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Inflation and high fuel prices hitting small farms hard across CNY

Longhorn cattle at Albanese Longhorns in LaFayette
Ellen Abbott
Longhorn cattle at Albanese Longhorns in LaFayette

Agriculture in Onondaga County has rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic. But farms across the region are now being socked with inflation, making it harder for small farms to make ends meet.

Anyone taking a summer drive through the hills of LaFayette might see apple trees, horses and beef cattle dotting the hillsides. One thing you won’t see anymore, however, are dairy cows.

Onondaga County Legislator Dave Knapp, a Republican from LaFayette, lamented the loss of the last dairy farm in the town Thursday.

“It kinda breaks your heart a little bit, growing up on a dairy farm and seeing a lot of the small farms being consolidated into the larger ones," said Knapp.

David Skeval, Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Onondaga County, said the trend right now is for small farms to be acquired by larger farming entities that can stand up to the economic pressures.

"The cost of production is outpacing the cost of revenue, which is putting a squeeze on the farmer, said Skeval. “We’ve already lost a number of small dairy farms over the last five years. It’s actually quite stunning."

Among those economic pressures, diesel fuel prices have skyrocketed in recent months. According to AAA, the price for a gallon of diesel is averaging $6.12. That is putting the squeeze on not only farms, but milk processors.

"We’ve already lost one local milk hauler, unfortunately, to the cost of fuel. He just could not keep with the dramatic increase in prices, so he closed down his business,” said Knapp. “We’ve had instances where farms had to dump milk because they could not get milk to the processors."

Energy cost hikes aren’t the only price increases affecting farmers. Craig Dennis is part owner of a small dairy farm in Pompey, which augments the milk business by selling hay.

"The price of just plastics for ag bags, for bale and twine, for the bale wrap, all of it is up,” said Dennis. “And parts are up to maintain equipment, and labor is up to maintain it. I’ve got a contract cause it’s getting so specialized the tools you got to have."

To support local agriculture in these stressful times, Onondaga County is continuing its ‘Buy Local’ initiative, according to County Executive Ryan McMahon.

"We need to do it now more than ever before. You need to buy locally, you’ll hear a lot of Onondaga Grown ads coming out, everything from our meat to dairy to our produce to maple syrup,” said McMahon. “These are all things we have an abundance of in Onondaga County. “We have the 10th largest ag economy in New York state."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.