Farmers Speak Out Against Proposed Wage Hike

A dairy farmer estimates a $1.75 wage increase and additional payroll taxes for six employees would add $44,354 to her payroll. A produce farmer estimates the proposed minimum wage increase to $10.50 and additional payroll taxes would add $50,000 a year to his payroll.

The farmers spoke out against a plan from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to increase the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour in NY state and $11.50 per hour in New York City, during a call conference call with reporters.

“You can’t give one employee a raise and not another,” Sandy Prokop, a dairy farmer at Crossbrook Farm said. “It’s a significant amount of money without any time to prepare. We are price takers and not price makers. We do not have that $45,000 available. The choices become very dark and very serious for everyone that is milking cows and farming in New York.”

Prokop is one of many farmers concerned about the impact a raise to the minimum wage would have on farmers. According to Prokop, they have already cut costs where they can and are not sure what else to trim if labor costs climbed up again.

The state minimum wage rose from $8 an hour to $8.75 at the end of last year, but according to Cuomo the wage gap continues to grow.

The New York Farm Bureau, however, believes that the increase would strain farmer income and place farmers in New York at a competitive disadvantage. Pennsylvania a direct competitor of the New York state farmers has a minimum wage of $7.25, as do Wisconsin and Idaho, whereas California is set at $9.

According to the Long Island Farm Bureau and the New York Farm Bureau most New York farmers routinely pay above the current rate. During the height of last year’s harvest season on Long Island, farmers often had people asking for $12 to $20 per hour. While, New York farms pay an average wage of $12.15 per hour, according to the USDA, upping the New York minimum wage would still result in an increase overall in wages.

“This isn’t a story of ‘gee, we have minimum wage workers and can’t give them another quarter.’ We are already paying well above it. Our entire payroll creeps up when the minimum wage goes up and has a profound impact on your bottom line,” said Brian Reeves, a New York fruit, and vegetable farmer. “Where the rub is for me is I compete with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, states that typically have fewer expenses to farm than we do in New York.”

The current proposal doesn’t include any exemptions but when asked if a tax credit would help to farmers if applied for young or prohibitive workers the farmers said it would in the short term but since you pay out every week they wouldn’t see that money for a while.

“Farmers can’t simply raise our prices because labor prices are going up. This is not a wise strategy to support agriculture or business in the State of New York,” said Dean Norton, New York Farm Bureau President.