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Suffolk loses title as state's most lucrative agriculture producer

Suffolk County has been eclipsed as the most

Suffolk County has been eclipsed as the most lucrative crop producer in New York State, according to federal statistics on March 5, 2015. This is Water Mill farm owner John L. Halsey giving Southampton Town officials a tour of the his farm on Aug. 19, 2009. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Suffolk County has been eclipsed by two upstate counties for the designation of producing the most lucrative agricultural harvest, according to federal statistics.

The market value of all the farm goods produced in Suffolk fell more than 1 percent to $240 million from 2007 to 2012, the most recent available data.

In the same period, Wyoming County produced $318.5 million, an increase of 28 percent since 2007. The gain was enough for the county east of Buffalo to become the state's most lucrative agricultural producer.

The No. 2 producer was Cayuga County in the Finger Lakes region with crops valued at $289 million, a 27 percent increase from 2007, according to surveys conducted every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Suffolk farmers and their advocates have long touted the county's position as the industry's No. 1 moneymaker in New York State. It's been so since at least 1940, federal statistics show.

Long Island Farm Bureau officials said earlier this week factors outside Suffolk were responsible for its losing the crown. They cited more manufacturing of Greek-style yogurt, which has vastly increased demand for milk. The state has become the nation's yogurt capital, displacing California.

"Agriculture is still pretty strong on Long Island, but there's a high demand for dairy because of the yogurt industry, and that helps the upstate counties," said Rob Carpenter, the bureau's administrative director.

He and others also said sales of farm products in Suffolk were hurt by superstorm Sandy, which struck in October 2012, and weak consumer demand because of lingering effects from the 2007-09 recession.

Suffolk led New York State in 2012 in production of sod, nursery stock crops and aquaculture, which includes the harvesting of oysters and bay scallops.

Suffolk Legis. Al Krupski, who grows pumpkins, tomatoes and other vegetables on his family's Cutchogue farm, downplayed Suffolk's changed rank, saying the farm economy "did not crash by any means" between 2007 and 2012.

He cited federal statistics showing the number of farms in Suffolk climbed from 585 to 604 in the five-year period. The amount of land under cultivation increased from 34,404 acres to nearly 36,000.

"This is the important part; the dollar-volume numbers fluctuate all the time," said Krupski, a Democrat and fourth-generation farmer.

The county, state and East End town governments and private groups have worked since the 1970s to preserve some 20,000 acres of farmland at risk of being developed.

In Nassau, the number of farms declined from 59 in 2007 to 55 in 2012, but the amount of land under cultivation more than doubled to 2,682 acres. The value of crops fell from about $16 million in 2007 to $6 million in 2012, federal surveys show.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said agriculture continues to be an economic driver, particularly upstate. In a report his office released Tuesday, DiNapoli said, "Farms in New York are 98 percent family-owned yet compete on a national level, diversifying our economy."

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