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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 www.ilovethefingerlakes.com. 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 www.christmastreesny.org 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
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
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
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
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869