In order to stay operational, farmers seek exemptions from some virus-related restrictions


Legislative Gazette file photo

The New York Farm Bureau is asking state and federal officials for special consideration for farmers as new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus are enacted every day.

“The agricultural community is strong,” said New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher. “We understand adversity and come together in trying times. Our farms and agribusinesses are working hard to follow safety protocols and ensuring food production continues for the people of New York state and the country.

In two separate letters sent letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump, the farm Bureau raised several concerns that emergency regulations and executive orders might have on New York farmers.

At the state level, they are asking that farms, food processing plants and the agribusinesses that farmers rely on for supplies and services be exempt from any executive order enacted by the governor.

“Despite the spread of the COVID-19 virus, cows need to be milked, livestock needs to be fed, seeds need to be planted, machinery has to be repaired and regulations mandating environmental compliance will need to be met in order for food to continue to be placed on store shelves,” the letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo sattes. “The state’s food security and livestock health depend on obtaining an exemption from mandatory workplace staff reductions or closures for businesses across the state.”

In New York, the coronavirus pandemic has virtually halted all normal daily activities. With Gov. Cuomo’s string of executive actions to help stop the spread of the virus, bars and restaurants are switching to carry out only, workplace capacities have been reduced by 75 percent and officials are strongly suggesting isolation and “social distancing” to reduce the rate at which the virus spreads.

The New York Farm Bureau is also concerned that the United States’ Consulates have suspended in-person processing of H-2A agricultural guest worker visas just weeks before the spring planting season.

The H-2A program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Hoiwever, because of the spread of COVID-19, all in-person sevices conducted by the USCIS is suspended until at least April 1.

Plans are being implemented to consider workers who have previously been granted H-2A visas in the U.S., but as of now, the hiring of any new foreign workers is suspended. This could delay both planting and harvesting on farms and result in lower food production, according to the farm Bureau.

“These H-2A visa workers help to plant, manage, and harvest essential crops, including fruits and vegetables,” says the Farm Bureau’s letter to President Trump. “While we are not asking the administration to jeopardize public health and safety or border security, [we] request that … all H-2A visa applications are reviewed and acted upon in a timely manner to ensure the flow of approved H-2A workers into the U.S.”