Farmers Remain An Optimistic Lot

Local farmers remain optimistic heading into 2014.

According to Richard Kimball, president of the Chautauqua County Farm Bureau and a local dairy farmer, due to weather, it was a tough year to farm in Chautauqua County. The cold, wet spring and hot fall created difficult growing conditions and the summer did not yield as many growing days as farmers expected.

“Agriculture is very cyclical,” he said. “Dairy projections for the next six months look good.” However, crop prices, including corn, have dropped significantly, leaving some farmers uncertain of the future.

According to Chuck Couture, president of the Cattaraugus County Farm Bureau, “For vegetables it was a pretty good year (to grow crops), though dairy farmers had a tough time.”

He also said that he hopes the Farm Bill will pass, which is currently in an extension until a new five-year plan is passed.

“I hope that it will get resolved because it is so important to so many people, not just farmers,” Couture said. The extension is in effect until the end of January, to provide lawmakers time to consider the bill’s farm subsidy and food stamp programs.

The nation’s SNAP and WIC programs are important to farmers. The Farm Bill that passes will dictate if farmers are still able to accept SNAP benefits and WIC vouchers at farmers’ markets. Couture said the programs are a large revenue stream for farmers – up to 20 or 30 percent of their income. Though some dairy farmers are involved with the farmers’ markets, mainly vegetables and fruits are sold, according to Couture.

Many fear that if the Farm Bill does not pass, prices will increase significantly. According to the New York Farm Bureau, agriculture throughout the state, including food processing, currently contributes roughly $31 billion to the state’s economy.

Tim Bigham, area field adviser for the New York Farm Bureau, said that the priority piece of legislation for the Farm Bureau this year was the 2 percent annual increase cap for agricultural assessment of farmland.

Before the 2 percent cap, annual agriculture land assessments were increasing between 8 and 10 percent per year, leaving farmers unsure of what the upcoming year’s bills would be and paying exceedingly higher taxes each year.

According to Bigham, the 2 percent cap leaves more money in the wallets of farmers who pump this money back into the local economy.

Bigham also said that the New York Farm Bureau supported a wide range of other legislation in the last year, including bills to improve the efficiency of getting local food into stores and restaurants.

Specifically, the bureau supported a bill to expand the current Pride of New York program by creating a new program, Shop: Pride of New York, allowing wholesale and retail sellers of food products produced in-state the ability to market products and promote the sale of food grown locally, according to the New York Farm Bureau.

As well, the Dine: Pride of New York bill similarly provides restaurants serving local food products the ability to promote and market the locally grown food.

“Farmers are an optimistic lot. They can see a mid-winter blizzard as an increase in the water table, come spring … They carry optimism with them wherever they are,” Bigham said.

According to the most recent Census of Agriculture data published in 2007, the average market value of production per farm in Chautauqua County was $83,581. The census noted that Cattaraugus County had 183,439 acres in use for farms, and Chautauqua County had 235,858 acres in use for farms.

Chautauqua County currently ranks first in New York state for the number of active farms and fifth in the state for number of acres in production. According to the census, Chautauqua County was home to 1,658 farms in 2007.

The census also showed the average age of farm operators was 56.6 years old in Chautauqua County and 56.7 years old in Cattaraugus County.

In Cattaraugus County, 931 farm operators were male, with 191 being female. Chautauqua County had 1,430 male operators to 228, according to the census.