All this week we have shown you some of the hard work and new technology that farms are using to get the most profit for their hard work. But when it comes to being as successful as they can, farmers tell us they cannot do it alone. In the final part of our look at A Day on the Farm, our Brian Dwyer takes a look at the business side of the industry and what lawmakers are doing to keep agriculture in New York strong.
JEFFERSON COUNTY, N.Y. -- Not counting Fort Drum, agriculture is the number one industry in the North Country. It brings in the most revenue. It creates the most jobs. An impact of more than $1 billion a year in Jefferson County alone.
Jefferson County Agriculture Development Coordinator Jay Matteson said, "It's growing in every aspect. That's exciting. What other private industry in the North Country can talk about thriving and being vibrant like agriculture can?"
And leading the charge are dairy farms. It's 80 to 90 percent of that total impact. But there's no question farms and agriculture as a whole are staring at some big challenges. The biggest, according to Matteson, is government: Albany and Washington.
Matteson said, "Trying to get government out of the way so that our farms can do what they do best."
In D.C., the Farm Bill died in the House last week. It's a forecast if you will for farms.. future costs, milk prices. But disagreements over farm subsidies and the SNAP program, which is food stamps, squashed it.
Jefferson said, "There's a time and a place and a need for food stamps. I'm not saying anything about that, but it shouldn't be a part of the farm bill because it really puts a different picture what the reality is."
Rep. Bill Owens of the 21st Congressional District said, "The reality politically is you have fewer farm districts for members. You have many more urban and suburban districts. So in order to get a farm bill passed, you need to address issues that offset both of those constituencies."
Also in Washington, immigration.
The Senate appears ready to pass a reform bill, providing a path for immigrants to work here longer, legally, huge for farms. But the House, despite Owens' approval, isn't in any hurry.
Owens said, "We have a group of people who simply want to block this from happening. They want to blame it on amnesty. I'm not sure what the real motivations are."
Matteson said, "We've got a choice. We can either bring in people from outside the United States to grow our food locally or we can have foreigners grow our food for us in foreign countries. That's our simple choice."
Then Albany. The Farm Labor Bill would provide employees with more benefits, overtime pay and a way to collectively bargain.
Matteson said it could be the worst thing to ever happen to state farms.
Matteson said, "In order to deal with that regulation, what they'll do is take the full-time employees and make them part-time employees. Those people will lose hours. They'll lose benefits and it'll allow farmers to work around the regulations."
The bill passed in the state Assembly, despite North Country members voting it down.
Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush of Black River said, "The state should not be involved with this. Albany and the New York City delegation, who have absolutely no idea about what is involved in the working of a farm shouldn't be pushing the legislation like they have."
Assemblywoman Addie Russell of Theresa said, "Our farmers are pretty upstanding people. I take their word that they are paying decent wages above the minimum wage and are working to ensure that they can keep their workforce which is a challenge."
But the bill never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. And if it ever does, it sounds like it won't be anytime soon. Much to the relief of farmers all over the state.
Matteson said, "We have the sun, soil and water to do dairy and do it well."
More good news for farmers. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed a bill that caps property tax caps for farms at two percent. At $40 an acre, Matteson said the government got that one right.
For more information