How I Farm

The purpose of democratic elections is to hold leadership accountable.

In the past year, NYFB has seen a precipitous decline in membership from nearly 27,000 to about 22,500 members.* These losses reflect terrible strategic maneuvers by leadership. When NYFB cut its ties with Farm Family Insurance and signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Nationwide Insurance in 2011, many NYFB members were displeased. Farm Family Insurance agents worked for decades to grow NYFB, and had personal relationships with thousands of our members.

The second terrible strategic decision by NYFB occurred in January when a statewide press release declared in a letter written by President Norton to Governor Cuomo that, “We applaud your initial efforts to bring safe HVHF drilling to New York, but are also very concerned that recent delays have halted positive momentum. While opponents of HVHF drilling are extremely vocal, it is clear that they do not have science on their side to justify their position.”

Horizontal hydrofracking is an extremely divisive issue amongst membership. Many members read this press release and chose not to renew their membership. The cornerstone of science is data, and there is no long term data on horizontal hydrofracking, only hypotheses, which will be proved or disproved in the coming years with data collected from hydrofracking in Pennsylvania. Because the price of natural gas has fallen to 15% of the 2008 price, only madness would encourage a landowner to want hydrofracking to begin now. In fact, finance and science uniquely come together today in New York to encourage DEC to judiciously come up with the most protective SGEIS possible; a plan that reflects the reasonable and protective policies of our policy book, many of which are not addressed in the current draft of the SGEIS.

I am committed to the grassroots policy of NYFB. As President of NYFB, I promise to follow the book.

Mark Dunau

* Update: Renewed membership for 2013 is short about 5,000 of last year’s membership, and as of November 21, 2012 stood at about 17,500, including about 3,500 non-renewed farmer members.

Mark Dunau
Photo by Julie Dermansky

FOR THE PAST twenty-three years, my living has depended on growing vegetables organically in Delaware County with my wife, Lisa Wujnovich, at Mountain Dell Farm. We raised two children on this farm, our 24-year-old son, Bera, and 21-year-old daughter, Shane. Most of our income is derived from direct sales to restaurants in New York City, although we also have a small local business and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, where members pay up front a fee for twenty weeks of vegetables).

In 1998, I became a New York Farm Bureau member, joined the Board of Directors of Delaware County Farm Bureau, and began representing Delaware County at all the NYFB Annual Meetings as a Voting Delegate. During this period, I am proud that Delaware County has had more resolutions become NYFB policy than any other County. My desire to become NYFB president is grounded in a belief that we need to broaden and deepen the work Delaware County resolutions initiated for the past ten years, and to protect and promote the grassroots policy making that is the heart of New York Farm Bureau.

Nearly all the resolutions I proposed are directed at preserving and growing what I believe is the heart of New York agriculture; the self-employed family farm. Currently, the majority of New York farmers are self-employed. These self-employed farmers are the highest taxed, most regulatory burdened, least protected New Yorkers. Consequently, the policies I introduced recognize that NYFB policy towards legislative and regulatory changes should be shaped by their impact on the self-employed.

If I become President of NYFB, I will fight on a state and national level to lower taxes on the self-employed, and to ease regulatory burdens on New York family farms. Here’s how:

  1. Restructure the milk pricing system for dairy farmers;
  2. Defeat unnecessary and burdensome regulations that are driving family farms out of business;
  3. Tear down local trade barriers that keep farmers from processing and distributing on farm their own products, from meat to milk to cider;
  4. Enable the self-employed to deduct their health insurance premiums as a business expense.

Restructure the milk pricing system for dairy farmers. As a member of DCFB, I am keenly aware of the economic difficulties that dairy farmers face. We share the same infrastructures, and I know that without them, I will not survive myself. If elected President of NYFB, I promise to fight for restructuring the milk pricing system, and to make that fight NYFB’s single most important priority issue; dairy farmers need to get a price for milk that reflects their costs and labor. A failed system, not the ineptitude of New York dairy farmers, is at the heart of the dairy crisis.

Defeat unnecessary and burdensome regulations that are driving family farms out of business. Currently, the future of many small vegetable farms in New York is threatened by the real prospect of mandatory chemical disinfectants in wash water. Such a regulation would put many small growers like myself out of business, or, at a minimum, severely impact our direct sales and local business. This has already happened for small apple cider producers after mandatory pasteurization became New York State law. My view on food safety regulations is summarized by the preamble of NYFB’s policy on food safety: “When regulations, not unacceptable risk, drive producers out of business, neither public safety nor consumers are served. The integrity of the producer and the judgment of the consumer must remain the cornerstone of food safety.”

Tear down local trade barriers that keep farmers from processing and distributing on farm their own products. Regional, sustainable and local food production have become buzzwords to politicians and consumers in the last couple of years. I have made my living growing organically and built my business around direct sales for the last 23 years. As a result I am an authentic spokesman for these ideas as they relate to New York agriculture. In response to the push for regional food production, Cornell researchers recently published a paper describing how much of New York State’s food needs New York farmers could provide given the diet of the “average” citizen. Their conclusion was that New York farmers could provide 25% of the dietary needs of New Yorkers. From this statistic I think there is one logical conclusion: New York farmers do not need Free Trade Agreements like NAFTA and GATT to make a living; they need access to their own local and regional markets where demand is far higher than supply. We do not need to tear down international trade barriers to make a living; we need to tear down local trade barriers. As President of New York Farm Bureau, I promise to promote regional agriculture, and to do all in my power to enable farmers to take advantage of local markets by tearing down local trade barriers (in the form of state and federal regulations) that keep farmers from processing and distributing on farm their own products, from meat to milk to cider.

Enable the self-employed to deduct their health insurance premiums as a business expense. Obtaining economic justice for the self-employed starts with enabling the self-employed to deduct their health insurance premiums as a business expense, as is already the case for corporations. For a self-employed family farm paying a $10,000 insurance premium, they would save $1,500 on their Self-Employment Tax.

Both my parents were brilliant lawyers. As a self-employed attorney whose staff included only a secretary, my father argued about twenty cases in the US Supreme Court in defense of constitutional rights as diverse as leafleting in a shopping mall to firing an unregistered pistol in self defense. My mother was a refugee from Nazi Germany; she went on to become one of Yale’s first female law school graduates, and retired as a federal judge. They taught me to not to be afraid to speak my mind, and to be intolerant of sloppy thinking, greed and dishonesty.

Although I chose to get dirty for a living, my family, college and other life experiences (twelve years as a board member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of N.Y.) trained me to know how to listen to an argument and to fashion one. As we enter troubled economic times, I believe the will and ability to make a lucid and articulate argument in the face of adversity is the most important ability for a leader of New York Farm Bureau to have.

When I push NYFB policy in Albany and Washington, no politician will be able to dismiss me as a typical conservative or progressive. Rather, they will see a farmer as skilled in the use of language and policy as they, but whose allegiance lies fully with a farm community where knowledge is hard won through years of understanding the meaning of dirt beneath our fingernails.

Thanks for your attention. Let’s do right by our family farms.