Gasport, said, “We’re all concerned with the effects of the minimum wage going up every year. Our biggest expense is labor. It’s all hand work.” James Powers, who owned a dairy herd, sold it last year; he said, “When dairy is struggling, everyone is struggling. …It’s been brutal the last few years, and it’s not looking any better this year.”
Beekmantown farmer Sam Dyer, the just-elected Beekmantown town supervisor, asserted, “There are farms that are just barely hanging on. They are losing everything they have worked their entire lives for and are coming out of it with nothing.” He said that many farmers haven’t invested in new equipment, adding, “We don’t know how we’re going to pay for it.”
Although the farmers hope that the New York legislature will double the current $300-per-employee tax credit for farmers, Farm Bureau leaders said that the tax credit only covers a fraction of the costs associated with the minimum wage hike.