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Ag Census Reports Drop In New York Family Farms

State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell speaks with Dick Kimball, owner of Country Ayre Farms, during a 2022 tour of county farms. P-J file photo

The U.S. Department Of Agriculture released its latest Agriculture Census last week, revealing a 9% drop in family farms in New York state — the steepest drop in the last three decades.

The Agriculture Census is a broad snapshot of what is currently happening in agriculture. The 2022 census shows a loss of more than 2,800 farms covering 364,000 acres of farmland over the past five years.

The biggest impact has been to the dairy industry, seeing a decrease of nearly 1,900 farms. Other industries taking a hit include vegetable, berry and organic farms.

However, the census did reveal some bright spots, including an increase in the number of orchards as well as oyster producers, along with a significant increase in market value.

Steve Ammerman, New York Farm Bureau communications director, said the drop in family farms statewide is concerning but not necessarily surprising.

“The NY Farm Bureau has been banging the drum on the increase in costs and commodity prices,” Ammerman said. “This all adds up and makes farming in New York difficult.”

The cause of the drop, Ammerman said, could be attributed to the cost of labor and challenges associated with the overtime threshold implemented by the state. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the issues as well, and commodity prices are “all over the place,” Ammerman said.

Severe weather such as frost and rain has also caused difficulties for farmers, and all of these added together have made it more difficult for small or mid-sized farms, Ammerman said.

He added that the trend could continue unless some things change policy-wise.

“The Farm Bureau has advocated for a stronger Farm Bill, including improving the milk price for our dairy farmers,” Ammerman said. “We want to increase opportunities for new farmers and have been looking at imports at the state level and improving trade relations. Policies can help and hurt and we need to work together for more opportunities for growth.”

Locally, people can help farms by focusing on shopping locally for items such as food or fiber. Supporting local farms is the most important way people can help, Ammerman said, adding that other items are imported into the country and there is a cost on both the consumer and the environment for those imports. Ammerman added that people can also make sure to let their lawmakers know that agriculture is important which can lead to better policies that support farms.

For farmers themselves, the ability to keep going depends on each individual farm.

“It depends on the farm and the circumstances,” Ammerman said. “Farmers are doing their best and trying their hardest. Help is available through the Farm Bureau or the local extension. Reach out and see what help is available and look for support.”

In the future, Ammerman hopes to see a farm community that can continue to work together.

“People in agriculture are a hopeful bunch as it is,” Ammerman said. “If there is a bad season one year, there might be a great season the next. I hope to see a strong farm community that can work together to climb over hurdles and find new opportunities.”

Ammerman said the most important reason to support agriculture is because of the effects that can be felt by the loss of it in other parts of the community.

“It’s important to know that when there is a loss of farms or farmland there is a ripple effect that can affect both the economy and the local communities,” Ammerman said. “Do what you can to support agriculture in your community. We all benefit from a strong farm economy.”

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