WILLIAMSON, N.Y. (WROC) — While 2023 isn’t over yet, many local farmers are looking ahead to 2024 and the changes the new year will bring to their farms, including new overtime laws.
For Jamie Sonneville — who grew up in Wayne County on an apple orchard and is a fifth-generation farmer — she’s seen many changes like this come and go. Each time though, it’s added a new layer to the complexity to the ever-growing issues that come with running a modern farm.
Sonneville, despite coming from an agricultural background, actually had a thriving career in IT. Which as the needs of the farm her and her husband Jason owned continued to grow, her family’s roots, and her career began to meet.
“Years ago, he said paperwork nightmare like I need your help and I didn’t want to stop what I was doing and my IT career. So, I said what if I build you an app,” said Sonneville.
The app, called Agri-Trak, today helps to run not only her farm but a growing number across the state and the country after officially being released just a year or so ago. As the new overtime laws going into effect on January 1, where overtime for farm laborers is required for any worked hours over 56 hours in a week something like Sonneville’s app can be invaluable.
“One of the things we’re able to help growers do. If they’re using a tool like ours is, look at okay. We’ve got two hours left in an overtime period. Do we move into an overtime threshold because the product that we’re going to harvest warrants a greater return that will help pay for that?” said Sonneville. “Or are we going to harvest something that absolutely is not going to pay for overtime, and we might as well wait until the next payroll starts.”
For Steve Ammerman, the Director of Communications for the New York Farm Bureau, the changes have kept him busy hearing from farmers who are worried this could strain their limited margins.
“Labor costs are generally the first or second most expensive cost on a farm, you know, depending on the kind of farm that they have. The other challenge is, our farms generally do not set their own prices,” said Ammerman. “They’re at the mercy of the commodity markets, which means they have no way of coping. Higher labor cost and lower overtime threshold could potentially mean higher labor cost for our farms.”
One of the other impacts that some have seen even before the changes take effect is a shrinking workforce, highlighting the fact that almost no industry has been left unaffected by labor shortages.
“On the flip side, when employees are wanting more hours, they could go off to other states to look for the additional time and the additional money,” said Ammerman. “In fact, one orchard just told me last week that they had ten workers not come back this year because of the limited hours, so that’s a real concern for our farms, especially when we’re already dealing with our labor shortages all across the state.”