Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of the slain Senator Robert Kennedy, in the past few years has become heavily involved in the passage of the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (FFLPA). Her involvement has included numerous media appearances as well as giving testimony before a NYS Senate Hearing
Much of her public statements, including at the aforementioned hearing, have contained very outrageous claims of rampant sexual abuse and assaults that she claims are routine among farmworker women. She has also repeatedly alleged horrible, if not horrific, living and working conditions being the norm for farmworkers in NYS.
Her involvement has also included the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, of which she serves as President. This has included the bestowing of the 2012 RFK Human Rights Award upon longtime Rural and Migrant Ministry employee Librada Paz (http://rfkcenter.org/consegna-del-premio-human-rights-award-2012-a-librada-paz-attivista-leader-per-i-diritti-dei-lavoratori-agricoli?lang=en). This award comes with significant financial resources which will be used for Paz and this issue for the next six years (http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/new-yorker-human-rights-award-spur-long-overdue-rights-farmworkers-article-1.1109335). While Ms. Kennedy has been long on explosive and indeed, highly offensive and inflammatory rhetoric when it comes to this issue, she has been short on substantiation to back her outrageous claims. Librada Paz already claims that sexual assault is commonplace on farms, however she has not said who the perpetrators are - the farm owners, other farmworkers or random miscreants who enter labor camps. Neither she nor Paz has produced any evidence at all to back these claims of criminal acts. What industry in this day and age would perpetrate or allow -- let alone get away with -- such behavior? To say that farmers, the original stewards of our environment, the backbone of this country for generations, would do such things is reprehensible. And to make such claims, and to suggest you (Paz and Kennedy) have knowledge of on-going crimes such as this, and yet are not telling anyone where this is going on and who is doing this – this too is reprehensible.
Of course, Kennedy is not an agricultural economist and it is obvious from her many misleading statements that she is woefully uninformed regarding this issue. What she doesn't seem to understand is that farmworkers in NYS are protected by a plethora of laws overseen by myriad regulatory agencies. She also doesn't seem to understand that farmers do not, for the most part, control the prices they receive and will have no way to pass on the increased costs that will result with the passage of the FFLPA, especially from overtime. It could easily result in many farms changing what they grow, how they grow it, or even going out of business. This includes the largest part of the sector in the state, the dairy industry.
New Zealand Agritech Inc.(NZA) and Cullen Agricultural Technologies Inc. (Cullen) have signed a strategic cooperation agreement to fast track the rollout and commercialisation of Kiwi pasture technology in the South-eastern United States - a market with potential earnings in excess of $US100 million to New Zealand. NZA and Cullen will work together to mitigate barriers to market entry for NZA members and to provide opportunities to realise the potential of growth available in various markets there. NZA is New Zealand's industry body for companies selling agricultural enabling technologies (including seeds, electric fences, milking machines, weigh scales, animal health products and genetics) and its membership includes companies such as Ancare Scientific, Gallagher, Tru-Test, Donaghys and PGG Wrightson Seeds. Cullen is a USA incorporated research and development company committed to the commercialisation of advanced agricultural technologies, primarily in the animal food sector. Cullen is a member of the group of companies including New Zealand-incorporated Cullen Investments Ltd. NZA CEO Colin Kennedy said the United States market represents a perfect storm for New Zealand's exports of rotational grazing technology and systems at the moment, with a market potential three to four times bigger than the entire New Zealand market. The dairy industry there is tenuously placed at the moment because of the high cost structure of fuel and supplementary feeds and low milk prices, together with sustainability and animal welfare issues on the horizon. These matters are making the efficiencies of pasture based farming adaptations increasingly attractive to the American farmer. "The United States dairy industry is overwhelmingly based on a grain feed confinement system, but since 2004 producers in Missouri, for example, have invested more than $US100 million into pasture based dairies and the number of cows on pasture in that state has grown from about 5,000 to 20,000. "A Dairy Farmers of America meeting in Memphis earlier this year told 350 dairymen that their best hope was to convert to New Zealand-style grassland dairying.
"We are also finding increased demand for our advisory services as American farmers, industry participants and commentators recognize the benefits of pasture-based dairy systems. "In the Southeast United States there is a market of $US20 - $US30 billion in farm-gate receipts and a US$100 billion wholesale dairy product market (cheese, butter, yogurt, powder)." Dr Watson said there were 9.2 million cows in 2008 in the United States, but the current crisis has seen cow numbers culled significantly through an increase in the slaughter of animals, and herd buyouts organized by the USAD. For the first time in 40 years national milk production has fallen - as opposed to historical 2% annual increases. "The confinement system in the United States is suffering from a high costs structure (feed and fuel) and sustainability requirements mean the industry needs to at least shift in the direction of pasture-based farming. The shift may be transitional for some farmers, but there is a definite desire to change where local conditions allow. "The Southeast USA is ideal for pasture based farming, but we must stress it is not New Zealand and there is significant adaptation of New Zealand technologies and management practices required to make it work. This is where Cullen's presence and experience as a proven applicator of these technologies combine to provide the platform for NZA members to enter a market which has significant potential. "The land mass in the Southeast could easily accommodate the entire USA dairy industry on New Zealand style grazing farms and would require between 15 and 20 million cows on pasture to the current industry volume," said Dr Watson. He said Cullen's own roll-out of farms is planned to be substantial and that alone will provide significant opportunity to NZA companies.
What does this all mean? Well, to put it simply, Cullen Agricultural Technologies Inc. and New Zealand Agritech Inc. would like to shift the U.S. dairy industry out of states like New York and to states in the Southeast, so as to employ their grazing system. What stands in the way of this plan? A continued and sustainable dairy industry in the state of New York. So what if dairy farming were no longer profitable in New York? Clearly, dairy production would shift and grow in other states, such as southern states that the Cullen company sees as having billion-dollar potential. The farm labor bill as crafted would greatly increased labor costs in our New York dairy industry. Costs that could not be passed on, but must be absorbed by the farmer. New York’s dairy industry, especially smaller family farms, is already in trouble (despite what you might hear about the Greek yogurt boom). Passage of this ill-conceived bill could be the "straw that breaks the camel's back" …and the feather in Kennedy’s board of director’s cap.