Pandemic has hit farm economy hard, survey finds

The Daily Gazette | By Stephen Williams | July 21, 2020

Nearly two-thirds of the state’s farming operations have been negatively affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey of farmers.

The survey found that 65 percent of the farmers who filled out a New York Farm Bureau survey felt a negative impact from the disruptions caused by the pandemic — 37 percent called the impact “negative,” and another 28 percent said it was “very negative.” Only 8 percent said there was a “positive” impact, while the remainder were neutral.

“What we found with this survey is that no farm was untouched by the pandemic or the economic fallout,” said Farm Bureau President David Fisher, a St. Lawrence County dairy farmer. “All of this underscores the need to continue to invest in our food system while also making health and safety a priority.”

The survey was filled about by more than 500 members of Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farming organization, in mid-June, three months after the COVID pandemic reached New York.

The survey asked wide-ranging questions about the rural economy, health and safety of farm families and their employees, and their own efforts to keep their families and employees healthy. Some farmers were quoted in survey results released by Farm Bureau on Tuesday, but allowed to remain anonymous.

The survey found that 43 percent of farms have lost sales because of the pandemic, 37 percent report experiencing cash-flow problems, and 35 percent said their markets were disrupted. Forty-seven percent said they had reduced farm spending with local vendors and suppliers, or would be doing so in the future.

“Cut back on feed, tack and equipment purchases,” wrote a Saratoga County equine farmer.

“We were forced to sell our dairy herd due to lack of market,” a Jefferson County dairy farmer wrote.

Such negative impacts aren’t surprising, given that sudden shifts in markets and breakdowns in the national food distribution system — the kind of thing that has led some dairy farmers to dump raw milk in April. But the damage extends beyond the dairy industry, where some farmers have cut production due to the closures of traditional markets like schools and restaurants.

Those who said the impact on them was positive were typically farms that directly market to the public, said Jeff Williams, Farm Bureau’s director of public policy.

Some 46 percent of respondents said there are concerns about their mental health or that of someone they know.

A wide majority — 84 percent — said they have a plan in place to train and assist their employees to mitigate spread of the virus.

“Farmers are doing their best to make sure food production doesn’t stop, but we need to maintain the ability to process, distribute and market what we produce,” Fisher said. “As the state and federal governments look toward potential budget cuts and additional COVID-19 assistance, agriculture must be a part of the discussion.”