September 29, 2013

Agricultural diversity helps farmers

Throughout history, farmers have been an independent and somewhat self-sufficient group of men and women who produced the food, fiber and other farm products that fed our population and fueled our economy.

As our country has grown, farms have become more and more efficient and specialized. Every region has a special combination of weather conditions, soil fertility and climate that lends itself to certain crops or livestock production. On a recent tour around Clinton County, we learned that although farms may have become more specialized, there is still a very diverse farming community.

In the 1800s, New York was actually a major producer of such crops as hops, potatoes, wheat and other grain crops. As the west was settled, new areas were opened up that had advantages to these crops, leaving farmers in New York at a disadvantage. This was the beginning of the regionalization of agriculture. Gradually, each region of the country became more and more focused on growing the crops that were most profitable in their region.

Although New York is a large state with a wide variety of regions, it has become primarily a producer of dairy products, tree fruits, vegetables and greenhouse/nursery products. While the dairy industry is by far the largest portion of our agricultural economy and it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, there is a recent trend towards more diversification in farm enterprises. Maximizing the use of unused farm assets is key to generating the cash flow to support the farm enterprise during the current dairy milk price crisis.

Traditionally, local dairy farmers would raise a few beef cows, tap some maple trees in the spring and plant some sweet corn in the summer. To avoid having all their eggs in one basket, some farmers are once again looking at opportunities to diversify.

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