For the past two years federal and state governments have been accelerating their efforts to help keep farms in business. The efforts have taken several forms including support of local and regional markets to buy what the farms produce. The most innovative was something that farmers used to take for granted, encouragement to ensure that the next generation could take over with some hope of success as the average age of a farmer continued to climb.
It is too early to say whether these market-based approaches or the support for young farmers, both those born on the farm and those attracted to the profession, will have much of an effect in a timely manner.
Instead, we have learned in the past days that forces beyond those governmental efforts are having effects that unless met quickly and decisively could be irreversible.
While this might not appear to be of concern to those who are not in the industry, they have to keep in mind that farms are in many places the last line against development, the best way to ensure open space in a region where each week seems to bring more stories about more developments with hundreds of houses all on land that would be open no more.
The immediate crisis facing farmers is the low price and low demand for milk that has many, especially in Sullivan County, facing a day that nobody ever thought would arrive. Unless things change, some time this summer many farms might find out that nobody wants to buy their milk.
Michelle Lipari, agriculture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Sullivan County, explained in a story in the Times Herald-Record that the whole dairy industry is suffering from low prices and surplus milk.
At “pretty much all these plants and cooperatives there is too much milk and not enough demand, which is what you’re seeing with a lot of the other cooperatives also having to let farmers go.”
One traditional source of relief used to be the federal farm bill which this time around has been riddled with policies that the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress, including Rep. John Faso of Kinderhook, promoted to the detriment of farms in the Hudson Valley.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, explained why he voted against the bill offering a long list of harmful provisions including inadequate funding for the young farmer program and for programs that helped farmers develop specialty crops to diversify as well as reductions in crop insurance and a lack of support for research needed if farms are going to change in the future.
That fight will continue in Washington. In the meantime, those who value the job that farms do preserving open space need to encourage state efforts to both help dairy farms diversify to stay in business and to purchase development rights on land that now appears more likely to go on the market.
The best way to keep open land open is still to keep it active as a farm. But if the market is moving against that, the state will need to start spending much more for such preservation.