OUR VIEW: Focus on farming must remain sharp

Will Rogers

Observer-Dispatch

Sep 26, 2018

How many times do we need to be tapped on the shoulder before we turn around to see who’s there?

That might be a question asked by New York state’s farmers, whose very livelihoods are being threatened on many fronts, ranging from declining milk prices and tariffs on agricultural products to federal policies relating to visas and other immigration programs that have placed restrictions on the migrant workers they depend on for a workforce.

And if you ever needed a definition of “trickle-down” economics, look no further than the agricultural industry. When the farmers are hurting, the consumers won’t be far behind. Count on it.

Last week, state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released a report noting that New York state’s farms generated $4.8 billion in revenue in 2017, with 15 agricultural products ranked in the top five nationwide.

“Agriculture is a crucial piece of the state’s economy, with farms contributing nearly $2.4 billion to the state’s gross domestic product,” he said. “Our farmers continue to provide jobs and fresh, locally-sourced food, while also preserving open spaces. However, farmers face a number of challenges, from declining milk prices which can threaten family businesses, to tariffs and restrictions on immigrant workers.”

That affects a lot of people. There are more than 35,000 farms in New York state, covering 7.3 million acres, nearly one quarter of the state’s land area. They produce a wide variety of crops, 15 of which boast high national rankings, including cottage cheese, sour cream, yogurt, apples and grapes.

DiNapoli’s report found New York’s U.S. rankings rose in 2017 compared to 2011 in milk, snap beans and maple syrup. At the top of the production list: Milk, with $2.7 billion in sales last year. That was more than half of the total for all agricultural products.

This report once again not only demonstrates the value of the agricultural industry, but shows why it’s critical that we find ways to help farmers meet the challenges that have forced many of them to close the barn door on their operations in recent years. According to the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service, New York state lost 937 dairy farms in the past five years; in 2012, there were 5,427 farms, compared to 4,490 in 2017.

Both Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, and her Democratic opponent, Anthony Brindisi, have voiced support for the state’s dairy farmers, noting in particular the unlevel playing field the farmers face when it comes to tariffs. Likewise, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente’s introduction of the Oneida County Dairy Farmer Sustainability Action Plan is a step in the right direction. Agriculture is Oneida County’s No. 1 industry.

Protecting and preserving our farms is one of the few issues most will agree on. We know what the problems are. Fixing them must be a priority. Without our farms, we’re in trouble.