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Enhancing New York’s agriculture and food systems

April 18, 2012
By Richard Gast , Franklin County Cornell Cooperative Extension

Do you know that agriculture generates about $4.5 billion annually to New York state's economy? Or that agriculture directly provides almost 60,000 jobs and contributes to support businesses that provide feed, supplies, machinery and services? Did you know that New York is home to 36,600 farms, with about 7 million acres in production? Or that our farmers are world-class producers of dairy products, meat, maple syrup, honey, apples, grapes, lots of other fruits and vegetables and great wines?

Do you realize that the Northern New York agricultural industry contributes nearly $600 million in farm product market value to the local economy? Or that more than 4,200 Northern New York farms support a local payroll of $52.9 million?

Cornell Cooperative Extension does. In fact, CCE has long recognized just how important these economic contributions can be to our local communities. And we acknowledge the environmental and cultural contributions made by agriculture, too.

New York ranks third in the nation for overall milk production. And we're among the top five states for production of corn silage, fresh sweet corn, fresh cabbage, fresh snap beans, cauliflower, squash, apples, grapes, pears, tart cherries and maple products.

Our livestock farmers rank 20th in egg production, 24th in chicken production excluding broilers, 25th in sheep and lamb production, 30th in hog and pig production, and 39th in cattle and calf production.

Cornell University and CCE have always provided assistance to large producers of agricultural and horticultural products. But, we also assist small producers and community gardeners. We work with commercial producers, traditional growers, organic growers and hobbyists. Some of them work full-time and some part-time. Each producer is unique. Each has different needs. And each wants his or her business and/or garden to be profitable and sustainable.

As County Extension educators, it is our job to address these needs and desires. We realize that the agricultural and horticultural landscape is constantly changing, both locally and across New York state. That's why Extension offices in all 57 New York state counties and in New York City offer programming, information and services designed to keep our clients up to date on the latest advances and techniques and to enhance their productivity and profitability through diversification, integration, increased marketing skills and risk and benefit assessment. We look at adding value, human and animal health and safety, food safety, environmental quality, integrated pest management and the utilization of best management practices.

The CCE system encourages agricultural entrepreneurship by providing educational programs in business planning, and we offer direction to those looking for start-up assistance, access to capital and networking options. We are facing the challenge of developing systems that allow growers at all levels to produce and sell nutritious food products at competitive prices. And we are constantly looking for ways to enhance public understanding of agriculture and food production systems while strengthening public and official support for the farming community.

In northeastern New York, direct marketing has become an important strategy in connecting producers with local communities, as well as with regional, state, national and international markets. County-based educators are working diligently to help organize our agricultural and horticultural producers. The number of farmers' markets in the region has increased appreciably in recent years, with Extension promotion campaigns and initiatives like Adirondack Harvest ( creating international recognition of regional agricultural products, while empowering our farmers with greater bargaining muscle.

CCE educators appreciate that there is tremendous potential in wholesale markets, too. We recognize that the goal of improved agricultural economic and community development is best served when all stakeholders in the food system - producers, processors, retailers, restaurant owners, chefs, food service businesses, schools, institutions and consumers - join forces. We welcome, support and appreciate their participation.

A food system includes the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consuming and disposal of food. It can be local, regional or global. A successful food system is one that enhances economic, social and nutritional health, while addressing issues such as food safety, security and nutrition. CCE educators believe this is best accomplished within a local or regional community and that a successful community food system will also hold economic, environmental and social sustainability as priorities.

Cornell Cooperative Extension is the quintessence of a long-standing alliance between Cornell University and the people of the state of New York. CCE and its educators are steadfastly dedicated to the idea of building strong and vibrant New York communities. We take pride in sharing our experience, in providing information and answers, and in conducting research that will continue to improve the health and vitality of the communities we serve. Extension is a proven leader in providing continued assistance to agricultural producers and processors, rural business owners, local government officials and individual citizens interested in becoming a part of the agricultural community.

Cornell Cooperative Extension can help!



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