GREENE - Even while farmers continue to face challenges never before seen, advocates of the agriculture and dairy industry met at the Silo Restaurant in Greene Monday to focus less on their setbacks and more on their accomplishments during the 57th Chenango County Farm Bureau annual meeting.
The Farm Bureau had a lot to reflect on over the year. Members collectively recalled challenges of the last year and a half, from the floods of 2011 to the more recent drought that forced farmers to utilize what would otherwise be winter crops due to a poor growing season early in the summer.
Also fresh on peoples' minds is the failure of the Farm Bill to pass the U.S. House of Representatives, leaving farmers without the Milk Income Loss Contract Program that served as a safety net for farmers when milk prices fell below a certain level. That, combined with rising costs of fuel and feed prices, has put tremendous obstacles in the way of progress for many local dairyfarmers.
Still, the theme of the night was optimistic. Over the last year, the CCFB received all six Silver Key Awards and the Gold Key Award from the New York Farm Bureau. Despite hardships, "it's been a good year," said CCFB President Bradd Vickers. "Without the support of the board that we have, none of what we do would get done," he said. In addition, he commended local county officials for their support of the CCFB. "It's good to see our legislature out here and involved in agriculture," he said.
Darrel Aubertine, New York State Agriculture Commissioner, was welcomed by the county Farm Bureau to speak about the trials and triumphs of the local agricultural industry, which he said has a bright future in New York State.
"I can't help but think about all that's happened in the last year," Aubertine told those in attendance. "Across the state, I can't think of anything but good to say about the Farm Bureau and Farm Bureau members." He went on to promote efforts of New York State officials over the course of the year to "treat farms like businesses," which, he added, has not been a respect given to farmers in recent years. "To actually listen and try to understand what farmers and producers are up against, it really helps. (The NY administration) has done a lot to make sure that dairy is a business in New York State; and not just business, but big business," he said.
Helping to make dairy a big business in the state is the recent surge of yogurt production. Locally, the greek yogurt manufacturer Chobani has had a tremendous impact on the dairy industry, which Aubertine dubbed "a success story."
Aubertine also discussed a potential adoption of a New York State dairy strategic plan for sustainable growth of the dairy industry. The loss of dairyfarms in the state in recent years - 265 dairyfarms per year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service - invokes the need for a dairy strategic plan for NY dairyfarmers to survive. Increased demand from dairy manufacturers like Chobani have resulted in manufacturers, Farm Bureau and Ag and Markets to ask for a 15 percent increase in milk supply. The Chenango County Ag and Farmland Protection Committee cites that a 15 percent increase in milk production could be worth $1.5 billion to the NY economy and add 5, 000 or more jobs in the state.
"As Chobani prospers, so too does the dairy industry," Aubertine added. "Without strong agriculture, we're not going to see the resurgence of the economy that we want to see."
Chobani was also lauded by members of the county Farm Bureau. Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of the yogurt company, was awarded this year's CCFB Advocate of Agriculture Award for his work in promoting agriculture. Accepting the award on Ulukaya's behalf was Chobani CFO Jim McConeghy. Also recognized were CCFB members and ag advocates Jessica Andrews, Jim Petrie and longtime CCFB board member Fred Baker.