Congressman Lee Zeldin wants farmers to identify legislation they have issues with and come to him with their concerns over regulations mandated by the federal government.
During a breakfast meeting Saturday at the Long Island Farm Bureau headquarters in Calverton, Mr. Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he’s counting on members of the local agriculture community to bring him up to speed on their concerns so that he’ll be able to properly advocate for them.
“I want to be as helpful as I possibly can be to all of you,” he said. “I’m going to have to defer to all of your expertise to be able to craft this as if I had a 200-acre farm myself and I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
Former Long Island Farm Bureau president Bob Nolan asked the congressman to help ease red tape associated with the H-2A program, which is the current visa system to hire workers on a seasonal basis.
“It’s really a hassle to use — that’s why a lot of guys don’t use it,” Mr. Nolan said. “Even though I’ve got my workers filled, if a domestic worker comes I have to hire them and either have an additional worker or get rid of one of the immigrants I have. The domestic worker will stay for a day or two, he’ll quit, then I’ll be short a guy.”
As for other concerns, farmers said smaller operations like theirs should be exempt from certain regulations they believe are designed for larger farms located across the country.
While they aren’t against food safety regulations, they said they’re concerned that unfunded mandates will push local food-crop growers out of business and force them to start growing non-food crops instead.
“[The government should] take care of the problem where it’s happening rather than throw everybody into the same pot,” Mr. Nolan said. “We’ve been farming for over 100 years — never one food safety incident on Long Island — yet now we’re going to be subject to these regulations.
“It’s just more paperwork. We’re being bogged down by paperwork.”
In addition to identifying what’s wrong with current legislation, Mr. Zeldin asked farmers to work together to develop ideas that that will help their businesses.
“The best way I can do that is for our conversations to be, from here, agreeing to tactics and sharing ideas,” he said.
Long Island Farm Bureau administrative director Robert Carpenter described Saturday’s meeting with the new congressman as a good start and believes the area’s various agriculture groups will come together to help Mr. Zeldin form a unified plan.
“He’s taken an active interest in agriculture issues and we’re definitely looking forward to working with him,” Mr. Carpenter said.