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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Farm stories behind the numbers"

ALBANY, March 26 -- If we’re talking jobs -- and the future of jobs -- in New York State, then we better be talking agriculture and farming too. That gets overlooked too frequently in Albany, where year after year the corps of state legislators who understand (and represent) the challenges facing New York’s farmers and agribusinesses get lost under an ever-growing shadow of big city needs and concerns.

But we better pay attention. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the number of farms in New York State fell from 36,300 in 2010 to 36,000 last year -- a decrease that falls in line with a similarly declining number of farms across the United States. America had
an estimated 2.2 million farms in 2011, down slightly from 2010. If numbers tell stories, and they always do, then there are fields of stories behind these statistics and most of the others provided by the NASS, which you can view yourself through the state Department of Agriculture and
Markets’ website ( – in the left-hand column of the home page click on “Divisions” and then click on “Statistics” in the drop-down box).

For me, one way to read the numbers is that, despite the enormous challenges, New York remains an agricultural state and we can’t ever afford to forget it. Seven million acres of land in farming. More than $4 billion worth of agricultural products sold annually. A Top 10 producer of
milk and other dairy products, many fruits and vegetables, Christmas trees, corn for silage and more.

In short, New York boasts of a proud, a highly diverse and a productive agricultural industry, the state’s largest. And then there are the individual stories behind the statewide story. Right here at home, in the legislative district I represent, are the life stories of farmers and agribusiness people in Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins and Yates counties who are state leaders in the production of a broad-based inventory of crops, livestock and other commodities.

Like most other state businesses and industries, the agricultural industry today must find ways to cope with high costs, unpredictable and volatile weather, and so many other pressures. So the importance of agriculture as a mainstay of upstate’s culture and economy demands the Legislature’s attention each and every session to enhance the ability of our farmers to stay competitive and to keep their land in farming. Toward this end, in recent weeks we’ve seen:

-- the expansion of New York’s “FreshConnect” program, a competitive grant initiative started last year to create new farmers’ markets and support existing markets to provide fresh produce to high-needs areas, both rural and urban;

-- the introduction of legislation to promote the growth of New York State’s craft breweries, encourage opportunities to New York farmers to restore our state as a premier producer of hops, and further remove state-imposed regulations hindering the success of our farm wineries and
distilleries; and

-- the state Senate’s approval of the “Buy From the Backyard Act” to require state agencies with food contracts to buy at least 20 percent of their food from locally grown New York sources.

Add in ongoing efforts in the arenas of property tax relief, state spending restraint and other fiscal reforms -- all of which, if you ask the New York Farm Bureau, are high on the list of farm family priorities – and you get a taste of the attention agriculture’s receiving at the Capitol, and rightly so. Agriculture remains one of the strongest economic foundations on which New York can build long-term, sustainable economic growth. If we can do that effectively, it’s going to have a valuable
ripple effect throughout our regional economies. New York government can never forget it.

State investment in the future of agriculture is significant, it’s smart, and it will produce valuable economic benefits and opportunities for years to come. It’s an economic development priority that will secure and retain quality livelihoods and vibrant communities, as well as strengthen the competitive position of wineries, grape growers, dairy farms, organic farms and growers, tourism, food processors and the overall economy of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region.

To say nothing, as the final word, of preserving a cultural anchor and a way of life that’s meaningful, worthwhile and essential to the pride we can take in ourselves as the Empire State.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869