ALBANY, N.Y. (WSYR) — Hundreds of essential workers want to be next in line for a vaccine, but there’s one group still waiting whose work impacts our daily lives and the food we eat. Many farmers frustrated that the agriculture industry has been left out of vaccine eligibility so far. As the growing season approaches, they want to be eligible.

Agricultural workers don’t get a day off, and some farmers say their health ends up impacting the amount of food we see on store shelves, like at the beginning of the pandemic. This time last year, store shelves were empty, food was limited, and milk was being poured out.

Bret Bossard, a partner at the Barbland Dairy and White Eagles Farm in Madison County, feels that wake-up call from last year is now an afterthought.

“We’ve already forgotten how essential and how fragile our food economy and food system is here.”

bret bossard

It’s about to get even more delicate because farmers are entering a crucial growing season. “It’s a pretty short window here in Central New York to be able to get the crops all planted to be able to have the harvest come fall time,” Bossard said. “We only have one growing season in New York.”

Farmers are already fighting the weather and environmental factors. Now, they have to fight a deadly virus without protection and many have H-2A workers coming in. “There’s only so much we can do when we’re working side by side and on the farm day in and day out,” Bossard said.

Throughout the winter, Bossard had five workers out at one point due to exposure. Many of his employees have kids, so anytime there’s exposure at school, they have to stay home. “If we get a huge portion of our staff that can’t work, it definitely puts a lot of strain on the business,” he said.

Whether or not they’re eligible, they still have to grow crops and care for their animals. For the 33,000 farming families who make up 20% of the land in New York, it’s disheartening to be left off the list.

“It’s recommended by DHS and CDC guidelines to also include, you know, prioritizing farmers and agricultural workers, too. So it seems to kind of go against the grain,” Bossard said.

Even with the conditions, they’ll power through, because they don’t have any other option. “We’re resilient, we’ll get through it, but it’s certainly one more pressure it puts on it.”

The Associate Vice President of the Northeast Dairy Foods Association, Alex Walsh, says they’ve been pushing legislators to get both farmers and food processing employees vaccinated, and they need to stop being overlooked.

President Biden’s national strategy aims to have all Americans eligible for a vaccine by May 1.