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Farmers hit hard by drought

Gabe Altieri

A severe drought continues to affect most of New York, and it's especially taking a toll on farmers in Tompkins County. Producers in the area say they've received about six less inches rain than an average season thus far.

Recent rainfall hasn't done much to help either. In fact, farmers say, at this point the season is pretty much a wash. "You tell people 'it's dry, it's dry' and then they say 'oh, it rained.' No, it didn't rain for two months. So [the season] is pretty much shot," said Chandler Benson, an organic dairy farmer in Lansing. 

Benson does a few cuttings of animal feed a year. He just finished one at the end of July that would normally bring in about 1,000 tons. However, it yielded just 200 tons this year.

"It is depressing to get up and work hard and lose money," he said. "That doesn't make you smile."

Benson didn't have an estimation on how much money he'll lose this year, but he says a couple dry seasons in a row can lead to six-figure losses.

Down the road from Benson is Steve Patt. He's owned the property he farms for about ten years, but can't remember one that hit his finances quite like this. "Every dollar counts around here. It's not grandpa's money we're farming with," Patt explained. "This is the most stressful year I've ever had."

Adding to the drought is the price of milk. That has dropped consistently since the end of 2014. Patt said he's considering borrowing money, but isn't sure it's worth it. "Milk prices are in the gutter and the margins are negative so does it really pay to borrow more money to feed a losing proposal at this point?" he asked.

Patt said he's leaning toward selling livestock to make ends meet after what is now two rough years in a row. 2015 was also bad, but that's because there was too much rain.

When asked about 2017, Patt laughs and said he's due for a good season.

"It's got to be perfect, right?"