Commerce Chenango Chronicles: The six million dollar farm

Written by Liz Bunce, Economic Development Specialist

When I look at the state of industry in today’s economy, I am reminded of the line from the television program, “The Six Million Dollar Man,” that says, “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better…stronger…faster.” That seems to have been the goal spurred on by competition in a global economy. The agriculture industry has not been exempt from this trend.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Chenango County, I saw many changes in the technology and general practices required to operate a successfully dairy. Now, as a hop farmer in this county, I continue to see advances in equipment and methods among the re-burgeoning hops industry in the Northeast. Time stands still for no one, under the pressure to be better…stronger…faster.

But innovation comes with a price, both intellectual and material. I believe there will never cease to be new ideas for better ways to do things – especially in agriculture. Farmers are some of the most creative, yet practical, problem solvers I’ve ever encountered. New ideas build upon the new ideas of the past, a veritable intellectual fountain of youth.

Implementing those new ideas, however, is rarely cheap. From design, to development, to testing and production, the agriculture industry undergoes the same product development cycle as any other industry. And just like other industries, the newest, cutting edge equipment and practices are generally affordable only to the largest companies. Smaller businesses, with savvy, entrepreneurial leaders, work up to those large purchases over time.

Surveys have demonstrated that a majority of consumers are willing to pay a little more for products that are produced locally and sustainably. It becomes, then, a delicate balancing act for small- to mid-size farmers to keep up with industry advances while controlling costs and maintaining competitive prices. I have often heard sentiments like, “I could produce more, at lower costs, if I could afford (insert piece of equipment, type of labor, further processing method here).”

The good news is: There are resources available – especially for agricultural businesses – to help overcome those hurdles. The less-than-good news is: The process of identifying the best resource, going through the application process and the requisite paperwork required to proceed with such programs can be complicated and confusing. While many businesses already know about Cornell Cooperative Extension as a valuable resource, they may not also think of Commerce Chenango as an additional partner. One of our roles at Commerce Chenango is to assist businesses in identifying those resources, and to provide guidance through the funding process, from start to finish.

We are fortunate to have a team in the office with diverse backgrounds, in many industries; and we capitalize on each other’s strengths and knowledge. We regularly work with the funding partners involved in the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA), New York State Ag & Markets, Empire State Development, and regional partners such as the Southern Tier Region Economic Development Council and their Rural Initiative Fund. Locally, we administer the Business Assistance Loan Fund (BALF) and the Dairy Revolving Loan Fund (DRLF) as well as Microenterprise Grants.

We hope you will consider us part of your team as you build your version of the Six Million Dollar Farm: Better…stronger…faster, and even more successful in today’s competitive marketplace. You can contact me at (607) 334-1401 or to identify resources that may be available to you and your business.

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