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Many residents of Auburn don’t think a lot about the agriculture industry, besides the occasional smell of cow manure. In many ways, agriculture is a major driver of our local economy. Dairy farms are the largest segment of the local agricultural ecosystem. Our large, efficient dairy farms produce a huge amount of milk, with a market value of $158,794,000 (in 2012, the most recent year data is available from the U.S. Census of Agriculture). That is the second highest of any county in New York state. There are many local companies supplying these dairy farms with things they need, such as machinery companies, feed mills and a livestock auction. In our area, dairy farms typically grow most of their own feed ingredients. Many of these farms also grow corn for grain, soybeans and wheat. Farms growing these crops buy fertilizer, tractors and seeds from local companies. They sometimes also hire local services, or might hire out some of their planting or harvesting to another local company.

The dairy economy also supports the companies purchasing agricultural products. There are local grain traders, milk and meat processors, grain mills and seed companies. Some local dairy farms even produce electricity from the methane they collect from their manure.

Besides dairy and grains, there are other important agricultural products grown in Cayuga County, many of which have similar supporting industries in the area, including vineyards (which either sell their grapes to wineries or produce wines themselves), sheep farms (selling milk, meat and/or wool), chicken farms, hops growers (who sell to local breweries) and vegetable growers.

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the total value of agricultural products sold in Cayuga County was almost $300 million, which was second in New York state. This is a large amount of money, but it doesn’t include the "upstream" suppliers or the "downstream" processors or purchasers, so the total value that the agricultural sector provides to the county is actually much higher.

The Cayuga Economic Development Agency supports agricultural producers in various ways. For beginning farmers, CEDA can provide advice about how to get their businesses started. This includes assisting with their business plans and the startup process, and although CEDA can’t help directly with agricultural production or processing questions, we can connect businesses with people who can. Do farmers need business plans? Yes, they do. Just like any other business, a farmer needs to plan what they will produce, how much they will produce and where they will sell it. They also need a plan for how much time and money it will take to produce it. These plans may need to be adjusted based on weather conditions or other factors beyond the farmer’s control, but a prepared farmer has a better chance of succeeding than an unprepared farmer.

Another area where CEDA can help is if an existing farmer wants to become more vertically integrated and start a new venture by processing their farm products. For example, with the low price farmers are getting for milk, there may be farmers thinking about getting into cheese production. Before taking the plunge, there are many decisions to make about a potential new venture. Will you build a processing plant, buy new equipment and train or hire someone to make cheese? Or will you make use of the surplus capacity of another local dairy producer and have them co-pack for you? What types of cheeses should you produce? Will you sell it wholesale to grocery stores, from a farm stand or at a farmers market — or all three of those? These are all questions you need to answer in your business plan. A meeting with CEDA can help identify the questions you need to be asking and point you in the right direction to get the answers.

We also have a business attraction program that can assist existing businesses, including agriculture-related businesses, to expand or relocate to Cayuga County. In an article in The Citizen on Aug. 30, 2018 CEDA Economic Development Specialist Maureen Riester described the strategy CEDA uses in its attraction program.

Sometimes local businesses want to invest in projects that will add new jobs in Cayuga County. Local banks are their first stop for financing, but are not always able to fully meet their financial needs. CEDA can connect these businesses, agricultural or otherwise, with state and local financing options that can supplement the funding banks are able to offer and allow the project to proceed.

Agriculture is an important sector of the Cayuga County economy, not only through the products that farmers grow or raise, but through the ecosystem of businesses that supply our farmers and the businesses that are supplied by them. CEDA supports these businesses in a variety of ways, including through startup assistance, business advice, referrals to sources of technical assistance and help with alternative sources of financing.

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Derek Simmonds is the Cayuga Economic Development Agency's business development specialist and can be reached at (315) 252-3500 or dsimmonds@cayugaeda.org. For more information about the agency, visit cayugaeda.org.

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