Over a century ago, William Miner wrote that “agriculture is the fundamental occupation,” a statement that rings true today. Agriculture provides the foundation of the North Country’s economic and social infrastructure. This month we celebrate our region’s largest agricultural enterprise - dairy farming.
New York is the fifth largest milk producing state in the country and also the fifth largest producer of corn silage to feed the 630,000 dairy cows that call New York home. The value of milk produced in New York totals nearly 3 billion dollars, or about two-thirds of our state’s agricultural income. Even more astoundingly, about 10% of New York state’s total employment is linked, directly or indirectly, with the food sector.
New York state ranks first in the US in yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream production. So, when we enjoy a baked potato with sour cream, or yogurt for breakfast, we surely should be thanking a New York dairy farmer.
In our own backyard, three of the top-100 dairy counties in the country are in northern New York: St. Lawrence, Jefferson, and Lewis. Clinton County ranks 14th in New York state and 124th out of 1,892 counties in the US with significant dairy farming. According to the 2021 census, Clinton County had 78 dairy farms and nearly 17,000 cows.
A 2019 study by Cornell University estimated a strong economic multiplier, or ripple effect, through the state’s economy for the dairy sector of 2.7. This multiplier compares favorably with those of manufacturing, service, or retail. Other studies confirm that regions across the US with more dairy farms enjoy a healthier economy and a more congenial social fabric.
We celebrate June as Dairy Month and recognize that dairying underpins our state’s rural economy, provides healthy food locally produced, and contributes to our region’s growing agritourism focus. Though the dairy industry is buffeted by economic challenges, the fundamental strengths of our region endure: sufficient water, high-quality forage production, moderate climate, and a large northeastern dairy market.
William Miner believed that farming is fundamental. With that belief in mind, we celebrate the dairy industry that has been so fundamentally vital to the identity and success of the North Country.
-- Rick Grant