Economics and agriculture in the future

Jay Matteson

I couldn’t find a fortune teller with a crystal ball so I called two people who have a good grasp on what expectations are in the dairy industry for the coming year. They are members of the informal cadre of people I turn to for guidance on what is happening in agriculture. Ron Robbins is an owner of North Harbor Dairy Farm near Sackets Harbor, a 1,000-cow dairy operation. Ron’s family owns Old McDonald’s Farm, an agricultural educational and entertainment destination.  Ron has served on a variety of state, regional and national organizations and was the state executive director of USDA Farm Service Agency for New York for a number of years.

                Bruce Krupke is the executive vice president of Northeast Dairy Foods Association based in Syracuse, serving dairy processors across eight states in the northeastern United States. Bruce also serves on many state regional and national committees. Both Bruce and Ron do a good job of keeping their finger on the pulse of the dairy industry.

                Dairy farmers have been suffering through very difficult times for the past two years.  The price they are paid for their milk, measured in units of one hundred pounds of milk shipped, or hundredweights (cwt), has been well below the cost of production.  The average cost of production in Northern New York tends to run at $18 per hundredweight or one hundred pounds of milk shipped. Prices have dipped as low as $14 per hundredweight over the last two years.  At $14, if the price stayed that low the entire year, a 500-cow dairy with each cow producing an average of 90 pounds of milk per day per cow would lose approximately $657,000 for the year. That is a significant loss.

                Mr. Robbins indicates that it is looking like prices will remain below cost of production until halfway through 2017.  Why? According to Ron there is a tremendous supply of milk and milk products on the market.  Even though demand is strong for dairy products, the low milk prices over the last two years allowed manufacturers to build a tremendous inventory of products that now has to work its way out of the system. Ron indicates that even though U.S. production continues to be “on a tear” with cow numbers increasing and production per cow moving higher, world production is coming down.  That could be very beneficial to U.S. dairy prices paid to the farmer.  Mr. Robbins believes the last six months of 2017 will hopefully see farm gate prices finally cross the profitable threshold.  Unfortunately, it will take many months for farms to recoup the losses they’ve incurred through this low price cycle.

                Bruce Krupke indicates a similar trend, anticipating prices to gradually rise into 2017.  Mr. Krupke heavily emphasized the importance of the world market for U.S. products. “This is where our future lies” Mr. Krupke said.  World dairy prices are rising enough to bring parity with U.S. dairy prices allowing our industry to become competitive. Bruce indicated that we would benefit most if we could achieve a good dairy trade situation with our neighbor to our north. Canada is putting heavy tariffs on ultra-filtered milk products that are hurting two dairy plants in New York, one in Batavia and one in Cayuga County. Bruce indicates concern that the situation will “back up” milk supply in the state.

                I also asked both gentlemen about expectations for the impacts of the Trump administration on agriculture.  Mr. Robbins said right now there is mixed expectations about President Trump.  President Trump’s pro-business tendencies are welcomed in agriculture. The last several years of intense regulatory burden, rapidly increasing cost of business due to federal policies and heavily increasing tax burdens are expected to ease and that will be very welcome. Ron said there is a nervous anticipation within the industry at the same time.  Agriculture, including the dairy industry, is heavily impacted by foreign trade.  There is concern about the unknowns of the new president’s trade policies.  Much work is being done behind the scenes to help the administration better appreciate the importance of trade to agriculture and our farms.

                Bruce Krupke shared a very positive outlook for the business policies of President Trump.  Mr. Krupke indicated he believes that the administration will be very business friendly and that should generate a positive outlook for dairy manufacturers. Bruce hopes that the president will improve our dairy trade opportunities with Canada which will especially benefit New York’s dairy industry.

                Let’s hope that the expectations of both men are correct. Our dairy farmers need a light at the end of the tunnel.  Prices have been too low for too long.   If we can improve the business climate for our farms and manufacturers, the dairy industry can thrive.  Should our business climate improve, perhaps more dairy or food manufacturing opportunities will come along.

May 2016: Economic Snapshot

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Local experts discuss north country’s economic outlook at Chamber event

The Economic Forecast event featured a panel of five speakers discussing the economic trouble spots and assets in the north country.

The Economic Forecast event featured a panel of five speakers discussing the economic trouble spots and assets in the north country. Photo by Stephen Swofford, Watertown Daily Times.

Trying to get a glimpse of the local economic future is more like staring into an opaque globe than a crystal ball, noted Donald C. Alexander, chief executive officer of Jefferson County Economic Development. [Read more…]

January 2016 Cover Story: Economic Outlook

Slow and steady
growth wins the race

OUTLOOK 2016 / MILITARY: A soldier salutes during the presentation of the colors last year in an activation ceremony for the 10th Mountain Division Divarty. As the post avoided major cuts in 2015, Fort Drum officials remain positive that 2016 will be a healthy year for one of region’s top economic sectors. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

OUTLOOK 2016 / MILITARY: A soldier salutes during the presentation of the colors last year in an activation ceremony for the 10th Mountain Division Divarty. As the post avoided major cuts in 2015, Fort Drum officials remain positive that 2016 will be a healthy year for one of region’s top economic sectors. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

Despite a few challenges, experts say the region is on pace for a positive year in 2016. Six sectors of the north country’s economy are ripe with opportunities for growth.

By Karee Magee, NNY Business

A grim fate cast a pall over the north country in early 2015, as federal budget sequestration threatened to cut up to 16,000 personnel from Fort Drum in an effort by the army to trim its active duty force from 490,000 to 450,000 by fiscal year 2017. [Read more…]