Oct. 13, 2006
Farming in Oswego County - It's No Small Potatoes
From the days when local farmers carted their fresh-picked vegetables to the first Birds Eye processing plant in Fulton, and the trains delivered fresh strawberries to the tables of the Waldorf-Astoria, farming has long been a vital component of our county's economy and way of life.
Anyone driving around Oswego County this time of year can't fail to notice the many farm products that are harvested in our county. Apple orchards bustle with activity. Roadside stands overflow with pumpkins, squash and many other varieties of fresh produce, and farmers are busy bringing in the last of the hay and field corn.
Farmers, their families, and their employees put in tremendous effort to make farms functional and productive. I was raised on a muck farm, helping the family grow varieties of lettuce and onions, and I well remember the long hours of hard work that everyone contributed to keep things running on a daily basis.
Many of us don't realize the huge impact that farming has on Oswego County's economy - the market value of all agricultural products sold from Oswego County farms was $31.5 million in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Our farming industry is based on a diverse list of crop and livestock products. Vegetables, including onions, lettuce, and potatoes, accounted for 37 percent, at $11.7 million in sales. Dairy products brought in $10.9 million; followed by nurseries and greenhouses, $2.7 million; fruits and nuts, $1.2 million; hay and other crops, $1.2 million; and other products, $3.7 million combined.
There have been dramatic changes over the past several years. Increased fuel costs, fair milk pricing, and of course, the forces of Mother Nature, all have a tremendous impact on today's family farm.
In 1940 there were more than 4,400 farms in operation in Oswego County. That number had fallen to 1,000 by 1969. In 2003 there were 675 farms comprising 103,100 acres. Some of our farms have been here for more than a century and continue to be passed down from one generation to the next. Today, many farm families have a member that works outside the home to bring in additional income.
Although the number of farms has steadily declined, our farms are more productive than ever.
Milk production increased from an average of 11,400 pounds per cow in 1978 to an average of 15,400 in 2003. Our dairy farms produce millions of pounds of milk a year. Much of it is shipped to regional cooperatives and used to produce ice cream, cheeses and cheese curds, custards, and of course, milk -- white, chocolate, strawberry and other flavors.
The county ranks 38th in the state in cattle production. The number of dairy cows declined slightly, from 4,700 to 4,600 between 2005 and 2006, but the number of beef cows has increased slightly, from 1,600 to 1,800.
Corn, soybean and oats are significant field crops in Oswego County. More than 68,000 acres of corn were harvested last year. Soybean production increased from 70,600 bushels in 2004 to 90,000 bushels in 2005. And farmers produced 29,100 bushels of oats in 2005, compared to 12,700 the previous year. Oswego County continues to be a leader in onion products - bringing in more than $2.5 million in sales in 2002. The county ranked second in the state in production of dry onions; New York State is sixth in the nation in onion production.
Thousands of bushels of apples, berries, and other fruits are sold to wholesalers and distributed across New York State and the East Coast. Several local farmers have been successful in marketing their own gourmet fruit juices and award-winning fruit blend wines.
Tree farms and plant nurseries are another important segment of our county's agricultural base. Thousands of Christmas trees are harvested annually from tree farms across the county. Our greenhouses produce specialty products such as perennial water plants, herbs and flowers that are sold locally and distributed to other retailers.
With such a diverse industry, it's impossible to mention all of the producers and farm products that are grown in Oswego County. But with the fall harvest season upon us, it's a perfect time to pause and appreciate their hard work, and enjoy the wonderful selection of products that are grown in Oswego County.
You'll find more information about Oswego County farms that sell directly to the public in the Oswego County Visitor Guide, published by the Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning, at www.oswegocounty.com, phone 349-8322, by visiting the Pride of New York Web site at www.prideofny.com, or by calling Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oswego County at 963-7286.
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