What's next for farmers? Transition talks


By Patsy Nicosia

If you knew that farmers make up just two percent of the nation’s population—and yet grow enough food to feed the other 98—what would you do to keep them farming?
Just about anything.
The County’s Office of Agricultural Development, along with a roundtable formed as part of the March 2017 Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan and partners like Farm Bureau, are hoping to use the turnout at the September screening of “Forgotten Farms” as a way to keep the dairy discussion going.
More than 350 people turned out for the documentary, which stresses the economic importance of agriculture---a fact not lost on the roundtable.
Alicia Terry, head of the Agricultural Development office, said she wants to use that interest as a way to start talking to farmers about farm transition: how to get out of—or into—farming and even planning for retirement and business succession.
“I was thrilled with the turnout,” Ms. Terry said of “Forgotten Farms,” and now we want to keep that conversation going.
“With the average age of our farmers 58 and fewer than 15 percent of them under 44, we all need to be asking what’s next for them. This kind of planning takes years.”
With that in mind, the Office of Ag Development and the Schoharie County Farm Bureau will host a free workshop by Nationwide Insurance, “Land as Your Legacy,” Wednesday, November 8, from 12:30-2pm at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Cobleskill.
Then, beginning in February, the roundtable and CCE will hold an intensive workshop, meeting once a week for five weeks, to help farmers begin the actual transition planning.
The timing is deliberate, Ms. Terry said; the workshops start about around the time most farmers are finishing up their taxes.
“These are complicated things…things no one wants to think about,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to start now.”
Also on the roundtable’s radar, she said, is seeking funding to help larger farms comply with new regulations over manure storage and spreading.
CAFO farms are no longer able to spread manure on frozen or wet ground and must have some way to store it for six months, typically in-ground lagoons or manure “silos.”
Either way, the cost of putting in a storage system begins at $750,000.
Governor Cuomo has announced $50 million in grants available as part of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act to help farmers meet the new regulations; individual farms can be eligible to receive up to $385,000.
“By providing New York’s farmers with the resources they need to be successful, we are supporting New York’s economy,” Governor Cuomo said.
“It’s a start,” Ms. Terry said, in part because every dollar a farmer spends turns over seven times in the local economy, meaning just building the manure storage facilities will have a large economic impact.
Ms. Terry said the roundtable also wants to begin looking at the concept of purchasing land development rights, something that would help keep farming affordable for both new and old farmers.
“What’s happening in Sharon is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said, referring to a project that would divide 350 acres into two dozen housing lots.
“Our farmers are aging. Finding ways to keep land in farming doesn’t happen overnight.”