ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Agriculture contributed an estimated $37.6 billion to New York's economy by 2012, an increase of more than 22 percent over the previous five years, but the number of farms declined slightly, according to the state comptroller.
In a report Tuesday, the comptroller's office said the state ranked among the top in dairy production, as well as wine, apples and maple syrup. The report also showed the vast majority of 35,500 farms — 98 percent — were family-owned. Among them, 842 were certified organic, No. 3 among states, the report said.
They were operated by 56,000 New Yorkers, employing 61,000 laborers. More than half had sales below $10,000. Their total acreage grew by about 9,000 over those five years, while the number of farms decreased by 815.
"It makes economic sense for the state to retain and promote our farms to feed our residents and preserve our land," Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told the New York Farm Bureau on Tuesday. The farms' 7.2 million acres accounted for almost one-quarter of New York's land.
Milk was the largest commodity, with $2.4 billion in sales, followed by grains, peas and beans at $856 million, the report said. The state is first in production of yogurt, cottage cheese and sour cream, second in wine and maple syrup.
"Every New York region contributes, from the Finger Lakes to the North Country and Long Island," DiNapoli said.
However, he said challenges remain, noting the low sales for many farms and that only 43 percent of farmers worked exclusively at that. Also, the average farmer's age was 55, with fewer young adults joining the profession.
The farm bureau's state legislative priorities include more support for regional food hubs for joint distribution, tax credits for farm donations to food banks and more state environmental funds for protecting water quality, preserving farmland and fighting invasive plant and insect species and more improvements and repairs to rural roads and bridges.
Its national priorities include a flexible visa program for seasonal and long-term guest workers, lower trade barriers for exports and rollouts of various farm bill programs.