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Farmers ask for more money in the state budget to keep safety program active

wamc.org

New York’s Farm Bureau is asking Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature to double the amount of money allotted to a nationally recognized farm safety program that relies on state funding.

The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, known as NYCAM, began as part of Bassett Health in Cooperstown. It was authorized by the state in 1988 to help reduce what was then the high rates of workplace deaths, serious injuries and illnesses among New York’s agricultural workers.

NYCAM relies on a combination of state and private funding sources to provide in-person programs, including training for working safely with farm machinery and large herds of animals, using chemical products, and treating and preventing job-related injuries.

Marianne Robinson is the business administrator at Sunnyside Farms in the Finger Lakes, which has 5,000 cows and 7,500 acres of cropland. But she said the most important thing is the safety and health of their 69 employees, who work in what’s considered one of the most dangerous occupations.

“Our job is to really send them home safely every night,” Robinson said. “Ten fingers, 10 toes.”

Sunnyside Farms has worked with NYCAM since 2014. Robinson said the safety trainings, where experts travel to individual farms to provide instruction, have been invaluable.

“When we talk about tractor safety, we stand next to a tractor and talk about all the hazards that a tractor has,” said Robinson, who added other programs deal with safely interacting with farm animals. “Work with an animal in the barn, and talk about how she moves, how she thinks, and what employees need to do to keep themselves safe and to provide the best care for the animals.”

Over the years, the organization has expanded to include even more programs, including bilingual trainings in Spanish and English, and ones that help farmers with the emerging hemp and cannabis industries.

But for the past 14 years, funding from the state has remained flat at about $1 million a year. Erika Scott, NYCAM’s deputy director, said they would like to see funding doubled to $2 million in the new state budget. She said the organization and its dedicated staff are getting overwhelmed by the lack of resources.

“For them to have to say no to a farmer is the worst feeling,” Scott said.

She says it’s not a large amount in a $227 billion state spending plan, but it would be money well-spent.

Scott and the farm owners said the response by the governor’s staff and state lawmakers has been positive, but no one has told them that the money will be included in the budget.

Farm organizations, including the New York Farm Bureau, the Northeast Dairy Producers Association, and the New York State Berry Growers Association, have written a joint letter to the chairs of the Legislature’s agricultural, health and labor committees.

They said they’ve gone public with their concerns because they aren’t taking anything for granted.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.