Updated 01/05/2012 04:13 PM
New York agriculture facing challenges
The state's farmers are looking for ways to insure that their industry survives in the 21st century. YNN's Bill Carey says there are challenges ahead for New York's agriculture industry.
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ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- It is hard to realize that those farms we pass along country roads represent one of New York's largest industries. They cover nearly a quarter of the land in the state and produce more than $3.5 billion in goods each year.
Talk to the people behind all of those numbers and they will tell you that maintaining that industry has not been easy.
“It's usually been a tough economic climate for agriculture. It's not an easy occupation. That's for sure. With declining prices and reduced number of farms, it seems to be tougher and tougher,” said Penny Heritage of the New York State Agricultural Society.
Members of the state's agriculture society say many of their problems are the same issues facing all small businesses. High taxes. Too many regulations. They're also trying to generate more business, convincing consumers to support local farms, buying goods beyond just the items at local farmers' markets.
“A lot of times, when you buy stuff at some of the bigger stores, you are buying local. It may not say it clearly on the package. Some of the processed products may be grown locally, shipped out to be processed and brought back and sold in the same store,” Niagara County farmer Kevin Bittner said.
Though the industry is huge, it is rare to hear much discussion of agriculture from state leaders. But the Cuomo administration says that doesn't mean agriculture has been forgotten.
“This administration has brought much more of a focus to agriculture than I've seen in recent history. I think there's a clear recognition that agriculture has a major role to play in economic development,” said New York State Agriculture Commissioner Darrel Aubertine.
While trying to help farmers survive in tough economic times, the state also has to think about the future. Who will be tomorrow's farmers? It is a challenge maintaining the needed workforce.
“The average age of farmers is over 50 years old. So it's not a business that is seeing increasing numbers of young people,” Heritage said.
The selling point? At a time when jobs are scarce in many sectors, farming offers a career and a lifestyle.
“Agriculture is certainly a great way to make a living. A great way to raise a family” Aubertine said.
A great way, also, to insure a continued economic recovery in New York.