Celebrating NY Agriculture and Its Importance to Us All

By David Fisher | March 22, 2021

Look around your home, your office, your neighborhood. Much of what you enjoy comes from agriculture. Whether it is sitting around a dinner table with family enjoying a home cooked meal and glass of wine, meeting up with friends at a neighborhood restaurant, putting fuel in your car or getting dressed in the morning. Farm production contributes to all those things in a major way. Which is why it is important that today, National Ag Day, we recognize the work that goes into farming and the support that is needed to ensure it remains strong and vibrant for each of us.

New York State has one of the most diverse agricultural sectors in the country. We are blessed with the ability to grow many things from apples and corn to onions and potatoes. We are among national leaders in dairy and maple production. We have a vibrant farm beverage community, equine farms, egg producers and organic production.  Honeybees, beef cows, alpaca wool, Christmas trees and aquaculture all contribute to the wonderful world of farming in New York.  More than 97% of our farms in this state are family owned and operated. They support their local communities and fund their rural economies. But we cannot take any of this for granted.

Like any small business, the challenges are many. What sets agriculture apart is our dependence on weather. A changing climate is forcing us to learn to do things differently, both to adapt to more extreme conditions but also to reduce our carbon footprint and become more efficient. In the last decade, dairy farmers cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. Overall farm productivity has increased nearly 300% over the past two generations with no increase in resources. Through the investment and adoption of more conservation efforts, technology and research, farmers will only build on that record of sustainability.

Farms have had to adapt as well during the COVID-19 pandemic. For starters, we have advocated for safer conditions and access to vaccines for all farm and food workers. Market disruptions and plunging prices have been scary for many farmers. Some who could direct market were able to pivot more quickly than those of us who do not have the ability to process and package food on the farm for customers. We worked with policy makers to find new avenues for food distribution, like Nourish NY, which fed thousands of families across our state. Farmers also donated more than eight-million pounds of food to regional food banks, an increase over 2019 during one of the most difficult years in memory. For some, federal relief helped make a difference between meeting payroll or selling the farm. These economic challenges remain, but we are hopeful for new beginnings as we enter the spring planting season.

We face major competitive challenges as well. Rising labor costs and regulatory challenges make New York a tough state to do business in, especially when the lowest price, often from out of state or country, dictates what most customers will buy at either the fresh or wholesale markets. We must find a way to keep food affordable while also keeping farms profitable. If we cannot stay in business, the diversity of our state’s agriculture will undoubtedly suffer.

New York lawmakers will be voting on a budget in the coming days. The funding earmarked for agriculture is small, but it is imperative that it passes. It supports needed research and animal health programs, marketing for our products and conservation incentives. It also provides needed funding for NY FarmNet which has helped farmers navigate the mental health and business challenges of 2020 and beyond. And the budget continues efforts like Nourish NY and the workforce retention tax credit which do make a difference for many. We urge all lawmakers to make these issues a priority, not only for our farms but for their constituents who appreciate local food. We need each other.

On National Ag Day, let’s do more than recognize the blessings our farms provide. Let’s commit to addressing future challenges together through cooperation with each other, including fellow farmers, policy makers and our customers. Let’s build a stronger food system that lifts up every farmer and farmworker and provides our communities and people with the food, fuel and fiber that will make our state a better place to live.

David Fisher is New York Farm Bureau President and a dairy farmer.