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September 24, 2013

If anyone knows upstate farmers, it's yours truly

The Daily Star

---- — I’ve been dealing with dairy farmers in Delaware and Otsego County for the last 42 years, and while there’s no way of knowing the exact number, I’d bet 90 percent of them have gone out of business. I suspect that I’ve seen it all.

Many farmers retired and headed south. Too few, for economic reasons, passed the farm on to their children. Some lost their lives jump-starting that old tractor or repairing their silo unloader. Too many lost everything they had, and in some cases, lost their families too.

I learned early on that dairy farming is a hard life. You work from before dawn until after dark, seven days a week. Farmers buy retail and sell wholesale, and unlike any other industry, they pay to have their product shipped from the “factory.” Furthermore, farming is supremely practical. Nonsense doesn’t cut it! 

Lately, nonsense seems to be in abundance. The Sustainable Otsego “crowd” have their shorts in a knot over my views on their “economic plans” for our area, and when I mention gas exploration and fracking as possibly the only viable solution to our upstate economic woes, a seismic tremor is recorded in Cooperstown.

It seems that some members of Sustainable, in addition to promoting boutique farms, grape-growing, and sausage-making, are now advocating “holistic farming” as a means to end our financial distress.

In the opinion column of the Daily Star, Priscilla Rich of Sustainable writes, “If New York dairy cows and cattle were raised with holistic grazing, they would be part of a new solution, recognized by mega businessman Richard Branson and his Virgin Earth Challenge.” 

Are we to believe that Sustainable and some “green-environmental think tank” have the solution to New York’s agricultural problems? Holistic? Let the land rest? Sure, why not? 

In the real world of agriculture in Delaware and Otsego counties, if you have 250 acres, maybe 50-90 are useable. The balance of the acreage is mountains and woods. Tillable land and pasture are at a premium, and if a living is to be made and a mortgage is to be paid, land must be fertilized and worked to its potential.

This is not a bad thing. The Sustainable “crowd” may find this hard to believe, but then again, reality has always been a problem for them. Some farms in our area have been worked for 150 years, and still produce good, healthy crops and livestock.

However, if you want to live like a peasant, let your land sleep, keep bees, and grow organic corn where the ear is no bigger than a Dill pickle, knock yourself out! Just don’t be miffed if the rest of us refuse to follow your Pied Piper into dreamland.

Fathom this: The average dairy farm in our area is 70 cows, and if they are Holsteins, which most are, a farmer will produce, between milk sales, cattle sales and miscellaneous income, about $250,000 per year. That’s just one dairy farm, and I’d bet almost 100 percent of that income is spent in the local economy. 

Again, if you want to produce sausage or homemade cheese or honey, go ahead. I hope you make a living, but just how many eco-friendly, holistic-organic, boutique, and Sustainable-Gaga businesses will it take to equal the income of one average dairy farm?

The point is, you folks don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t have a clue, and when something comes along that has potential to generate real economic growth like gas exploration, you’re against it. You cite junk science, quote people with agendas, and resort to fear-mongering.

As we said before, 32 states allow fracking, and most of the states that do not use it don’t have shale deposits. Over 70 percent of all wells in the United States have been fracked. With numbers like these, where is all the death and destruction that you claim? It is not happening!

You call us “greedy landowners,” but have you heard or in fairness, mentioned, the “ad valorem tax?” That’s where the well pad is taxed like a housing unit, but when it begins to produce, its value soars and the property and school taxes paid also soar.

The ad valorem tax is based on a five-year average for gas prices, and it doesn’t take much of a well to generate $300,000-$400,000 or more in taxes paid by the gas companies directly to the county, highway, fire department and school district. Tell me, Sustainable. How many boutique farms, beehives and backyard vineyards will it take to generate that tax revenue? Now, who’s being greedy? More on ad valorem in future articles.

CHUCK PINKEY is a retired area businessman. He can be reached at The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board, but the author thinks they ought to.