farming

Cornell Small Fruit Survey Needs Your Input

New-York-State-Berry-Growers-survey-growing-currants-goji-berries-crop.jpg

Are you interested in diversifying your farmers’ market, farm stand, or CSA offerings with specialty fruit crops? Have you ever thought about growing currants, kiwiberries, goji berries, beach plums, or other “unusual” fruits?

Cornell University needs your input to help guide a project that aims to develop growing recommendations and enterprise budgets for unusual fruit crops in New York. Fill out their online survey now through May 31, 2019.

2018 Farm Bill Passes House and Senate

new-york-state-berry-growers-association-2018-farm-bill.jpg

In December, the 2018 Farm Bill, featuring more than $400 billion in agriculture subsidies, conservation programs, and food aid, passed the House 369–47 and the Senate 87–13. It was signed into law by President Donald Trump just before the holidays.

Although the President and the Republican majority in Congress were initially in favor of two provisions—more stringent work requirements for food stamp recipients, and relaxed restrictions on pesticide use—both became points of contention during House negotiations and were left off the Senate version of the bill.

Among its highlights, the bill reauthorizes crop insurance and conservation programs. It also supports trade programs, bioenergy production, and organic farming research, and it increases funding for employment and training programs by almost $15 million. Under the new law, dairy farmers will benefit from reduced-cost support programs, and industrial hemp cultivation will become legal. While the bill maintains current limits on farm subsidies, it expands the definition of family to include first cousins, nieces, and nephews, making them eligible for payments under the program.

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said, “Today’s final vote for the 2018 Farm Bill is a major victory for New York’s farmers, rural communities and consumers. Farmers needed stronger risk management tools in place moving into next year, where there are signs that the economic stress will continue in the farming community. In particular, the new Farm Bill enhances the dairy safety net for farms of every size, including increasing the margin that qualifies for federal insurance programs. New York Farm Bureau also appreciates the research and support programs in the bill that will benefit New York’s specialty crop producers. Having some certainty moving forward in challenging times is a relief for farmers.”

Fisher continued, “In addition, the Farm Bill supports critical conservation programs, rural development projects, and marketing and research programs to expand market opportunities for farmers. It legalizes industrial hemp which will benefit farms interested in diversification. And the legislation provides permanent funding to help veterans and a new generation of beginning farmers. The biggest portion of the Farm Bill also guarantees Americans, who can least afford to eat, the ability to access the food farmers produce.”

Read a summary of the bill here.

Can a Robot Be the Future of Berry Crop Pollination?

Photo by Yu Gu, West Virginia University

Photo by Yu Gu, West Virginia University

Recognizing both the sobering statistics for colonies of pollinators and the steadily increasing global population, scientists at West Virginia University, in a project funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s National Robotics Initiative, have created a robot called the BrambleBee. Says Dr. Yu Gu, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at WVU, “We are not aiming at replacing bees. We are hoping to use the robotic pollinator in places where bees are not available or not enough.”

 

This includes high tunnels, where the growing season can be extended, but where pollination is more difficult because light diffusion makes it harder for honeybees to navigate the crops.

 

So far, the BrambleBee has been tested on blackberry plantings. Like a self-driving car, the BrambleBee is a robot that learns to navigate specific places. Using lidar—a detection system that works similarly to radar, but uses light from a laser instead of radio waves—the robot first creates a 3-D map of a greenhouse. It then passes through the rows again, with the purpose of reaching as many flowers as possible with its mechanical arm. After positioning itself in front of a plant, the BrambleBee takes photos of the plants and flowers and creates an even higher-resolution map.

 

When it finds a flower that’s ready for pollination, the BrambleBee extends a small 3-D-printed brush with flexible polyurethane bristles—modeled on the scopa, or hairs of the honeybee—to gently loosen the pollen. This transfers the pollen from the anthers to the pistils for pollination. The BrambleBee is thought to be careful enough to work alongside bees, as opposed to miniature pollinating drones, which may injure bees as they hover over and around crops.

 

Says Dr. Nicole Waterland, Associate Professor of Horticulture at WVU, “A robotic pollinator does not need to rest and could potentially pollinate continually.” Another benefit of the BrambleBee: the ability to work in multiple locations. Neighboring farms could share the cost of a unit and then transfer the robot between them for autonomous pollination.

 

The BrambleBee is still in the experimental stage, but early results are promising for it and other robotic tools. “We hope this is the beginning of a new era in crop production using robotic systems,” Waterland says. “We would like to utilize this platform as a start to create a robot that could act as a grower’s assistant. We hope the robot could help with monitoring the health status of the plant, e.g., monitoring water status and nutrient needs.”

FY 2019 H-2B Cap Relief Update

FEWA logo.jpg

The Federation of Employers and Workers of America (FEWA) has shared this important update.

 

Last month, the Appropriations Committees filed the conference agreement on the FY 19 Labor-HHS and Department of Defense “minibus” appropriations bill, which includes a continuing resolution (CR) to maintain funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal Departments through December 7, 2018.  

 

What does this mean for H-2B?

The conference report that was filed would continue the Department of Labor (DOL) H-2B provisions that have been included in past funding bills.  No immediate changes to the program.

Cap relief is not included in this “minibus” bill that is expected to be signed into law.

 

What does this mean for H-2B Cap Relief?

The CR for the DHS though December 7 is important, as it relieves the pressure of a governmental shutdown.

The DHS funding bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee in July would exempt returning workers from the annual H-2B visa cap, along with other adjustments. The Senate Appropriations Committee–passed version of FY 2019 DHS funding bill asks DHS to consider a more equitable annual allocation of the 66,000 visas. 

Congress will not take up an FY 2019 funding bill for DHS after the November 7 elections. THIS WILL BE OUR OPPORTUNITY FOR H-2B CAP RELIEF. 

 

What can you do?

After this bill is signed into law, House members will be returning to their home districts to begin campaigning for election day. Meet with your representative at home and stress the importance the H-2B program has on your business and the need for immediate cap relief. View H-2B Cap Relief Talking Points.  

After November 7 elections, Congress will return to DC, and within the first week concentrate on electing leadership roles. Once that is complete they will have until December 7 to negotiate the remaining bills to fund the government. THIS WILL BE OUR OPPORTUNITY FOR THE H-2B RETURNING WORKER EXEMPTION. 

 

FEWA and the H-2B Workforce Coalition continue to urge Congress to include the House cap relief language in a final appropriations bill. FEWA’s Jarrod Sharp and Robin Svec will be in Washington, DC, later this month to further advocate for this language.

 

In addition to continuing to push for Congress to pass H-2B cap relief we will let you know when Congress votes on this legislation.

Looking to Boost Exposure for Your Farm? Try Taste NY

Taste NY.jpg

With the growing season on the horizon, now is the time to look into opportunities to showcase your fruit outside the confines of your farm or typical farmers’ market appearances. Eighteen Taste NY market locations at service areas on the New York State Thruway will soon be open to visitors, and offer potential exposure to more than 200 million travelers who might not otherwise be able to try your products. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office reports that sales of food products at Taste NY markets topped $13 million in 2017.

On the value of participating Taste NY, State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball says, “Taste NY farmers’ markets give our regional Thruway Service Areas a unique flavor and provide our farmers with a great opportunity to connect directly with new consumers. I encourage New York’s producers to consider participating this upcoming season and give travelers a chance to taste our agricultural products that are among the best in the world.”

View a list of participating service areas. To learn more about selling your fruit through Taste NY markets, e-mail TravelersServices@thruway.ny.gov.

About Taste NY

The Taste NY initiative has seen steady growth and recognition since it was created in 2013 by Governor Cuomo. The program reported sales of $1.5 million in 2014, tripled those figures to $4.5 million in 2015, and $13.1 million in 2016. Taste NY, which is overseen by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, has created opportunities for local producers to showcase their goods at a variety of venues throughout the State and at large public events, such as the Great New York State Fair and the Barclays Tournament at Bethpage State Park. It has also helped the farms and companies participating in the program to reach more customers, increase online sales, and, in many cases, expand the processing capacity of their business. Taste NY’s food and beverage businesses also support the State’s farmers by using New York grown and produced ingredients in their products.

Today, New York products sold under Taste NY branding are available in more than 70 locations throughout the State as well as the New York State Office of Trade and Tourism in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

For more information about Taste NY, visit www.taste.ny.gov. Connect with Taste NY through FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

 

 

How Does the New Tax Bill Affect Farmers?

new-york-state-berry-growers-how-new-tax-bill-affects-farmers.jpg

The new tax bill has been on many people’s minds, and none more so than farmers. The Farm Bureau endorsed both the House and Senate versions; however, as the New York Times reports, “Some of the president’s policies could actually harm the farm industry. New analyses of the tax law by economists at the Department of Agriculture suggest it could actually lower farm output in the years to come and effectively raise taxes on the lowest-earning farm households, while delivering large gains for the richest farmers.”

In a January 8 speech to the Farm Bureau convention in Nashville, President Trump stated that the tax overhaul will cut taxes by $5.5 trillion, and that most of those cuts will go to “working families, small businesses, and—who?—farmers.” In reality, individuals would receive $1.1 trillion, over 10 years, in tax cuts. According to the Times, “That falls to under $1 trillion when excluding tax cuts for businesses income from so-called pass-through companies, which are taxed through the individual code.”

Here are the major changes growers need to know about. The new tax bill:

  • Lowers tax rates for pass-through entities, including sole proprietorships, LLCs, partnerships, and S corps. Some experts estimate that only farms with around $1 million in annual sales—about 4 percent of U.S. farms—are in a high enough tax bracket to benefit from the lower rate.
  • Offers a new farm-equipment depreciation schedule: five years instead of seven.
  • Eliminates the Section 199 deduction, which allows farm co-ops to deduct a portion of their expenses and. According to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, this deduction is responsible for saving farmers in co-ops $2 billion annually in tax liabilities. Mother Jones reports that following pressure from agricultural groups, Senator John Thune (R.-S.D.) inserted a provision into the bill that would give co-ops a 20% deduction, the same as pass-through entities, “though it wouldn’t fully offset the loss of Section 199.”
  • Makes health care less affordable for many. Farmers relying on Obamacare for health insurance may lose or end up paying significantly more for health coverage. It’s estimated that 17.6 percent of farm households currently get their health insurance through the individual market.
  • Puts federal farm spending in danger of being cut due to the budget shortfall created by the bill. As Mother Jones puts it: “The Congressional Budget Office calculated that the Senate version of the tax bill would likely add $1.4 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade.” These may affect farm subsidies and crop-insurance support.
  • Increases the federal estate tax exemption to $11.2 million for individuals and $22.4 million for a couple. While this is an undeniable boon, experts note that it’s likely to affect less than 2 percent of farms.
  • Eliminates deductions for state taxes and mortgage interest, as well as property taxes. It may be possible to make a property tax prepayment for 2018 early and deduct it on your 2017 bill, but regulations vary by county and municipality. Ask your town tax collector if this is an option that’s open to you.

We’ll keep you posted on changes to the tax bill and how they affect you over the coming months.