Terry sees opportunities in ag's future


By Patsy Nicosia

Agriculturally-speaking, there's never been a time of so much opportunity.
That's the attitude that Alicia Terry is bringing with her into her role as director of the newly-created Schoharie County Office of Agricultural Development, for now, a department of one.
The Ag Development Office grew out of the New York State Ag & Markets-funded Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan, adopted by supervisors in March and is housed under County Administrator Steve Wilson's umbrella."
But all of that's background to the real work now of helping local farmers capitalize on what Ms. Terry sees as their biggest strength.
"Never in my lifetime have I seen as much interest in eating locally and knowing your farmer as there is today," Ms. Terry said. "The opportunities are there."
There for dairy farmers looking to transition out of the business into a different kind of farming, there for non-traditional farmers looking to find a way in, and there for young people interested in jobs in things like marketing, nutrition, processing, and even research.
"Farming is hard work; it's dawn-to-dusk and sometimes beyond," Ms. Terry said. "We need to ask: Who wants to step up and do it?
"But there are also jobs and opportunities for people who are more interested in working 9-5. We need to fill those gaps too."
With all of that in mind, the Ag and Farmland Protection Plan, created by consultants Community Planning & Environmental Associates, calls for creating a County Agricultural Economic Development Roundtable with representatives from SUNY Cobleskill, Soil & Water, Cooperative Extension, Farm Service Agency, County Ag & Farmland Protection and more, as well as from local farmers.
"It's an idea that has worked well in other places," Ms. Terry explained.
"If we all know what each other is working on, who has what resources, we can support those efforts and work on them together. It'll give us one voice and keep us moving in the same direction: Forward."
Though a roundtable doesn't sound as exciting as, say, creating a regional food hub, Ms. Terry said she looks at it as a foundation for everything that will follow, much like building a house.
Using the example of a regional food hub, which, for example, would help farmers market white beets, Ms. Terry said it's not just finding a facility, but finding the financing for the facility, and then helping farmers deal with the intricacies of growing such a different crop, as well as different environmental regulations than what they're used to.
Ms. Terry said the roundtable, which she expects to be up and running this month, will also be an important resource for more traditional farmers.
"If someone stops in, say, to Soil & Water for maps and mentions that they're planning on transitioning out in the next year, there will be a network of help," she explained.
"Someone to ask, 'Did you know FarmNet can help with that?' and someone who will follow up. It's making those connections."
After the roundtable, the Ag & Farmland Protection Plan calls for seeking funding for an ag development coordinator-a position that that will likely be filled through a different agency like Cooperative Extension or even the Industrial Development Agency, Ms. Terry said.
After that comes things like developing a marketing plan, a "come farm with us" program to link farmers and landowners, creating mentoring and education programs, and providing farm transition planning assistance.
"Yes, there are challenges, but we are always going to need someone to feed us," Ms. Terry said.
"We have a strong farming tradition here. We have great soil. We're hours from some of the best markets in the world. Those are our strengths-and our opportunities."