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Preserving one of our nation’s oldest industries, family farming, has been an extraordinary challenge.

Younger people are leaving the farms they grew up on for greener economic pastures. They have joined many other upstate New Yorkers in looking for job opportunities in other states.

It’s not as though all young adults have turned their backs on family farming as a way of life. Many of them would love to take over the farm and keep the tradition alive.

But securing the capital needed to take possession of a farm and invest in enhancements is difficult. According to a Wednesday story in the Watertown Daily Times, there are two farmers older than 65 for every one farmer younger than 35; the average age of farmers in New York state is 57.

It would be easy for all of us to throw up our hands and quit. The trend is not good, so what can any of us do?

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-48th District, of Heuvelton unveiled a series of initiatives this week to stem the tide of declining farmers. She said this is a response to the concerns she has heard from farmers throughout her district.

Mrs. Ritchie’s plan was outlined in Wednesday’s story:

“Mrs. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and a coalition of Senate Republicans are seeking to include the package of bills in the budget to be approved by the state Legislature in April that would accomplish the following: create tax-deductible farm savings accounts to help young people save money to purchase farms and to help farmers cover unexpected costs; create loans, grants and tax credits for the sale or lease of land and equipment, along with technological innovations; a $5 million young farmer revolving loan fund would provide startup loans for land and equipment purchases, while a $1 million competitive grant program would make funding up to $50,000 available for projects that demonstrate the use of new technology or production innovation; launch agricultural education efforts including an apprenticeship program, student loan forgiveness and increased funding for the in-school FFA program.”

“The real risk we face is a continuing decline in family farms if we don’t do more to preserve them by investing in the next generation of farmers,” Mrs. Ritchie said in the story.

The lingering question is if family farms in Northern New York are worth preserving. Is there a future for this industry in the next 10 to 20 years?

The answer is a definite yes. As long as America makes use of agricultural products, there will be a need for farms and for families to run them. The key to success is linking local farmers to available markets, but we must keep the farms alive to accomplish this.

This is an uphill battle, and Mrs. Ritchie’s plan is bound to face some skepticism in Albany. But it’s a reasonable set of initiatives that may well help family farmers turn the corner of prosperity and keep this industry moving forward.

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