Today, Change Research and Maple Hill – a network of 150 family-owned farms in New York – released the results of a poll assessing public opinion on the state of farming in New York.
The 1,909-respondent survey comes on the heels of a USDA agricultural census report released this summer detailing the state’s loss of more than 880 dairy farms between 2012 and 2017, including 100 in the Capital Region. Maple Hill and Change Research partnered in fielding the poll to stimulate greater attention to the needs of New York’s declining small dairy farms and assess public support for policies to help them.
The poll revealed New Yorkers are deeply concerned about the state’s agriculture industry, with 82 percent of respondents acknowledging that small farms in New York are struggling. However, just 27 percent of voters believe New York does enough to help farms, with 84 percent saying the State should do more for the state’s smallest farms.
The poll also showed widespread concern about the health and welfare of farm animals, as just 20 percent of respondents said they believed cattle owned by large companies are treated “fairly” and only 6 percent felt they are treated “well.” Eighty-two percent of respondents said the State should enact policies that ensure more humane treatment of farm animals.
As small and mid-size dairy farms across New York collapse, farms that practice a grass-fed model such as Maple Hill have found an easier path to growth and financial viability resulting from increased demand for better quality dairy products, as well as a buffer against rising feed costs and pressures from global trade wars.
“For years, the dairy industry prioritized high milk output at all costs, forcing farmers to overwork themselves, their equipment, and their lands to protect their bottom line,” said Phyllis Smith, whose family owns and operates a dairy farm an hour outside Albany. “The hard truth is we need to help dairy producers in taking better care of those things. Grass-fed cattle optimize a natural diet directly from the pasture by grazing for themselves – a significant benefit for the cows, the farmers working to grow their business, and the pasture itself – which is why my family made the transition.”
In contrast to large industrial dairy farms, farms with grass-fed cows use a regenerative agricultural carbon farming, also known as holistic grazing, which is not only better for the cows and produces healthier milk but also improves soil health, conserves water and reduces greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration. Grass-fed cattle also produce higher quality manure, increasing the nutrient levels in the soil, which results in healthier grass for them to eat. For grass-fed farmers, the self-sustaining process ultimately leads to lower feed costs. The New York League of Conservation Voters calls holistic grazing “a low-tech, low-cost solution that offers big payoffs if adopted on a large scale.”
Said Maple Hill founder Tim Joseph, “Grass-fed dairy farming can be more sustainable and profitable in the long run, but farmers who want to pursue the opportunity need a little help to make the numbers work in the short run. A farmer can transition and be certified grass-fed in just a year, but the reality is that it takes up to five years for the soil, pastures, and cows to ‘click’ before setting the farm up for long term viability. New York’spastures are a vastly underutilized resource that could restore the environment while creating a more efficient agricultural economy. By giving small dairy farmers an opportunity to mitigate the cost of transitioning to grass-fed, we could open the door for countless farmers to set themselves up for years of sustainability while also helping the State meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Seventy-four percent of voters also said the state should protect New York’sgrass-fed dairy farms by preventing companies from marketing their products as “grass-fed” unless their cows are certified as one percent grass-fed.
“More and more I’m seeing dairy products from around the country marketing themselves as ‘grass-fed,’ when the fact is their cows are only grass-fed for a short part of the year, and in some cases with very limited access to pasture,” said Phyllis Smith. “The vast majority of grass-fed dairy producers in New York are small, family-owned farms. When large companies make misleading claims about their products, they’re hurting small farms like ours by undermining the integrity of our grass-fed products.”
Change Research conducted the 1,909-respondent survey. Forty-five percent of respondents were registered Democrats, 27 percent were registered Republicans, and 28 percent were independents or unaffiliated. Thirty-seven percent of respondents were from New York City, while 63 percent were from the rest of the state. For full poll crosstabs, please emailJake Sporn at [email protected].