Good news for dairy farmers on immigration & CAFO regs

Good dairy news for small farms and big, like North Harbor Dairy in Sackets Harbor. Photo: David Sommerstein.

The dairy lobby is flexing its legislative muscles this week with some progress on a couple fronts.

Today, Governor Cuomo came through on a promise he made at the Yogurt Summit last summer to raise the threshold when strict environmental rules (called CAFO regulations) kick in for dairy farms. The New York Farm Bureau was pleased in a press release:

The change announced today will allow family farms to grow from 199 cows to 299 cows before certain costly standards kick in.  This will encourage farmers to expand their herds in order to take advantage of the growing market opportunities in New York yogurt production which now leads the nation.

Ag leaders hope this change will encourage small dairy farmers to increase their herd size and help provide milk for the booming Greek yogurt industry. I reported on this issue yesterday as a part of our week-long series on the state of New York dairy. At least one small farmer isn't taking the bait.

Another issue here is water quality. Experts agree that the aggregate runoff from small animal farms is the biggest source of water pollution of rivers and lakes today. But according to Cornell University's Andy Novacovic, New York has stricter environmental rules than other states, and the new threshold is still well below those of other places.

Dairy is also scoring big on the immigration front, after years of lobbying for a visa program for year-round dairy workers. The bipartisan group of Senators crafting immigration reform introduced such a plan yesterday. According to Gannett, these are the terms:

Farm workers who document a sufficient work history over the last two years would be eligible for year-round residency under a “blue card” system, even if they entered the country illegally.The proposed immigration overhaul also would create a program offering year-round visas to non-immigrant agricultural workers for up to three years. The visas could be renewed once for another three years. After that, workers would be required to leave the U.S. for at least three months before returning.

I'm curious what readers think of such a program. Do you think it would take away local jobs? Or provide a safe, reliable, and legal source of labor for area dairy farms? Do you think there would be enough protections for the immigrants who come thousands of miles to work here? Let us know in the comments. We'll continue watching for more details and reactions from farm and labor groups.

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