New York is losing farms at an unprecedented rate, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA released its 2017 Agriculture Census last week which revealed some startling statistics. The census is taken every five years.
“The most startling statistic is we now have 33,438 farms in the state, about 2,100 fewer farms than 2012,” NY Farm Bureau President David Fisher said in a statement. “This is the largest drop in more than two decades and is triple the national average of a 3% loss.”
The dairy industry took a hard hit, with a 20% decline.
Eric Ooms, co-owner of Ooms & Sons Dairy Farm of Valatie was not surprised.
“Dairy is difficult,” he said. “You have to be there 365 days a year, late at night or early in the morning, both in the summer. It’s not something people take on lightly or go into lightly. If it was easy, there would be more people doing it.”
There are other livelihoods where people can have more time for themselves and make more money, Ooms said.
Eric and his brothers Tim and Ron were born into the family business.
“My grandfather sold the farm in Holland in 1950,” Ooms said.
Eric’s father, Adrian, and his grandfather and uncle, emigrated to the U.S. and worked until they could afford to purchase their farm in 1952.
Adrian still works the farm at 86, Eric Ooms said.
“We are committed to doing a good job, as good as possible to remain competitive,” Ooms said. “We have to continue to evolve.”
The Ooms recently bought robotic milkers to become more efficient, Ooms noted.
But all is not doom and gloom for the world of farming.
The report showed a 35% increase in organic farms to 1,330; the number of vegetable farms increased by 2% to 3,544; fruit farms rose 8% to 3,083 and maple farms increased 15% to 1,662.
“More and more younger people are starting up vegetable farming,” Ooms said. “There is not as much overhead as fruit or dairy.”
Bob Fix, of Fix Brothers Fruit Farm of Hudson, a fifth generation agribusiness established in 1899, has seen a resurgence in the fruit industry, he said.
“There are also more people doing CSA [Community-Supported Agriculture] and smaller scale farming,” he said.
At 83, Lloyd Zimmermann, owner of Black Horse Farms in Athens, defies the statistic that the average farmer is 55.8 years old.
“I like it — it’s as simple as that,” Zimmermann said, when asked what keeps him going.
Fix thinks luck has been in his family’s favor.
“On our farm, everyone is into and wants to keep going,” Fix said. “I think one reason for the decline is that the next generation doesn’t want to do it.”
For novices, farming can be cost-inhibitive, Fix said.
“Starting from scratch is very hard,” he said. “If the farm isn’t in your family, it’s a lot harder to purchase land equipment.”
Farmers are also at the mercy of the weather and the demand of the markets, Fix said.
“We can’t charge what we want to charge,” he said.
Zimmermann thinks state and local governments could do more to help farmers.
“Coxsackie farmers were approached by a solar company,” he said. “The town board heard that and they passed an ordinance that you couldn’t put a solar park here.”
The opportunity was going to help local farmers, especially those looking to retire, Zimmerman said.
Farmers are often faced with regulations that hurt their business, he said.
“I expect more of a decline,” Zimmerman said. “We don’t have the right legislature or the right pressure to make people pay attention to what’s happening to farms.”
Young farmers are faced with large start-up costs, especially trying to secure suitable acreage, Zimmerman said.
“Sometimes I think they have no idea how much work it is,” he said.