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Report Assesses Agricultural Economic Impact

farm tractor in field (file)
WAMC/Pat Bradley

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has released a report showing that agriculture contributed $37.6 billion to the state’s economy in 2012, an increase of more than 22 percent over five years.

The report: “The Importance of Agriculture to the New York State Economy” notes that agricultural commodity sales and acreage increased between 2007 and 2012, but the number of farms and farmers declined slightly. As of 2012 about 56,000 New Yorkers operated 35,500 farms on 7.2 million acres of land — nearly a quarter of the state’s land area.  The average size of a farm is 202 acres and 98 percent are family owned.
The comptroller reports that the state ranks in the top 10 nationally in dairy, wine, apple and maple syrup production. Milk is the largest farm commodity with $2.4 billion in sales.

New York Farm Bureau Spokesman Steve Ammerman says the comptroller reinforces what they have known all along: that agriculture is integral to the state’s economy.  “Clearly there’s a major economic impact when you look at not only direct sales, which is well over $5 billion, but in terms of the spin off business and the economic activity that’s created,  it’s close to $38 billion. We have a strong agricultural economy. We have a growing ag sector.  We defied some of the national trends in terms of an increase in farm acreage. We also didn’t lose as many farms as the national average. So I think that shows that it’s an important industry in New York and it’s one that we certainly hope that lawmakers recognize and support.”

While there are numerous positives in the report, Ammerman does note that it also points out areas of concern.   “There are things in it that we need to pay attention to like the average age of the farmer, it keeps increasing. We need to make sure that we can bring more young people and new farmers into the fold to ensure that there’s a continuation of the success that we’ve been having on our farms. That’s one of the things that the comptroller stressed in his report and I think that’s important to keep in mind.”

The report notes that New York is the second largest producer of wine nationally behind California. Wine’s total economic impact in the state is $4.8 billion. New York Wine and Grape FoundationPresident Jim Trezise says the report helps because it helps educate the public and officials about the importance of the agriculture industry.  He uses as an example how much more there is to a bottle of wine.   “I’m not talking about grapes. I’m talking about land and tractors and fertilizer and labor and bins. Then when you get to the wine part of it obviously you have to have a building and bins and tanks and barrels and bottles and boxes and that kind of thing. So we really are a value-added product. So there’s a huge economic benefit. Not to mention the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts and limousine companies and so forth.  That’s how we contribute well beyond our sales. The humble grape becomes a giant in terms of economic impact.”

Trezise’s mantra for New York’s wine industry is “Diversity is Our Strength, Unity is Our Power.” But he says it’s appropriate for any agricultural sector in the state.   “It’s very encouraging and the comptroller’s report is a really good example.  There’s more and more public awareness now than there ever used to be about the importance of agriculture. That food comes from the earth.  New York is lucky to have a large agricultural industry where we can to a great extent feed ourselves.”

The comptroller’s report found agricultural production in all parts of New York, including New York City.  The top five counties for sales in 2012 were Wyoming, Cayuga, Suffolk, Genesee, and St. Lawrence.  The North Country region ranked second in total agricultural sales and third in
farm acreage.

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