Agriculture is the Mohawk Valley’s leading industry and the opportunity to secure its place in the region’s economic future is vital for all our futures. There were about 1,600 fewer farms in New York in 2016 than in 2006, according to the state, and the dairy industry has been particularly hard hit. Overproduction continues to hold down prices making it increasingly hard for small, family-run farms to stay viable.
But opportunities exist to transition some of our dairy farms to livestock, produce and viticulture operations. In addition to their dawn-to-dusk chores, surviving farmers will not only grow food and meat, but also own the processing and marketing of their products. Hop production, raising alpacas for wool, and dairy goats are just a few examples of new markets for area farmers.
These are some of the encouraging signs on the road to sustain and diversify the more than 500 family farms in Oneida, Herkimer and Madison counties and the agricultural-dependent businesses they support.
Folks want to know where their food comes from. The “locovore” movement is taking root here as consumers are buying locally produced, anti-biotic free food rather than having it shipped at great distance. Farmers’ markets are having an impact at the same time restaurants and grocery stores are catering to that interest by featuring locally grown food. And let’s not forget farm-to-school programs like Waterville’s well recognized efforts to expand the use of locally grown products in school food programs. Consumers also can participate in subscriber-based programs in which farmers deliver a variety of seasonal products on a regular basis. At the same time, we will be seeing a continued push in agricultural science and technology to fuel ongoing advancement in safe, efficient food production. Things like drones, robotic milk machines and automated tractors and combines will become commonplace on the farm.
To thrive in this changing marketplace with its dependence on technology will require a whole new set of skills and abilities outside of the farm.
Students from non-agricultural backgrounds are showing an interest in farming and its related industries as great career opportunities. We need to encourage innovative efforts like the Vernon-Verona-Sherill School District’s planned $1.5 million agri-science facility that will give students hands-on experience in raising cows, pigs, goats, sheep and chickens and also complements their award-winning maple syrup production. And we should support regional programs like Future Farmers of America to offer similar opportunities in school districts lacking the resources and/or number of interested students to do it on their own.
Oneida County’s Dairy Farmer Sustainability Action Plan to assist farmers can be a model for a wider, three-county approach to help farmers throughout the Mohawk Valley to navigate needed public policy changes to preserve family farms, protect farmland, encourage life-long learning for farmers, develop public-private financial assistance for those who want to get into farming and help farmers to cooperatively market their products on a larger scale.
We sometimes fail to make the connection between the plight of individual farmers and the area’s economy, but it’s important to understand that a thriving agriculture industry will continue to be a mainstay of our area’s economy and help write tomorrow’s success stories today.
To learn how to participate and support this initiative contact Genesis at info@TheGenesisGroup. We’ll also post the best reader comments at www.TheGenesisGroup.org Richard “Dick” Presky is President of the Central New York Farm Progress Show as well as a Genesis Group Trustee.