January 4, 2016

New York agriculture sales outpace nation


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Organic farmers Paul and Maureen Knapp, owners of Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble, stand outside their barn on Saturday.

Associate Editor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes a certain amount of credit for New York’s agriculture sales outpacing the nation’s — a 36 percent increase since 2010, to $6.4 billion in cash receipts from $4.7 billion in 2010.
It’s a little more complex than that, say Paul and Maureen Knapp, owners of Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble. Market trends, social trends and a mega-drought in California and bread-basket states have a role — and farming’s growth will soon present its own challenges.
“Agriculture is really about building a community,” Paul Knapp said. “The more we offer, the happier people are.”
“New York state is home to thriving agricultural businesses known for their high-quality products and award-winning tastes,” Cuomo said recently. “This administration’s continued commitment to cutting through the red tape, lowering costs and investing in this vital industry is paying dividends today.”
The 36 percent growth comes while the rest of the nation saw only a 32 percent growth, state officials said. They add that Cuomo made the state’s agricultural economy a top priority, supporting research, promoting locally grown and produced foods, helping to market the booming craft beverage industry, and connecting farmers and agri-businesses to new markets through farmers’ markets, Taste NY stores and increased procurement opportunities.
The payoff is big, shows research by Cornell University professor Todd Schmit. For every dollar spent in agricultural output, an additional 43 cents is generated for non-agricultural industries. Every new job created within agriculture leads to the creation of 0.8 non-agricultural jobs.
But for all Cuomo’s efforts, Maureen Knapp said other factors play a larger role in Cobblestone Valley’s growth. “People are much more interested in their food and where it comes from,” she said. Paul Knapp added: “The farmers markets have really increased in the past five years.”
Cobblestone Valley milks 80 cows for organic milk. It also raises beef cattle, pork, chicken and turkeys. Its organic pick-your-own strawberry fields draw people every June and it retails its eggs in the area. It’s a business they’ve built, product by product, over the past 25 years.
That’s a lot more time invested than the governor’s Taste NY initiative, which has tripled its gross sales since its launch in 2013, to $4.5 million in 2015 from $1.5 million in 2014. The state opened four Taste NY stores in 2015, including one in Puerto Rico, bringing to 11 the number of stores selling state-grown products.
“The momentum behind Taste NY continues and is helping to expand New York’s thriving food and beverage industry faster than anyone thought possible,” Cuomo said.
The rise of the buy-local movement, plus the surging demand for organic food, help niche farmers like the Knapps over commodity farmers in the Midwest and West. Added to that, the worst dry spell in western North America in 850 years is forcing production to fields farther east — at least as far east as Preble, New York.
“If we set the dairy aside — which is seeing an increase because everyone wants organic — we’re about maxed out,” Maureen Knapp said. “Without skilled labor, we can’t do much more.”

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