For Schoharie County farmer Jim Barber, agriculture has been part of his life and the lives of his family members for 152 years.
Today, fewer youth are deciding to stay on the family farm, leaving some farms at risk of development.
Though he’ll continue to monitor progress at his home farm in the town of Fulton, Barber this week said he expects to spend time highlighting programs offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency that can help those interested get into the world of agriculture.
Barber, 52, was chosen to serve as New York state executive director for the FSA.
For the past two years, Barber has served as special assistant at the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
“His knowledge of the industry and the services required of USDA as well as the challenges of doing business will be extremely useful in his new position,” state Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker said in a statement.
Barber said the job is primarily an administrative position, one that he expects will focus on revitalizing rural economies.
In general, the USDA Farm Service Agency administers programs established in the farm bill.
These include farm commodity, credit, conservation, disaster and loan programs, according to the FSA Web site.
There are also programs that help people get involved in farming, a mission Barber said can be difficult.
“You have to have people who want to do it, which is a real challenge, I think,” Barber said.
The most recent Census of Agriculture recorded nearly 300,000 new farms nationwide, which tended to have more diversified production, fewer acres than a typical farm and younger owners who also held a job elsewhere — a factor Barber said is likely due to the difficult economic climate farmers face.
A farm like Barber’s vegetable farm is competing with products from other countries where the cost of production is lower, he said.
“So you’re facing stiff competition. It’s difficult to make a living and support a whole family off of only a farm income,” Barber said.
Barber said his farm was a dairy operation for 60 years up until the mid-1990s, when the family had to decide whether they should build new milking barns or move into the greenhouse and vegetable growing business.
With the struggles faced by dairy farmers who are getting paid less for their milk than they spend producing it, the move turned out to be fortunate, he said.
“One of my philosophies in life is to keep your options open, so we’ve always been a very diverse farm,” Barber said.