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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Agriculture in the new year"

ALBANY, Dec. 16 -- Many farmers will tell you that the name of the game in agriculture today is “diversity.” That’s not usually the first word most of us think of when we think of farming. But it’s a sign of the times. It’s exactly the reason why we increasingly hear about priorities like agritourism, new technologies, food production, cooperatives and marketing as part of the strategy to keep New York agriculture strong.

It also signals that while farming’s challenges remain great, there’s also optimism to be found in the fact that new opportunities for growth and sustainability keep arising.

Take, for example, a recent report from the federal Department of Agriculture showing that winter farmers markets increased 52 percent across America during the past year. New York State’s 196 winter markets are the second most in the nation, behind California’s 284. In this column not long ago, I noted that you can find out more about regional markets, including winter markets in Corning and Ithaca, on And keep in mind that New York State is home to more than 850 Christmas tree farms. Visit the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York at to find one near you.

This increase in winter markets is reflective of a broader and hopeful trend: ever-growing consumer demand for locally grown, fresh food year-round coupled with the ability of farmers today to offer year-round products.

Of course it’s important to keep in mind that diversity has become a buzzword in agriculture as the challenges facing today’s farmers have deepened – high costs, low prices, increased competition, reduced export markets, severe weather, shrinking profits and so many others. To say nothing of the myriad governmental and political challenges that farmers are forced to contend with, including high taxes, overregulation and maybe most of all for many farmers at the moment, the uncertainty surrounding the renewal of the federal Farm Bill.

The state’s largest farm advocacy organization, the New York Farm Bureau, recently held its annual meeting in Albany. Farmers and other agricultural representatives from around the state gathered at the state capital to set their political table for 2013, as well as to celebrate the past year’s successes. And there were plenty. New York’s farmers donated more than 5 million pounds of food to regional food banks in 2012. There were actions this year to encourage the burgeoning craft brewing industry,
expand the “FreshConnect” program and ease onerous regulations. Governor Andrew Cuomo convened two highly successful legislative summits -- the first on Greek-style yogurt, and the second on wine, beer and spirits – that highlighted new and promising economic opportunities for dairy farmers, hops growers and others. The state Wine and Grape Foundation just reported that it was a very good year for the industry, and we know that the organic farming community, including right here at home, is alive and well.

And how about this welcome trend, as noted by our Rural Resources Commission in a recent edition of Rural Futures: according to a recent federal study of agriculture-related undergraduate programs at 67 universities nationwide, from 2009 to 2011 the number of women enrolled in college-level agriculture education outpaced men. One upstate New York newspaper called this development a “new picture of the modern farm” and hailed the growing number of women being counted among the nation’s farmers.

“With the number of family farms declining, this is good news,” the Plattsburgh Press Republican wrote. “Sometimes, the children of farmers aren’t interested in entering this strenuous and stressful occupation. If only males are considered to take over farms, it knocks out half the population. As with other careers, opening more opportunities for women can bring new perspective and enthusiasm to the field.”

So diversity in New York agriculture keeps bringing attention to a variety of often little-noticed good news and, equally important, helps highlight the key, ongoing and deep-rooted challenges still needing

It bears repeating as we move closer to the start of a new legislative session in January: the importance of agriculture as a mainstay of upstate’s culture and economy demands the Legislature’s focus. I, for one, look forward to the new year to keep trumpeting strategies and actions that can enhance the ability of New York’s farmers to stay competitive.

New York must remain a prominent agricultural state. We have to protect one of our strongest economic foundations, one on which the state can build long-term, sustainable economic growth. State investment in the future of agriculture is smart. It helps produce valuable economic benefits for years to come. It helps secure quality livelihoods, vibrant communities and, overall, stronger local economies across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions.

In the face of countless challenges in the new year ahead, New York government can never forget the importance of agriculture.

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