What are the Challenges Facing NY Farmers?

NYFVI Chair, and Livingston County dairy farmer, Rob Noble spoke recently at a Listening Tour hosted by New York State Senator Michelle Hinchey and the Senate Food and Agricultural Committee. Here’s what he had to say.

Rob Noble’s remarks, delivered via Zoom 2/24/2021

Good afternoon, my name is Rob Noble, I’m a dairy farmer from Livingston County and the chair of the New York Farm Viability Institute. I joined the board in 2016 and have served on the dairy review panel since 2006.

Thank you for the opportunity to highlight the perspective of the Farm Viability board on the challenges and opportunities facing New York farms. Collectively, the ten-person board has more than 200 years of agricultural experience and has worked with almost every form of agriculture and every business model. 

As I think about the issues facing farms, it seems that the universal challenge for all farms is how to embrace the necessary changes to be competitive while maintaining financial stability. In farming we need to be continually moving forward, it is about evolution and resiliency. Quite simply, any business that fails to evolve, fails. Resiliency requires not just fortitude, but financial strength.

What a farm needs to do to remain competitive will vary based on each operation. Some years the change is a small, incremental improvement to a growing practice, and at other times it’s a bigger decision on entering new markets or changing crops. In either case, farmers need to know how to implement the solution and if the change makes sense.

While specific challenges vary by commodity, every year there is ongoing pressure for all farms to become more efficient, to do more with less, and to meet changing consumer demands–all while fighting diseases, weeds, and managing through the weather.

At the same time, new technology is creating endless opportunities in farming. But history has shown that not every new approach will succeed and farmers need help understanding which ideas are most valuable. Farm businesses have lean margins and new tools are often expensive.

Farmers need trusted advisors and independent applied research validation to understand the value of these new technologies for their business. They simply cannot afford to get it wrong.

Just as importantly, New York can’t afford for our farms to get it wrong either. The residents of our cities rely on New York farms, the foundation of our food system, for local, nutritious food. Rural communities understand the importance of agriculture to their local economies.

That’s why, with the support of New York State, Farm Viability runs a competitive grant program focused on creating and sharing knowledge to improve the economic viability of New York farms.

The work that Farm Viability supports helps farms answer the question, “What changes can I make to get my business to the next level?”

NYFVI Addendum: In addition to Rob’s remarks, NYFVI submitted additional comments as an addendum. The file below includes both his remarks, and the additional comments.

More information about what NY farmers see as challenges and opportunities is available here.

More about the Listening Tour. The Listening Tour was held over two dates and was broadcast live from Senator Hinchey’s Facebook page. Both sessions are available for viewing in the video section of her page. Links are provided below, Rob Noble speaks around the 1 hour mark of the second session.