Farmers Look To Keep It A Family Business
With agriculture in New York contributing $31 billion to the economy each year, families continue to stress the importance of passing their farms on to future generations.
The climate of agriculture in the state is constantly changing. Currently, there are various government incentives and grants for individuals looking to start up new, smaller farms – an option that is not without struggles.
Generational farms, or farms that have been run by a family for many generations, though not necessarily on the same plot of land, have their own unique sets of challenges.
Despite recent reports indicating a lack of interest in farming by the next generation, a significant number of local farms continue to be generational.
According to Richard Kimball, local dairy farmer and president of the Chautauqua County Farm Bureau, there are less incentives for individuals looking to inherit or begin working on a family farm.
“We need incentives to make generational farming viable,” he said.
County Ayre Farms LLC, which was started over 40 years ago by Dick and Joan Kimball, is now a partnership with their son Seth Kimball, daughter Heather Kimball and son-in-law Michael Woodis.
Frontier Brook Farm, located in Conewango Valley, is also a generational farm.
Glen, alongside his wife, Diane, son, Glen Moss Jr., and a few part-time workers, operate the roughly 200-cow dairy farm.
Although Glen Sr. grew up on a dairy farm, his older siblings were already heavily involved in the family farm by the time he was ready to begin farming. After getting married, Glen and Diane made the decision to begin renting land from an older couple willing to show them the ropes. The couple purchased the farm in 1992.
In 2002, the Mosses were forced to make a decision – modernize or downsize. At that time, the farm could hold a maximum of 120 cows, three times the number the couple started with. By modernizing and growing the business, the Mosses were able to keep up with inflation and stay relevant financially.
Glen Jr., graduated from SUNY Morrisville in 2010 and decided to work on the family farm.
To begin, Glen Jr. worked on the farm as an employee for two years – a trial to see if he wanted to continue the family business.
“He wanted to get into it,” Glen Sr. said.
Glen Sr. and Diane formed an LLC with Glen Jr., allowing him to gain equity in the business over time while learning more about the business.
According to Glen Sr., regardless of whether or not an individual is in the position to inherit a family farm, the most important factor is desire.
“The bottom line in all this is … to see young people with a burning desire to farm,” Moss said.
“Somebody has to step up to the plate and help the younger generation out,” he said, noting the lack of opportunities for young people to get involved in agriculture. According to him, not as many older farmers are allowing younger people the opportunity to rent or work on farms that would otherwise be ready to change hands.
Glen Sr. also said that his 200-cow dairy, which represents both his family and his son’s future family, is 100 percent of the family’s income – no members work outside of the farm.
“Many people don’t understand modern agriculture,” he said, explaining that farmers have to accept significant risks, making them extremely dedicated people.
According to Glen Sr., the vast majority of current farmers grew up in a farming environment.
Elizabeth Hamlet-Tytka, of Hamlet Farm in Sheridan, noted that the farm has been in her family for many generations.
Elizabeth, alongside her brother and sister, operate the farm, which produces corn, melons and other vegetables, alongside grapes. All of the grapes from Hamlet Farm go to Welch’s.
According to Elizabeth, her involvement in the farm started slowly.
“It was one of those things – I started helping my dad after school, and then I eventually became interested in it,” she said.
Elizabeth also said that her daughters, ages 8 and 2, also help out around the farm and that she enjoys teaching her daughters about agriculture. She also noted that although her and her siblings work on the farm, each of their spouses work outside of the farm – a typical scenario that helps offset the cost of health insurance for many farmers.
John and Heather Lesch operate a dairy farm in Fredonia -a continuation of multiple generations of farmers in both Heather’s family and John’s family.
John said that the climate of agriculture is a double-edged sword, with farms getting significantly larger and there being less available ownership roles for individuals looking to begin farming.
“We need educated and qualified people to take secondary roles on farms,” he said, noting that it would benefit both the farm and the individual gaining further experience. However, most qualified individuals are looking to own their own farms, so there are less qualified workers to take on the secondary positions, according to John.
“When you grow up with farming, you get a balanced view of the goods and the bads,” John said. “We’re not here by default – it’s what we wanted to do.”
John specifically said that a large emphasis is placed on being environmentally conscious, especially on family farms in the county.
“Taking care of what you already have is a primary goal,” he said.
According to Heather, all three of her sons are involved in 4-H.
“Farming has been a family tradition,” she said, adding that it takes significant amount of effort to get started in farming.
Heather also added that generational farming is why many individuals farm where they do, as it can be a foot in the door and allow an easier transition into farming.
“We wanted the job and the lifestyle of a farm – everything is wrapped up in the farm,” she said about free time, hobbies and family activities.
John said that 4-H programs are all about the learning process, focused on discipline and independent growth. He added that it provides an outlet different than the typical activities of kids and that he can see his kids growing through the program.
According to Emily Kidd, Chautauqua County 4-H issues leader and Lisa Kempisty, community educator for the dairy a livestock agriculture program, many kids in the county are interested in agriculture.
“4-H gives kids a better understanding of agriculture,” Kempisty said.
Although not all kids involved with 4-H continue to stay in farming, many continue to further their education in fields like veterinary sciences, according to Kidd and Kempisty.
“Many kids in the program don’t come from farms,” Kidd added.
Both agreed that it is not as financially feasible as it once was for young people to get into farming, citing a common lack of experience necessary to acquire loans and less commercial space available for rent or purchase.
“Young people have to work a little harder,” Kempisty said, comparing entering the field of agriculture today with the process decades ago.