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Pain in the heartland

Brindisi discusses tariffs, immigration

Dan Lyon/multimedia intern

Mike McMahon, left, gives Democratic congressional candidate Anthony Brindisi a tour of his Homer dairy farm, E-Z Acres, on Thursday afternoon. The two talked about agricultural and immigration policies at length, with Brindisi looking to understand issues that concern McMahon and his work in the industry.

Assembly Member Anthony Brindisi stood in front of a cow barn at McMahon E-Z Acres farms in Homer. Inside stood 500 milking cows.

Brindisi asked farm owner Mike McMahon where his milk goes. It goes to Byrne Dairy.

The next stop took the two and a few other guests to pens housing 60-day-old calves. Brindisi asked McMahon how old the calves have to be before they can be milked. McMahon’s answer this time was muffled by the wind.

The tour then found Brindisi overlooking a 16-foot-deep manure pit.

Once again Brindisi was inquisitive.

Brindisi was focusing on large national issues that affect local voters in one of the most-watched Congressional races of the year: the 22nd District Congressional seat, where the Utica Democrat faces incumbent Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford). Tenney is finishing her first term and Brindisi has served New York’s 119th Assembly District since 2011.

A Zogby Analytics poll in May showed Brindisi leading Tenney 47 percent to 40 percent with 13 percent of the voters undecided.

Earlier this month, Tenney, along with Ivanka Trump, daughter and adviser of President Donald Trump, visited the Suit-Kote Corp. facility on Route 281 in Preble.

Before Thursday’s tour, Brindisi sat down with McMahon to discuss issues plaguing the dairy industry — immigration reform and dairy tariffs from Mexico.

“I want to learn firsthand the policies they’d like to see me champion for in Albany and Washington,” Brindisi said.

In June, Mexico announced tariffs on U.S cheeses in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum to the European Union, Mexico and Canada.

“I’m hearing a lot of concern from farms,” Brindisi said. Farmers were already struggling with low milk prices.

“Who are some of the biggest countries we export milk to?” Brindisi asked McMahon.

“Our number one milk export in the country is Mexico,” McMahon said.

Earlier this year before the tariffs, McMahon was looking at milk prices being around $18 per hundredweight by June, he said. They aren’t there now. He gets just over $14.

It costs McMahon $16.25 to produce a hundredweight, or 100 pounds, of milk.

Milk inventory is backing up because it’s not moving offshore, McMahon said. The idea of the proposed $12 billion bailout is ridiculous, McMahon said.

“Our buyer, Byrne Dairy, is saying put the brakes on,” McMahon said.

“Instead of leading a coalition of our allies to deal with theft of intellectual properties … We seem to have made everyone mad at us,” Brindisi said.

The other issue at hand Thursday afternoon was immigration reform.

Half of McMahon’s farm workers are migrants.

“If these people just stop coming one day from Mexico or Central America, what do you do, how do you operate?” Brindisi asked.

“Uh, I don’t know, I really don’t believe that robotics are the answer,” McMahon said. “Robotics works fine at certain sizes.”

McMahon told Brindisi that if migrant workers were removed from the dairy industry, people could kiss the industry good-bye. Cortland County had 96 dairy farms in 2016, state data show.

In the early to mid-1990s, McMahon saw a change in the dairy industry moving toward using migrant workers. On Jan. 1, 2000, he hired the first migrant workers on his farm.

McMahon hopes that Congress can reach immigration reform that appeases and benefits everyone.

“It seems like whatever they come out with now is kind of just a compromise between a very extreme position and less extreme position,” Brindisi said. “There’s really no input from both sides on how this thing would look.”

McMahon wants secure borders. “You know you want to build a wall, well to me a 14th Century answer to a 21st Century problem is not the answer,” McMahon said.

Brindisi said he’s also in favor of secure borders as well. “I want a tough but fair immigration policy and I want to have more border security,” Brindisi said. “He (the president) wants a wall and, in certain areas where geographically it makes sense, by all means let’s build a wall. But we also have to have a comprehensive immigration reform so we can help farmers.”

If elected, Brindisi hopes to establish an agricultural advisory committee, along with maybe a veteran committee and small-business committee. “People always ask me what committees do you want to serve on,” Brindisi said. “And I tell them, ‘I want to find a committee I can use to help benefit the area I represent.’”

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