The total number of farms in New York state decreased in 2007 for the fourth straight year, although land used for farming held steady at approximately 7.5 million acres, according to survey information released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service on Monday.
New York state agricultural numbers
To view detailed statistics on New York state farms, click here.
The USDA estimated the number of New York state farms for 2007 at 34,200, down 800 from 2006. However, the number of farms generating sales of $100,000 or more increased by 400 farms, while the number with sales of less than $9,999 dropped by 1,800.
“A lot of the older farmers are just selling out. Pressure from developers and stuff like that and some of the larger farms are buying them up, so they’re really not going out of production; they’re just being consolidated,” said USDA statistician William Blackson.
Some of the fluctuations in the number of farms can be attributed to farms jumping from one sales category to another by increasing or decreasing sales, Blackson said.
Peter Gregg, the spokesman for the State Farm Bureau, New York’s largest lobbying and research organization of farmers, said the cost of doing business in New York is forcing many farmers to sell or go out of business. He said he thinks of a lot of the decline in farms can be attributed to the loss of more than 500 dairy farms in New York since 2005.
“There’s a lot of positive things happening in agriculture right now, but the part that was struggling was dairy. But that happens to be the largest segment of agriculture in New York and 2006 and early 2007 were disaster years for dairy in New York. The lowest prices in history practically,” Gregg said.
From January 2006 to February 2007, the federally mandated price for milk in the Northeast never rose above $15 per hundredweight, and bottomed at $12.61 per hundredweight in June 2006. The federal Milk Income Loss Contract program provided subsidies for dairy farmers whenever the price of milk fell below $16.94 per hundredweight, but it wasn’t enough to save many small farms.
“The farms that you’re seeing go out, a lot of times, are the small mom and pop operations,” Gregg said.
The average farm size in New York in 2007 rose to 219 acres, up 5 acres from 2006, according to the USDA’s survey data. The area of land used by farmers generating more than $250,000 in sales increased by 5 percent to 2.57 million acres.
Conversely, property used by farms with $100,000 to $249,999 in sales dropped 50,000 acres, and land used by farms with less than $9,999 decreased by 110,000 acres.
Gregg said some of the acreage increases among bigger farms can be attributed to large dairy farms seeking to achieve better economies of scale by increasing dairy cattle herds to take advantage of record high milk prices since they rebounded in spring 2007. Since July, milk prices haven’t fallen below $20 per hundredweight of milk, peaking at $23.12 per hundredweight in August.
“For the apple industry, the opposite happened; the acreage went down a little bit but the production went up. There is more trees on less acres. Agriculture overall is becoming a lot more efficient, producing more food on less acres,” Gregg said.
Producing more farmers may be key to slowing the decline in the number of farms. According to the New York Farm Bureau, the average age of a New York farmer is between 54 and 56 years old.
Linda McCandless, spokeswoman for the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said Cornell is actively trying to stimulate interest in farming in New York state among its students.
“We’re enrolling more kids with [farming] experience, partly because we think that’s important,” McCandless said. “The college is definitely concerned about the declining number of farmers in New York, and we’re doing all we can to admit qualified students from farm families to the college.”
McCandles said that from 2006 to 2007 the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences admitted 94 percent more students who had participated in Future Farmers of America in high school, 34 percent more incoming freshman who were members of the 4-H Club and 36 percent more students who identified themselves as coming from farm families.
Blackson said the survey the USDA used for its report interviewed about 1,100 farmers. He said Monday was the deadline for farmers to submit their 2008 USDA Farm Census forms, which will enable a more detailed county-by-county analysis. He said the USDA will now begin calling farmers to encourage more submissions of the census forms, which are only collected once every five years.
Gregg said he expects more farm acres in New York state to go into corn production in 2008 to take advantage of record high corn prices stimulated by the increased federal subsidy of corn-based ethanol production. Ethanol is an alcohol fuel, which in the United States is predominantly made from corn.
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