Statistics in a new report from the State Comptroller’s Office highlight the ongoing strength of the north country’s agriculture industry when compared to other areas of the state.
Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s report “A Profile of Agriculture in New York State,” states that the north country, consisting of Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Hamilton counties, ranked second highest in agriculture sales out of all regions in 2017, the most recent data available, at $776.56 million.
Only the Finger Lakes region surpasses the north country for agricultural products sold. St. Lawrence County in particular ranks eighth for most sales across all counties at $191.08 million, according to the report.
Kelsey O’Shea, an agriculture business management specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s North Country Regional Agriculture Team, said the vast amount of affordable farmland lends itself to agriculture. The more acreage farmers own, the easier for them to control crop production and feed their livestock, he said. The region ranks second in the largest amount of farmland at 1.1 million acres, again behind only the Finger Lakes.
“St. Lawrence County, given its larger land mass, does tend to rank higher in the state,” Ms. O’Shea said.
The north country leads the state in maple syrup production, hay and crop sales, according to the report. Lewis County ranks the highest in the state for Christmas tree sales.
Dairy, however, remains the top industry in much of the north country, which ranks second in dairy in the state. Earnings for farmers’ milk, determined by milk prices, have remained relatively low in recent years, however, and as production costs continue rising, several struggle to keep up with their expenses. Many have blamed low milk prices on an international oversupply of dairy goods, although other factors like trade and foreign policy play a role.
Despite struggles in the industry, Ms. O’Shea said the necessity of food and an ongoing demand for dairy products will buoy producers across the region and state. Several producers have also adapted to economic adversity by expanding production or capitalizing on niche markets, she said, and coupled with its land mass, the north country can persevere as a high ranking region for agriculture.
“The reality is agriculture is still a major economic driver in the north country, and as we move forward, I hope we continue to see it move forward,” Ms. O’Shea said.
New York generates $5.7 billion in gross income, $5.3 billion in sales and $400 million from “farm-related services and government payments,” according to the report.
New York was a leader in sales of various commodities in 2017, according to the report. It was the second largest maple syrup and apple producer, third largest milk and wine producer, among the top 10 producers for various vegetables and the top producer in cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt.
“Farms generate billions of dollars in sales, provide jobs and enhance our quality of life,” Mr. DiNapoli wrote in a statement. But farmers face challenges including fluctuating milk prices, threats from a changing climate and disrupted trade relations. We need to build on our previous actions to make sure that agriculture can thrive in the Empire State for generations to come.”