Matt Doheny kicked off his "50 Businesses, 50 Days" tour this week with visits to 14 businesses representing a cross-section of agricultural interests.
"Agriculture is the cornerstone of the 21st Congressional District's economy," said Doheny, the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties' candidate. "While every farm -- small, medium or large -- has its own unique challenges, there are some policy changes we could make right now to help the industry overall."
CHANGE #1: A LEGAL LABOR FORCE
The number one issue for farmers is maintaining an adequate supply of labor.
The most reliable source of that labor is nonimmigrant foreign workers, although the only legal avenue is through the government's H-2A program. That program only grants visas for temporary or seasonal work, which is untenable for dairy farms that are in need of year-round helping hands.
We need a program that allows dairy farmers and other agri-businesses a way to legally hire, document and verify migrant workers on a 3-to-5 year basis. This is not amnesty. There is not a path to citizenship. This is merely a program that will allow farmers to be more certain about their labor supply, which is what all mid- to large size farms say they need.
CHANGE #2: REIN IN THE EPA
Farmers are among our country's best environmental stewards, because the health of their land is vital to their success.
However, several farmers said the Environmental Protection Agency treats them like an adversary. Sometimes their intentions are good, but there are unintended consequences that cost farmers time, money and create a mountain of paperwork. Other times, farmers say, the EPA is solely attempting to expand its power so that the government, not the landowner, controls every waterway and air source on the farm.
Democratic Rep. Bill Owens put power-hungry, unelected bureaucrats ahead of farmers when he supported the Environmental Protection Agency's bid to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. (Roll Call #249, 4/7/11). EPA has estimated that each permit would cost $23,000, which means licensing alone would cost agriculture more than $866 million. The American Farm Bureau, meanwhile, has said the EPA plan will result in higher prices for supplies, meaning less profit for farmers, fewer jobs available on farms and more expensive food for American families.
Matt Doheny supports the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require Congress to take an up-or-down vote on any regulation that would have an annual economic impact of $100 million or more.
This takes final decisions on rulemaking out of the hands of unelected bureaucrats and back into the hands of Congress, which has a constitutional responsibility for creating laws.
Not every regulation is bad, but the REINS Act will ensure that only truly necessary regulations are implemented. Our current congressman voted against the REINS Act.
CHANGE #3: END THE DEATH TAX
Without Congressional action, estates will be taxed at 55 percent rate next year with just $1 million offered in exemptions. The current rates are 35 percent and $5 million in exemptions.
This will disproportionately affect family farms, which are capital intensive and often inherited by a relative or a partnership consisting of siblings and spouses. Lowering the exemption and increasing the tax rate will provide a strong disincentive for a farmer nearing the end of life to invest in the business. It may also force those who inherit the operation to sell pieces of the farm to meet their tax obligation.
We should permanently repeal the estate tax.
CHANGE #4: EXPAND FREE TRADE
Whether it's sending soybeans to Vietnam or bulls to Russia, our local farmers are finding receptive markets for their goods overseas.
New York farmers have benefited greatly from free trade agreements, with exports to all countries totaling $1.1 billion in 2010. Those exports supported about 9,200 jobs, both on and away from the farm, the USDA says.
After the U.S.-Chile trade agreement was enacted in 2004, New York's exports to Chile grew by a whopping 156 percent. After a deal was struck with Australia, exports from the Empire State grew by 119 percent.
New York dairy, beef and fruit farmers will certainly benefit from a free trade agreement with Colombia, although our current congressman voted against it. The agreement eliminates three tariffs on dairy products that comprised up to 159 percent of the sale price. The International Trade Commission estimates the agreement will add $2.5 billion to the United States gross domestic product.