The number of dairy cows in Otsego County is only about half of what it was less than 20 years ago, and the amount of land devoted to farming has declined by tens of thousands of acres, experts say.
Have things begun to level off? Perhaps.
But advocates for local agriculture say will have a better picture of how much farming is taking place within the county — and a better understanding of the vision that farmers have for their operations — once they complete a survey that will be distributed soon to those who make their living off the land.
The results of the survey will be used to update the Otsego County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan, which was packaged after the viewpoints of local farmers were collected in 1997.
Some trends have already been documented. For instance, the number of cows in Otsego County has declined 44 percent from 1997 to 2012, said Scott Fickbohm, the district manager of the Otsego County Soil and Water District.
He is heading up the survey effort and is getting support from Rebecca Morgan the Center for Agriculture Development and Entrepreneurship and Chris Harmon, a beef farmer, member of the county’s Farmland Protection Board and the Milford town supervisor, among others.
No one knows more about the triumphs and travails of local farming than the farmers themselves, Fickbohm said.
“The direct involvement of the farming community is very important,” he said. “It has to be a bottom-up process, and farmers have to have a real voice.”
The surveys are to be filled out anonymously, assuring that individual farmers will not be associated with the answers they provide, Fickbohm said. He added he is hopeful that farmers will see the benefit of participating in the effort as the project is aimed at formulating strategies that benefit the local agricultural community.