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With farm numbers decreasing statewide, area farmers continue to struggle
CLAYVILLE, N.Y. (WKTV) - There are 2.2 million farms across the United States, and it is estimated 36,000 of those farms are found right in New York State. According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, those numbers are quickly changing as local farms are closing up shop.
Farms in Central New York are no stranger to working hard to make ends meet.
Many Central New York farms are a family affair, passed down from generation to generation. Farming isn't just a business, but a way of life for 5th generation farmer Jeff Donahoe. He knows that farming is an ever-changing landscape as times get tough for farmers.
"I don't blame anyone who tells me they are getting done," Donahoe said. "No job is easy, but I say our business is different. Our investment is greater than our growth and I don't know any businesses that operate in those terms."
In the past year, farms with sales over $500,000 have decreased by 250, and smaller farms with sales between $250,000 and $500,000 also fell by 150. The area of land for farms that generate that kind of revenue is 12% below what it was a year ago. With high taxes in New York State and steep operating expenses from electricity to feed livestock, some Central New York farmers say it is tough to compete with farms in other areas of the country.
However, Donahoe says he is realistic about farming in New York State.
"We've got six kids," he said. "If none of my kids wanted to farm, it wouldn't hurt my feelings any, I have one kid that's really interested. As I look at it, we seem to be the last generation that really did get into it, have stuck with it. I don't see new people getting into it."
Debbie Windecker says that working on a farm is a family-wide business that teaches her kids the value of hard work. However, in the past ten years, she's seen fellow farmers fold even after doing all they can.
"It is hard to see people work hard and at the end of the day not be able to take care of their family," Windecker said. "You know, they don't want hand outs, they just want to be paid fairly for their product."
Windecker says that dairy farmers need to see a larger share of the purchase price of milk. The cost of doing business in New York State doesn't help either.
While farmers are optimistic about change, many say the long range plan for local farms will be shaped by what consumers want, and how important getting milk locally from a family farm is to them.