Farm roundtable focuses on dairy crisis


By Patsy Nicosia

Where you stand on the dairy crisis depends more than anything else on which side of the cow you're milking on.
Experts in the industry insist there's a future for Schoharie County in farming-even in dairy, which is seeing some of its lowest prices for milk ever-but that it will look different.
Farmers' concerns are less esoteric:
How can they get their machinery down the road when impatient drivers are honking behind them?
Where can their employees shop for work boots?
And who's going to do the work to put something like a regional food market or a dairy processing plant in place when the county's ag marketing specialist was eliminated years ago?
That was just some of the discussion before, during, and after a Dairy Industry Roundtable held by supervisors' Extension, Agriculture and Conservation Committee Friday in Schoharie.
About 40 people attended the roundtable, intended to bring supervisors, ag officials, and the public up to speed on the pressures farmers are facing, said Supervisors' Chairman Earl Van Wormer of Esperance, himself a farmer.
Information gathered from the session will also be used in updating the county's Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan.
"Agriculture is very dear and precious to all of our hearts," Mr. Van Wormer said, "but it's in jeopardy. There's good news...and then there's bad."
County Administrator Steve Wilson said the idea for the roundtable grew out of word that processor Elmhurst Dairy would be closing--leaving local farmers who sell their milk there without a market.
For the short-term, said State Ag & Markets Commissioner Richard Ball, that crisis has been largely averted.
"We saw this coming," Commissioner Ball said; both Elmhurst's infrastructure and management are aging.
Because the dairy supplies 1,300 New York City schools with milk, losing that market could be death knell for local producers.
Though Ag & Markets doesn't "make milk, buy milk, or sell milk, we were able to lean on relationships," and find processors--three different upstate milk coops--to take the displaced milk, Commissioner Ball said.
As a result, 95 percent of the impacted farmers have found a home.
"But it's still shaking out."
Speakers, including Farm Credit East's Robert Yurkewecz, Cornell Pro-Dairy's Caroline Potter, Cooperative Extension Dairy Specialist Dave Balbian, and Planning Department's Alicia Terry all pointed out that the price of milk is controlled by the global economy and an oversupply of milk.
Still, the Northeast is a great place to make milk, they agreed.
Middleburgh dairy farmer Sandie Prokop doesn't disagree-but she said more needs to be done to grow the local economy, lower property taxes, and bring in new businesses.
Ms. Prokop also said there needs to be an increased awareness of where food comes from and Commissioner Ball agreed
"We have to get more people at an earlier age seeing a future in agriculture," he said, something SUNY Cobleskill is addressing with local schools, said President Marion Terenzio.
Like Ms. Prokop, John Radliff, a Cobleskill dairy farmer and Farm Bureau president, called for more down-to-earth solutions.
It's time for the county to hire an ag development specialist, Mr. Radliff said, someone who could coordinate both local efforts and outside grants.
"We need one individual to ride herd over this bunch of well-heeled cats," he said.
"There's so much money from the outside...and we're not even in the game."
Extension's Don Smyers said his agency is also seeking funding-again-for that type of position, which in CCE's case, would be shared with Otsego County.
Dwayne Spaulding said he's also working on real solutions: He's recruited Hoober Feeds from Gordonville, Pennsylvania to reopen the former IL Richer Feed Mill in Central Bridge, hopefully by Thanksgiving.
Hoober will employ local workers, use local grain, and sell both bagged and bulk feed, Mr. Spaulding said.