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Buerkle tours local agri-businesses, listens to farmers concerns

Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle, second from right, recently visited Beak & Skiff Apple Farms during her Feb. 24 tour of local agricultural businesses. Also pictured, from left: Mark Burger, OCSWCD executive director, Walter Blackler of Apple Acres, Pete Fleckenstein of Beak n Skiff, Rep. Buerkle and David Pittard, President of Beak & Skiff.

Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle, second from right, recently visited Beak & Skiff Apple Farms during her Feb. 24 tour of local agricultural businesses. Also pictured, from left: Mark Burger, OCSWCD executive director, Walter Blackler of Apple Acres, Pete Fleckenstein of Beak n Skiff, Rep. Buerkle and David Pittard, President of Beak & Skiff.

— The two issues the congresswoman repeatedly heard from farmers at all four stops was the need for reliable, trained workers and the frustration with the “ridiculous” government regulations creating obstacles to their farming businesses, Buerkle said.

At Anyela’s, owner Jim Noceck gave a brief PowerPoint presentation in which he discussed conservation and business practices that have worked or have hindered his business, including the need for more reliable workers.

“My main emphasis was on the labor issue, on the challenges in general but particularly the potential to get immigrant labor,” Noceck said. “We need to get the system fixed, to get dependable labor.”

Mark Burger, director of the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agriculture Program, who helped organize the Feb. 24 tour, said the difficulty in hiring seasonal, migrant laborers, and the fact that many Americans are unwilling to do agricultural work, was a recurring topic during the tour, as was the government bureaucracy that keeps farmers in the office doing paperwork rather than out in their fields harvesting their crops.

“It is truly amazing the amount of labor that is needed for agriculture, and when it takes three to four months of paperwork just to get workers lined up often there is no time to complete the harvest and crops are left rotting in the fields,” Burger said.

Ron Podolak, executive director of the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District, who helped coordinate the tour along with Burger, agreed that the issue of “government red tape” was on everybody’s list.

“There are too many restrictions on farmers. They just want to be left alone to do what they do,” Podolak said. “The message from everyone was, ‘Don’t hamper us’ … and I think the congresswoman got a lot of ammunition to take back to Washington from her constituents.”

Both Burger and Podolak said the tour was a great learning and outreach experience for everyone involved, and they were both impressed by Buerkle’s interest in and support for local agri-business issues.

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