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May 10, 2011

 

Hanna talks agriculture with area farmers

Congressman discusses labor, regulations and energy with about 20 people at Grange

HannaJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) speaks to local constituents involved in agriculture during a meeting Monday he organized at the New York State Grange building in Cortland.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Allowing farms to legally rely on foreign labor was one desire local farmers conveyed Monday to Rep. Richard Hanna during a roundtable discussion on agriculture issues.
Hanna (R-Barneveld) fielded the concerns of the farmers, which included other locally pertinent issues like drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, governmental restrictions on farming practices and incentives for farmers to use alternative fuels.
He met with about 20 farmers and local officials at the Grange Building in Cortland.
Hanna said he recognized the challenges farmers face today, adding they are in a “tough business” due to the economic climate and imposition of federal restrictions.
As New York state is forced to comply with federal Environmental Protection Agency standards to lower the pollution level of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, farms have to adhere to more stringent standards governing best management practices like manure storage and water runoff.
Amanda Barber, Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation district manager, said there is disagreement over New York state’s threshold for allowable release levels of sediment and nutrient into the watershed.
Barber said only congressional representatives and senators can work on increasing the equity between states.
Barber said Hanna’s efforts to listen to the needs of members of the agricultural industry leaves her hopeful.
“The fact the congressman is willing to acknowledge ... that he needs to have individuals from the community to advise him on agricultural issues is really a positive thing,” Barber said.
Hanna said after the roundtable discussion he would bring the concerns to the appropriate congressional committees.
For example, a push by Barber to have fresh foods available in schools could be considered by the Agriculture Committee.
Hanna sits on the Education and the Workforce committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure committee in the House.
On the issue of immigrant labor, Hanna pointed to the H-2A temporary agricultural program — a channel that allows farms to hire temporary foreign workers — as something he could support when it is discussed at the congressional level.
Norwich organic farmer Zaid Kurdich said he cannot find American workers to do the jobs on his farm that he needs to be done. Kurdich said even raising wages does not entice Americans to labor for the long hours that foreign workers are willing to work.
Kurdich said foreign workers are skilled and able-bodied, and accustomed to working on farms such as his, where he has several acres of tomatoes of differing varieties.
“I did a national search for a manager to run my farm and I couldn’t come up with a candidate,” Kurdich said.
Hanna said he takes farmers at their word that they cannot find people to do the job.
On the issue of natural gas exploration, Hanna said he does not think the industry has been proven to be safe.
“I would love to see natural gas (exploration) being done in a way that is safe, and we need to find a way,” Hanna said.
Legislator Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) said she appreciated Hanna’s cautious approach on the issue, which she brought up to him as an area of concern since it is exempt from federal and state clean air and clean water acts.

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