New York state legislators approved a $229 billion spending package earlier this week that would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $17 in New York City and its suburbs and $16 in the rest of the state by 2026.
Raising the minimum wage might be the last nail in the coffin for many.
“There will be changes at farms as these costs rise and farms look to cope and deal,” said Steve Ammerman, Communications Director for the New York Farm Bureau.
In Valatie, dairy farmer Eric Ooms of A. Ooms and Sons Dairy has hundreds of cows to milk every day – a large chore that used to take several hours of labour.
With labour prices rising, he realised something had to give.
“To address higher costs, we’ve always tried to find ways to minimise labour.” “In the dairy industry, that means robotics,” said Ooms.
Instead of training employees, he now uses technology to educate his cows to milk themselves.
When the cows want to be milked, they just go up to the machine, which does the rest.
“So, the cow comes in, and the robot identifies who she is, and it has all the information on the cow on the screen,” Ooms added.
He claims that, in the long run, employing technology is less expensive than paying workers.
However, rising expenses have made it impossible for some dairy producers to remain in business.
“With inflation, overtime, minimum wage, unions, and so on, it’s no longer worth doing business in this state,” said dairy farmer Raymond Dykeman of Dykeman & Sons Inc in Fultonville.
“We can’t make ends meet because we have no control over the price we’ll receive for our product,” he continued.
Dairy pricing are federally controlled, which means they are not determined by farmers.
“As a result, they have no control over passing on those higher labour costs,” Ammerman said. “They’re going to have to absorb them.”
While the state has implemented tax credit schemes to assist farmers financially, there are concerns about their long-term viability.
“Tax credit–someone has to pay for that, so people’s taxes pay for that, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Ooms said.