ear wheat in old woman farmer hand

Agriculture is a vital component of our local and even the state’s economy, contributing over $2.4 billion annually to the latter. New York’s farmers provide jobs along with fresh, locally grown food while keeping close to 7 million acres in production, providing many benefits that include open space for scenic views, especially along the Finger Lakes.

Our dedicated farmers produce food and fiber in spite of some challenges. These include uncertain prices, uncharacteristic and changing weather patterns and, in some sectors, the lack of labor, which has become a new normal for farm operators.

Even in the face of these challenges our farms remain strong, but they are now starting to face another challenge. According to American Farmland Trust, a national organization that has been working since 1980 to protect and conserve farmland, more than 40% of American farmland is owned by seniors age 65 and older.

As farmers age, many are last-generation farmers and an increasing number of farms are being run by women who have inherited the farm after their husband's passing. As these women become the principal operators, they too are getting older. According to the 2012 Agricultural Census, only 4% of the women listed as principal owners of the farm were younger than 35, compared to 6% of all principal operators.

According to American Farmland Trust, there are almost 1 million women farm operators and over half a million additional women who own land and lease it to neighboring farmers. When surveyed, many of these women have a strong conservation ethic and are deeply committed to healthy farmland, farm families and farm communities.

American Farmland Trust estimates that nationally, 371 million acres of farmland could be transitioned in the next 10 to 15 years due to the aging of farm operators. This trend is also projected for New York. Much of the land in transition could be lost from agricultural production and many are striving to find ways to get this productive resource to the next generation of farmers. The largest hurdle to overcome is the cost of the land and other underlying economic factors facing next-generation farmers.

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To further support and strengthen our local farming community and start to facilitate smooth transition of farmland between generations and new and beginning farmers, the New York Agricultural Land Trust secured a grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to provide a collaborative outreach event intended to assist with farm transfers between older generation landowners and new and beginning farmers and families planning for an intergenerational transfer.

Planning for Transition: A Resource Fair is now accepting registrations for Saturday, Nov. 23, at Cayuga Community College, 197 Franklin St., Auburn. It will begin at 11:30 a.m. and conclude at 4:45 p.m. with a Taste of the Region Reception. There is no fee to attend, so members of all generations involved in the agricultural business are encouraged to participate, as well as beginning farmers or those considering getting started in farming.

Planning for Transition: A Resource Fair is being hosted by New York Agricultural Land Trust, the Cayuga County Department of Planning and Economic Development, Cayuga Community College and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cayuga and Seneca counties. In addition, Planning for Transition: A Resource Fair is sponsored by Byrne Dairy, the Cayuga Economic Development Agency and Lyons Bank.

For more information, or to register, go to the New York Agricultural Land Trust’s website at nyalt.org by Nov. 15 or call me at (315) 539-5921 ext. 109. Everyone is welcome to attend this free event!

There is little doubt that keeping farmers on the land will keep our food supply secure for future generations and continue to stabilize our local economies!

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Judy Wright is the senior agriculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. For more information, visit senecacountycce.org or call (315) 539-9251 ext. 109.