Benjamin Patton | The Daily StarCongressman Chris Gibson, right, talks with Patrick Hooker the Senior Director of Industry Development for Agriculture and Food at Brooks' House of Bar-B-Q on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 in Oneonta before the Farm Bureau dinner.Benjamin Patton

In the topsy-turvy world of New York dairy farming, there are never any easy answers.

That was what one retired farmer and Otsego County Farm Bureau member had to say Tuesday night.

The Bureau held its annual Rural Urban Dinner at Brooks' House of Bar-B-Q -- an event that featured Patrick Hooker, Director of Agribusiness Development for the Empire State Development Corporation, and Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, as speakers.

"I think everything is in a hell of a mess right now," said Les Rathbun, 50-year Farm Bureau member. "There's no easy answer."

Rathbun, 81, of Maryland, said he's been out of the business for more than a decade, but the farmers who remain are still struggling. The federal government is only willing to help so much and partly by design, he said.

"The government is not going to let the dairy business get too good," Rathbun said. He explained that the government wants to keep the cost of food low for Americans.

"There's no reason for dairy farmers to live in poverty to support the rest of the country," Rathbun said.

The dinner Tuesday, which attracted about 50 people, was intended to bring farmers and non-farmers together.

"This type of meeting here is rural-urban," town of Richfield dairy farmer Tim Cantwell said.

Cantwell, who owns a 170-head operation, invited Richfield Town Supervisor Francis Enjem to attend.

Rural urban meetings allow the greater community to gain an insight into the farming community, according to Cantwell, who is on the Otsego County Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

"Right now the milk prices are coming back down. The cost of production is high," Cantwell said.

Those production costs include "feed, fuel and everything else," according to Cantwell.

But there is a bright side.

Otsego County remains a great place to farm in terms of soil, climate and quality of life. And Chobani has created a market for locally produced milk, according to Cantwell.

Both Hooker and Gibson discussed the response of state and federal governments to the flooding from twin tropical storms late last summer. Thousands of acres of farmland were affected.

"A lot of credit is due to the elected officials out this way," Hooker said, giving particular note to Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, who represents some of the most devastated areas.

Gibson said much work remains for both farmers and local governments as they recover from the flooding.

"What we want to do is help the local leadership accomplish what they want to do," Gibson said. "It may take a couple years to get fully back, but we will not quit on this."

He also weighed in on the high cost of milk production.

"We've got the smartest and hardest working farms in the world," Gibson said. "The issue with you guys is profitability."

Gibson, who is on the House Agriculture Committee said work is continuing on the next Farm Bill and said he would like to see modifications to the Milk Income Loss Contract program. The contract pays farmers when the price falls below $16.94 for per hundred pounds of milk. There is an adjustment for grain costs, and a cap of about 3 million pounds of milk.

The MILC program would make more sense if it was tied not to the cost per hundred pounds of milk, but to the margin between the cost of production and the price of milk, according to Gibson.

"Most farmers will tell you they don't want to be reliant on the government. But we've got to have a safety net," Gibson said.

Gibson also said the federal government can do more to encourage younger people to become farmers. He called it a national security issue and referred to food safety concerns with imported products.

"We've got to inspire a new generation of farmers. If we don't, we're going to end up guarding food like we've guarded oil in the last several years," Gibson said.

Although Gibson made an appearance in Otsego County, he doesn't represent Oneonta -- at least yet.

Gibson is running for re-election in the newly configured 19th Congressional district. His current district, the 20th, only includes the eastern part of Otsego County and none of Schoharie County. All of Otsego, Delaware and Schoharie counties are included in the new district.

Two Democrats, former federal prosecutor Julian Schreibman of Stone Ridge, Ulster County, and Dutchess County Legislator Joel Tyner are slated for a June 26 primary to get on the ballot with Gibson for the Nov. 6 general election.

In closing remarks, Otsego County Farm Bureau President John Walrath thanked Gibson for his efforts in Washington. Walrath also wished Gibson good luck on the campaign trail.

"At the same time, remember, we are going to say the same thing to your opposition," Walrath said, noting the Farm Bureau is a bi-partisan organization.

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