What’s the state of agriculture in Schoharie County and New York State?
It depends who you ask, but mostly, it doesn’t look good.
By: Patsy Nicosia
Thursday, about 30 farmers and agribusiness reps brought their questions and concerns to a Farm Bureau meeting with state Agriculture Commissioner, fellow farmer, and neighbor Richard Ball.
Milk prices, immigration, the cost—and craziness—of over-regulations, and kids who still don’t know where their food comes from were all on farmers’ minds.
But SCFB President told Commissioner Ball he’s particularly haunted by a February letter dairy farmers who ship to Agri-Mark got with their milk checks.
It’s not just that milk prices are low and going lower, it’s that the checks also included a list of resources for farmers who might be considering suicide. (See related story.)
“What is going on when guys get a letter in the mail, asking them if they’re thinking about killing themselves?” Mr. Radliff asked. “Nothing-nothing—is worth that. I’m scared for these guys.”
Dairy farmers have a lot on their plate right now, Commissioner Ball agreed.
Changes in the way Canada prices milk and trade issues with Mexico—which imports 25 percent of the United States’ dairy exports–have created a lot of uncertainty for farmers, he said. “It’s hit them right between the eyes.”
Commissioner Ball said he’s been meeting with his Canadian counterparts to try to find work-arounds, but it all really comes down to supply and demand.
“When farmers can’t make money on the cows they’re milking, they have no choice but to add on more cows,” pointed out Middleburgh dairy farmer Sandie Prokop.
“There is a crisis and it’s because there are too many cows.”
But the crisis is more than milk.
Commissioner Ball said he and other Ag Commissioners have been reaching out to the USDA and FDA, both of which are writing regulations and guidelines for food safety that will impact everyone in agriculture.
One of the proposed regulations would consider silage—chopped corn fed to livestock—to be produce like spinach or lettuce; farmers would need to wear hair nets when making it.
Another would establish standards for water used for irrigation equal to what New York requires for swimming pools.
Yet another would set new standards for transporting farm products—including milk.
“It’s very challenging, but it’s important to be at the table,” Commissioner Ball said of the pending regulations and discussions.
Commissioner Ball said he and his counterparts are also seeking a way to handle disputes that come up in on-farm inspections without damaging a farm’s reputation, and to ensure that the same standards set for food here applies to imports as well.
On the state level, Commissioner Ball said work continues to fund updated dairy processing facilities as a way to guarantee producers markets.
The state’s New York Grown and Certified program creates high standards for everything from shellfish to Christmas trees—and then acknowledges and promotes farms that meet them.
“I see this as a great way to brand ourselves,” Commissioner Ball said. “We can only help ourselves by putting our best foot forward.”
The state’s 2017 budget was the best he’s ever seen, Commissioner Ball said, and ’18’s is essentially unchanged.
It does, however, pledge to substantially boost the state’s contribution toward school lunches for schools that buy 30 percent of their food locally to 25 cents a meal—part of the Farm to School effort, something all at Thursday’s meeting agreed can only be a benefit.
“We need to change the way kids think,” said Schoharie Supervisor Chris Tague, who also chairs the Ag & Extension Committee.
“They need to understand where their food comes from, how hard farmers work and that there will always be jobs in ag.”