SCHOHARIE — Schoharie County is vying to pinpoint potential changes in the farming community for the first time in six years.
The county Office for Agricultural Development on Jan. 6 will begin conducting a survey to gauge the quantity, challenges and output of farmers in one of the greater Capital Region’s most rural counties.
“My main concern is that farmers don’t have a ton of time to fill out a pages-long survey,” said Nick Kossman, who took on the role of county development specialist for agricultural business in June. “And it was my goal originally was to make sure this was less than 20 questions and we’re down to less than 15 at this point.”
The last county survey conducted in 2016 found that farmers averaged 26 years in business, owned 168 acres or rented 125 acres. Most farms, albeit a decreasing number, specialized in dairy production, the report found.
“[We’re] finding out where as a county government and agencies within the county work to create ag development, seeing where we should really focus and what’s important to the farmers,” Kossman said. “Because at the end of the day, we’re working to make their lives easier.”
Among issues reported by the last survey, growers in 2016 were concerned about taxes, succession planning and zoning. They noted closeness to SUNY Cobleskill agricultural programs, soil quality and “scenic beauty” of the valley as prominent upsides of farming in Schoharie County.
Farmland accounts for 25% of total land use, about 19% less than neighboring Montgomery County and 1% more than abutting Otsego County, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The majority of counties across New York have experienced a waning number of agricultural operations. Between 2007 and 2017, Schoharie County was the only area county to gain both farmland acreage (1,450 acres) and producers (16).
A farm is considered any business making a profit of $1,000 or more on agricultural products under federal survey criteria. As of the county’s last survey, farms accounted for 650 jobs and $15.8 million in labor income.
“If you’re looking with sort of a traditional view of where there are the 200-cow dairies and the hundred-acre farms, our average farm size has decreased pretty steadily over the years,” Kossman said. “But we are having a lot more people, I believe, and this is kind of what I’m hoping this survey will prove, a lot of people who are doing more farming on a smaller scale.”
Still, more than 20% of farms in the county employ off-farm workers, according to Kossman.
New York since the 2017 survey has pursued controversial regulations, which require all farm employees to be paid overtime after working 40 hours instead of the previous 60-hour cut off system by 2032. The 10-year phase in was first recommended by the New York Farm Laborers Wage Board over the summer and put into effect Sept. 30.
“It’s not something we want to completely disregard [in the survey] just because it’s not the majority of farms,” Kossman said. “It still affects a pretty large chunk.”
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.
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