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.
In the 1800s, New York was actually a major producer of such crops as hops, 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 economic down times.
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. While many farms have become more specialized, some farmers are once again looking at opportunities to diversify.
By adding or resuming farm enterprises discontinued in the past, farmers can generate additional income to help bridge the gap during these difficult economic times. Because existing farmers already have land, machinery and lots of farming know-how, it is logical that they would consider alternative farming enterprises.
Which alternative is appropriate depends on many factors. In many cases, farms have resources that are not being fully utilized by the current farm enterprise. Unused land, buildings, machinery or labor could be put to use generating additional income.
One area of the farm that is often underutilized is the farm woodlot. Timber sales, firewood, Christmas trees, fence posts and maple-syrup production are all potential income generators that many farmers may not have been actively managing in recent years.
Leasing the farm woodlot or fields for recreational or hunting purposes can also bring in much needed income. While dairy farming is less seasonal than it used to be, many of these supplemental activities can be performed in the fall and winter when the busy planting, growing and harvesting times have concluded.
Closer to the homestead, unused barns or storage sheds could be rented to neighbors for livestock housing, machinery storage or winter camper and boat storage. More than a few farmers have added a roadside vegetable stand or have planted some sweet corn along the field corn.
With abundant home-grown corn silage and hay, raising a few beef cows is also a way to utilize extra feed to produce local beef for sale or home consumption.
Farmers are resilient and very seldom give in to poor economic conditions without a fight. Toughing out the bad times has been a way of life for many farmers and making the best of bad economic times is essential.
For the past 100 years, the Farm Bureau and Cooperative Extension have been helping farmers to adapt new methods and technologies that have led to increased efficiencies, improved production practices and a better quality of life on the farm. To find out more about what Cornell Cooperative Extension has to offer, you can contact me at 561-7450 or email email@example.com.
Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22, Plattsburgh, 12901. Call 561-7450