Ag Census Numbers For County Tell Similar Yet Different Story To State

The 2022 Agriculture Census recently released by the United States Department of Agriculture revealed that in New York State, the number of family farms has dramatically decreased in the last five years. In Chautauqua County, the number of family farms has actually increased.

The Ag Census numbers all come from the state and are measured in five year increments, meaning that the current Ag Census is measured from 2017 to 2022. Farm Business Management Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Katelyn Walley, said that Chautauqua County was not the only county that saw an increase, which is most likely due to new, small farms.

“Interestingly enough, while the numbers across the state went down there were a few counties where the number of farms increased, and Chautauqua County was one of them,” Walley said. “We’ve seen informally at Cornell Cooperative Extension that there are a lot more beginning farmers and that a good chunk of the increase is because of the rise of beginning farmers and homesteaders.”

Walley added that homesteaders are not counted in the Ag Census.

Number wise, the amount of family farms seen in Chautauqua County in 2022 measured 1,291 compared to 1,228 in 2017. The average size of farms has decreased slightly, going from 182 in 2017 to 178 in 2022. Specifically for dairy farms, the number of farms has gone from 182 to 109, with the total number of milk cows remaining similar, going from 18,888 to 18,628. There has also been an increase in the number of farms with beef cows, rising from 247 to 279, which Walley said is a cause of some dairy farms raising beef cows and diversifying. She added that in the dairy industry it is getting harder and harder to operate on a small scale, but that there are some positive things in these numbers, including the amount of acres in farmland increasing from 223,634 to 229,885. 98% of farms in Chautauqua County remain family owned and operated.

County Executive PJ Wendel said that while it is good to see the overall number of farms increasing as many more generations of farmers are continuing or starting up, there are also a number of factors that play into some of the decreases.

“Farmers are going into debt because they can’t pay for things like their crops,” Wendel said. “It’s getting more expensive to grow crops. Organized labor like overtime legislation and unions are being pushed by downstate legislators who I would guess have never been to a farm. It’s good news to see that the number of farms are increasing, even while it is getting harder to farm.”

Wendel added that farmers also have to face efficiency struggles, asking questions such as if they can get the same yield on acreage that used to be 500 acres and is now half of that, and new technology.

“You don’t see big farms anymore like you used to see back in the day,” Wendel said. “Agriculture is a big part of Chautauqua County.”

Senator George Borrello and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell both also brought up multiple examples of legislation that has been hurting farms in NYS, including the overtime legislation, and the birds and bees act, an act that makes it so farmers can no longer use seeds treated with pesticides. Goodell said that this ban of treated seeds is because if the pesticide was consumed in large amounts it would be harmful to people’s health. In reality, he added that the treated seeds use pesticides in small amounts to protect the plant from insects while first growing and dramatically reduces the amount of pesticides needed, reduces costs, and makes vegetation much safer.

Goodell also discussed the overtime bill, saying that it has severe negative impacts and increases costs of operations on farms, while “failing to account that there are certain times of the year where farmers must work overtime.” This includes harvest time, where if the harvest is not brought in on time for items such as grapes and hay, Goodell said the survival of the farm is jeopardized.

“The legislator who sponsored this bill lives in Manhattan,” Goodell said. “When they were asked if they had ever been on a farm they said, ‘no, but I’ve been to a petting zoo’. They don’t understand why this legislation is not good.”

Borrello had similar things to say about those creating these different legislations.

“All of these bills come out of New York City where folks don’t understand where their food comes from and make bills to satisfy their radical special interest,” Borrello said.

In addition, Borrello said farms are also being hurt by the rise of solar projects, which are “eating up land across the state”.

Other types of legislation from the state that Goodell said are hurting farms include the minimum wage requirements and milk prices, adding that legislators do not realize the milk price is not set by farmers but the market. On the positive side, Goodell added that at this time the state is in the middle of preparing for the 2024-2025 budget which will include funding for a number of important, positive programs such as CCE and other specialty programs, the grape resource center and the Nourish NY program.

Looking to the future, Borrello said he and his colleagues are working on doing what they can to help.

“The number one threat to New York State agriculture is the New York State government,” Borrello said. “Myself and my Republican colleagues are trying to educate our downstate colleagues. We are working on overcoming misconceptions when it comes to agriculture and stemming the negative impacts of this legislation.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today