News

FY 2019 H-2B Cap Relief Update

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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.

A Dozen Reasons Why the EWG “Dirty Dozen” List Is Not an Ethical Guide for Produce Selection

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By Marvin Pritts, horticulture professor, Cornell University

 

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list of “dirty” fruits and vegetables that consumers are supposed to avoid because they contain pesticide residues. For the third year in a row, strawberries were number one on the list. The list is misleading, having been created without consideration of several important scientific and social/cultural issues, but its popularity with the press forces growers to struggle with educating customers who have bought into the EWG’s misleading messaging.

Here are some talking points to share with customers to explain why the EWG’s “dirty dozen” list shouldn’t be used to guide their produce selection.

  1. Data used by the EWG counts the presence/absence of a residue, but does not consider the total amount of residue. This is not a valid method of assessing risk, since the amount of a residue is critical for determining if that residue is toxic.
  2. Pesticide residues in plants are miniscule and are not know to have any health effects in mammals, whether the mammal is a baby or a sensitive adult. Nearly all fruits and vegetables have levels far below (often a million times lower) levels known to cause physiological effects in humans. Just because a residue exists does not mean it is toxic at such low levels.
  3. Growers who rotate pesticides to reduce the risk of developing pesticide resistance will score more poorly on the EWG scale than growers who use large amounts of a single pesticide to control a pest.
  4. Residue data from crops vary greatly depending on where a crop is grown. For example, strawberries grown in the warm, wet climate of Florida receive far more pesticide applications than strawberries grown in the Northeast, yet strawberries are ranked number one for residues, regardless of how and where they are grown. This creates a major disadvantage for local growers.
  5. Plants produce natural pesticides so they don’t get eaten by pests. The amount of naturally produced pesticides is estimated to exceed human-applied residues by ten-thousandfold. The amount of synthetic pesticide residue is dwarfed by the amount of naturally occurring pest-deterring chemicals already present in plants.
  6. Plants not treated to manage pests often have higher levels of natural pesticides.
  7. Human systems have developed mechanisms to detoxify naturally occurring chemicals in the food we eat. These detoxification mechanisms work on both natural and synthetic chemicals, keeping us safe as long as these detoxification mechanisms are not overwhelmed.                    
  8. Organically grown food also may contain pesticide residues. Organic growers face the same insect, fungal, and weed pests as conventional growers, so they often will use chemical sprays to manage them. Neither the organic residues nor the synthetic residues have ever been shown to be harmful to humans.
  9. The health benefits of eating a strawberry—ranked number one on the “dirty dozen” list—far exceed any detriment from consuming a pesticide residue. For example, strawberries have more vitamin C than oranges by weight and are high in antioxidants and nutrients.
  10. The EWG list discourages consumers from eating healthy fruits and vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes, grapes, and apples, which also rank high on the list and are known to be extremely good for health.
  11. Consumers already eat far fewer fruits and vegetables than are recommended for good health. This is especially true for low-income populations. The EWG list can do harm to low-income groups by discouraging good eating habits.
  12. The EWG approach to ranking risk is not supported by any scientific organization, has never undergone peer-review, and has never been published in a scientific journal. Recommendations regarding a person’s ability to reduce pesticide-residue exposure by altering eating habits are not supported by the data

Looking to Boost Exposure for Your Farm? Try Taste NY

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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.

 

 

Getting Ready for the Season and H-2A Applications

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With a huge increase in applications to the H-2A guestworker program over the past few years an average processing time of 90 days, it’s critical for growers to submit their paperwork as early as possible, to avoid some of the delays we experienced last year in getting workers onto our farms. If you haven’t gotten started on your applications yet, now is the time to get moving. Here are some good guidelines to remember:

Review your farm’s work activities and rules, including related disciplinary policies (e.g., verbal warning, written warning, termination). Write them down; you’ll need them for your H-2A contract.

Create job descriptions for your H-2A workers. Be specific about the type of work and the physical requirements (e.g., bending, lifting, climbing a ladder, driving). Remember that, by law, your H-2A hires area allowed to work on only those tasks.

Determine whether you prefer to apply directly to the program, with or without the assistance of an agent, or hire a contractor to handle it. If you choose a contractor, clarify all responsibilities and fees up front, ask about compliance processes, and request references of previous customers, so you can make sure your money will be well spent.

Confirm that you can secure appropriate housing, including cooking facilities, if meals won’t be provided.

Create a plan for worker transportation, both to and from your farm at the start and end of the season, as well as daily transportation from worker housing to your farm and weekly trips to the grocery store. If you’re using your own van or car, make sure it’s up-to-date on maintenance and repairs.

For more considerations on the benefits and drawbacks of the H-2A guestworker program, read this overview from our neighbors at Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture.

And don’t start this season without checking out this downloadable PDF from Texas A&M on the difference between an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audit and a raid, and how you can be prepared for either.

How Does the New Tax Bill Affect Farmers?

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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.

Blueberries Offer a Host of Health Benefits, Including Improved Cognitive Function

New York State berry growers health benefits of blueberries

Blueberries Offer a Host of Health Benefits

It’s no secret that a colorful fruits, especially blueberries, offer a variety of health benefits. From reduced risk of debilitating diseases to improved complexion and hair, blueberries are a nutritional powerhouse that have significant positive effects on human health. And new studies are showing that blueberries can even enhance cognitive function. With summer—and fresh berries—due to arrive in farmers’ markets and on farm stand shelves in a little more than a month, there’s never been a better time to incorporate fresh, local blueberries into your diet. 

Blueberries are chock-full of many health-promoting vitamins and compounds, including anthocyanins, a flavonoid that has been linked to protection against free radical damage and a decreased risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes. The blueberry is also known to support heart health, with high levels of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Likewise, this humble fruit’s high levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium all help to decrease blood pressure. Blueberries are also high in vitamin K, which improves calcium absorption—a low intake of which has been linked to an increased risk of bone fracture. Some studies even suggest that regular eating of blueberries can promote healthy skin and hair, increase energy, and contribute to weight loss.

Recent studies have demonstrated the blueberry’s positive effect on cognitive function. A pair of 2014 studies found that consumption of blueberries can improve short-term memory loss and motor coordination, and in patients with the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease, consumption of blueberries has been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline.  Another study found that blueberries (in a freeze-dried powder form) may also have an effect on the onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. “The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts,” concluded lead author Robert Krikorian.

The latest study, published in March 2017 in the European Journal of Nutrition, provided more evidence that blueberry consumption improves cognitive function. The authors found that adults age 60 to 75 who consumed 24 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder (the equivalent of one cup fresh berries) daily showed significant improvement in verbal memory, repetition, and task switching over their placebo-group counterparts.

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Blueberry Nutrition at a Glance
A 1-cup serving of blueberries contains:

  • 84 calories
  • 3.6 grams of dietary fiber (14% of daily requirement)
  • 0 grams of cholesterol
  • 1.1 grams of protein
  • .49 grams of fat
  • 21 grams of carbohydrate
  • 24% of an adult's recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, 5% of vitamin B6, and 36% of vitamin K
  • Iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, manganese, zinc, copper, folate, beta-carotene, folate, choline, vitamin A, vitamin E
  • Phenolic compounds with antioxidant activity, including anthocyanins, quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin and chlorogenic acid

 

Traveling Professors

New York State Berry Growers Association Marvin Pritts chin state research

Traveling Professors

How Overseas Research & Information Sharing Benefits Our Farms

By Marvin Pritts

Ever wonder what those Cornell professors do when they run off to another country? Oftentimes it’s to attend a conference, but occasionally we are asked to help a particular group of farmers with their production practices. Some may ask if we should be helping farmers in other countries—won’t they just end up competing with us in New York? And given that there are problems here at home, shouldn’t Cornell faculty just stay put and work on solving local problems?

In April, I had a chance to visit Chin State in the country of Myanmar. This country has been relatively isolated from the rest of the world, as it was under a military dictatorship for 50 years. Recently, it has had elections, so a democratic government is now in place. However, some of the outlying regions continue to have ethnic violence. Chin signed a peace treaty with the federal government in 2016, so it is now safe for foreigners to enter.

New York State Berry Growers Association Marvin Pritts farming research

 

Although it is now safe to travel to Chin, this region has been cut off from the rest of Myanmar, and the world, for most of its existence. There is no real industry in Chin State. Travel to the capital city, Hakha, is an 11-hour drive on dirt roads from the nearest city with an airport (which has just one flight a day). Farming villages are even farther from Hahka. The roads in this state are one-lane, steep, and curved, with no guardrails and 1,000-foot dropoffs. During the rainy season, roads become impassable because of mud and landslides. Most of the country speaks Burmese and is Buddhist, while many different languages are spoken in Chin and Chin people are mostly Christian. All of these differences reinforce the isolation and makes education in this region difficult.

There is little to no flat land in Chin State. The hillsides are too steep for most grazing animals, except for goats. But having goats is risky, because they can escape through fences and eat valuable crops. The rain stops after the rainy season, so farmers then endure six months of drought. The capital city is too far to take goods to market, especially given the state of the roads.

People who live in villages in Chin are malnourished. It is estimated that 40 percent of the population suffers from protein, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies. Our task was to visit these villages, determine if anything could be done to help increase fruit and vegetable production and consumption, train extension educators, and advise about the curriculum used in the state agriculture institutes and the agricultural university at Yezin.

New York State Berry Growers Assocation Marvin Pritts myanmar farming research

 

The people of Chin State were exceptionally friendly and open to new ideas. We shared information and techniques for drip irrigation, sources of nitrogen fertilizer, soil management, postharvest handling, and garden design, and I hope these will gain traction and be implemented. Farmers in the United States do not have to fear competition from a country that is struggling to feed itself.

Such activities in developing countries help spread Cornell’s reputation abroad. It also could pay dividends for us in the future. For example, apple and pear germ plasm grow wild in the hills. Developing a good relationship with Myanmar could give us access to new germplasm in the future. Establishing such relationships increases the probability that bright students will come to the United States to study. Also, when we can work with growers in another country to reduce their pesticide use and minimize environmental impacts, it benefits all of us. Myanmar is strategically located between China and India, so having friendly relations with them is politically beneficial. Finally, it is simply the right thing to do.

New York State Berry Growers Association Marvin Pritts farming research myanmar chin state

 

So while spending time in developing countries may not appear to benefit New York growers, we are laying the groundwork for future dividends to be paid.

The Berry Patch Pioneers Innovative Use of Exclusion Netting to Combat SWD

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The Berry Patch Pioneers Innovative Use of Exclusion Netting

to Combat SWD

The Berry Patch, in tiny, rural Stephentown, has pioneered an innovative solution to spotted wing drosophila (SWD) infestation. Since it arrived in the United States in 2008, SWD has made it virtually impossible to grow commercially acceptable, pesticide-free raspberries and blueberries, but the Berry Patch’s experiments with exclusion netting seek to end crop losses.

Spotted wing drosophila is native to Southeast Asia. It first appeared in California in 2008, and spread to Florida the following year. By 2010, SWD had migrated to the Carolinas, Louisiana, Utah, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Northeastern fruit growers first went to battle with the insect in 2012, when an average of 80% of raspberry and 30% of blueberry crops—and approximately $4.3 million in revenue in NY state alone—were lost due to infestation of the fruit during its early ripening stages. Dale-Ila Riggs, co-owner of the Berry Patch and NYSBGA board chair, says, “This pest is a game-changer for berry growers nationwide. There are no natural enemies for it in the U.S.”

In 2012, Riggs lost about 40% of her lucrative blueberry crop to SWD. After observing some early research on the use of exclusion netting at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, she obtained a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Farmer grant to test the use of the netting on her half-acre blueberry planting. Riggs adapted her existing bird-netting support system into a support system for the exclusion netting, with extra protections and anchoring to withstand thunderstorms, hail, and up to 60 mph winds. She then compared the fruits from the covered plot to the fruits grown in a control plot protected only with bird netting.

 Berry Patch co-owner Dale-Ila Riggs adapted her existing bird netting structure to exclusion netting, with extra security features to help it withstand the volatile Northeastern climate.

Berry Patch co-owner Dale-Ila Riggs adapted her existing bird netting structure to exclusion netting, with extra security features to help it withstand the volatile Northeastern climate.

The results were startling. Riggs documented an infestation rate of 0.7% and 0.3% in 2014 and 2015, and last year had a 0% infestation rate—a rate virtually unheard-of in agricultural systems.  Other farms around the country are taking notice, and have started to duplicate the Berry Patch’s successful growing system.

Riggs will set up her blueberry exclusion netting again in early July, prior to SWD’s summer activity. She also plans to experiment with the same exclusion netting for her high-tunnel raspberry planting for the first time this year. “With SWD, no one has been able to grow pesticide-free berries that are free from infestation,” Riggs notes. “The netting makes it possible. This is a highly effective method that brings new hope for growers.”

 

Doing “Nearly Everything Wrong”: A West Coast Farm with Northeastern Techniques

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Doing "Nearly Everything Wrong":

A West Coast Farm with Northeastern Techniques

We’re always happy to see berries in the news, and we especially like to see stories that praise the growing and harvesting methods New York State growers have been using for decades. That’s why this April 17, 2017, story in the New York Times caught our eye.

The article, about Rick and Molly Gean, owners of the strawberry farm Harry’s Berries, near Los Angeles, touts growers who “do nearly everything wrong, at least according to the gospel of modern commercial berry farming.” The Geans started out with commercial strains of berries but now organically grow Gaviota and Seascape strawberries. They sell 500,000 pounds of berries per year, with 70 percent of their business at farmers’ markets; pints are priced at $8. The article states that Harry’s Berries are the preferred fruits of many West Coast chefs, and even a handful in the Northeast.

What’s most interesting about this article is the spotlight it shines on the Geans’ harvesting, which happens once every five days, to ensure peak ripeness. “Ripeness is all,” proclaims the piece. “When the berries run out, they run out, because the Geans would rather send a customer home empty-handed than with a berry that doesn’t meet their standards.”

While the article doesn’t acknowledge that New York’s independent berry growers have been harvesting only at peak ripeness for generations, this is a great talking point with customers. And while we may not have the advantage of year-round growing in a mild climate, our short season gives us the opportunity to highlight the berries as “limited edition,” available only for a few weeks a year. Keep a copy of the Times article in your farm store or at your market booth, and see if it sparks some important conversation.

The Health Benefits of Berries

New York State Berry Growers association health benefits of berries

The Health Benefits of Berries

Vitamin and Flavoid-packed Powerhouses

Beyond their ability to add flavor to and complement a variety of savory and sweet recipes, berries are vitamin- and flavonoid-packed powerhouses. Get to know more about each berry and how it can benefit your health.

Blueberry

  • Consistently ranked as one of the top antioxidant foods—twice the concentration of spinach, and three times the amount found in oranges and grapes!
  • High in vitamins C and K, and manganese
  • Good source of fiber
  • The newest research suggests that blueberries may reduce the risk of heart attack and be beneficial in halting age-related memory decline

Strawberry

  • Packed with vitamin C (one serving has 150% of the recommended daily value)
  • High in antioxidants
  • Good source of fiber, folate, potassium, and manganese

Blackberry

  • One of the earth’s strongest antioxidant foods, with high levels of polyphenolic compounds including ellagic acid, quercetin, and cyanidins
  • High level of fiber
  • High levels of vitamins C and K, manganese, and folic acid

Raspberry

  • Packed with fiber
  • High levels of vitamin C; vitamins B1, B2, and B3; magnesium, folic acid, and iron
  • High levels of antioxidants, including catechins, salicylic acid, and anthocyanins
  • Contain raspberry ketone, which some preliminary studies suggest may be helpful in weight control