Farmers are at a pivotal crossroads. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo put it in his New York Farm Agenda, the recent economic crisis has created “a perfect storm of high costs, low prices, increased competition, reduced export markets and shrinking profit margins.”
Farmers are at a pivotal crossroads. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo put it in his New York Farm Agenda, the recent economic crisis has created “a perfect storm of high costs, low prices, increased competition, reduced export markets and shrinking profit margins.” Now, with Washington politics holding up the Farm Bill, farmers are even more vulnerable. In limbo since it expired in September, the Farm Bill seeks to bolster U.S. agriculture through a combination of price supports and safety nets. Renewing and updating it had been a routine exercise in Congress since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the original Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1933 at the height of the Depression. How, when and if disagreement over the Farm Bill gets resolved remains uncertain. Meanwhile, in the fields and with the families that make sure we have food, work centers on the day-to-day, season-to-season challenges of running a farm.
For Andy Bodine, of Bodine Farms, what’s happening with the Farm Bill is the last thing on his mind. Planting begins in the spring on the 85 acres of mostly muck land he owns in the outskirts of Arcadia. His main crop is potatoes, but Bodine Farms produces tomatoes, a variety of squash, sweet corn, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons and onions – all of which is sold to stores locally and across the state. Bodine’s day starts early, often before the sun rises during his busy season. As crops come into season, Bodine begins harvesting, painstakingly hand picking every vegetable to ensure quality.
With much of his farm located on reclaimed swamp land, irrigation is a regular job to keep the fields from becoming to wet when it rains and too dry when it doesn’t. Bodine said farming muck land is unusually to the extent he farms it. Sweet corn is the only vegetable he grows on dryer ground, planting some corn every 4 to 5 days. The staggered planting allows him to have fresh corn throughout the season to sell.
After harvesting, Bodine said the vegetables are packed and delivered by truck to local stores. In years past, he delivered to stores in Seneca Falls, Wolcott and locally in Newark, but in recent years those smaller markets have closed. Just recently, Bodine found a new market in the southern tier to sell his fresh produce. In nearby stores, Bodine brings nothing but the freshest vegetables, delivering every day, 7 days a week throughout the harvest season. Bodine also sells his vegetables every week at the Lyons and Newark farmer’s markets, at Bodine’s Southend Market and even at auction.
Fruit farming follows a similar path. Jessica Wells has been part of the Apple Shed at Maple Ridge Fruit Farm for 17 years and every fruit is hand picked before being sorted by hand for different marketing venues. Maple Ridge farms cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet cherries, peaches, strawberries and of course their main crop, apples. Wells said they have a group of migrant workers who return every year to help with harvesting. Some of what is picked is sold to Wegmans locally, others go to the Newark Farmer’s Market. One of their biggest buyers is Motts, where the locally grown apples are processed for juice and apple sauce. Still more goes to wholesalers or to auction. And, of course, fresh produce also goes to stock the Apple Shed, located on Fairville Maple Ridge Road in Fairville.
“Most of what we grow, we have the Apple Shed in mind,” Wells said.
“We grow what we know people want locally,” Bodine added.
But farming isn’t just about what’s fresh, it’s also about what consumers want and that has changed over the years.
“People don’t buy what they used,” Bodine said. “Years ago we would take 100 bushels of potatoes to the Lyons Farmer’s Market on a flat bed truck and we’d sell all of it. Now we go with two bushels and come home with some.”
The change in buying habits can be attributed to many things. Bodine said people don’t can like they used, but there has been a resurgence lately. Wells attributes it to need in tough economic times, but also to a sense of nostalgia as people try to recapture seemingly simpler times.
Bodine is a second generation farmer, handed down from his dad. At 51, he remembers always being on a farm.
“I was raised in the muck, so to speak,” he said. “I remember as a child, playing in the fields and falling asleep in a pile of discarded leaves for my nap as my parents harvested onions nearby.”
Back then, there were lots of farms in the area, growing spinach, celery and carrots, but there were also many canning factories in the area that have since left. Where Maple Ridge Fruit Farms will be handed down from owner Gary Wells to his son and Jessica’s husband, Matt, as a fourth generation farm, Bodine expects he will most likely sell his farm off in the coming years when he decides to retire. Jessica Wells and Bodine both see the future of farming in the growing Amish communities moving into the area.
John Sorbello, from Wayside Garden Center Inc., 124 Route 31 in Macedon, sits on the New York Farm Bureau board of directors, which is made up of farmers from each district in the state. Sorbello represents Wayne County and is actively supporting the Farm Bill, which remains stalled in Congress, with no remedy in sight, he said. The Farm Bill is thought by many to be a piece of legislation that benefits farmers, but Sorbello said “farmers are just one piece of the pie.” A huge part of the bill includes funding for nutritional programs, such as WIC. The failure to pass the bill leaves questions about how these programs will be funded in the future.
Many may not know that Wayne County is within the top 5 states in the nation for milk production, making the MLIC program in the Farm Bill a much needed safety net for dairy farmers. Many conservation programs are also funded through the bill. These program provide cost sharing opportunities for farmers that, for example, allow them to dig conversion ditches to prevent erosion.
“Most farmers don’t pick their crops and think about the Farm Bill,” Sorbello aid. “But is does bring a lot of uncertainty and that’s big.”
The uncertainty falls to crop insurance. With the federal subsidy gone, many companies will opt to drop crop insurance or raise premiums that could make the insurance cost prohibitive to farmers.
Proponents of the Farm Bill are most worried with having to start from scratch. With elections done, new representatives will assume their seats in Congress and the Farm Bureau must begin again to educate the newcomers about the bill’s importance to agriculture as a whole.
“I think there will be a Farm Bill,” Sorbello said. “It’s just not as timely as we would have liked.”