In January, the United States and China signed “phase one” of a trade deal that signaled a partial truce in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies. For farmers across the US, that was welcome news. Farmers took a hit during the trade war, as China drastically cut purchases of American agricultural products, particularly dairy and soybeans, in retaliation for Trump administration tariffs. To compensate, US federal farm subsidies jumped to $16 billion in 2019, the highest level in 14 years. That came on top of the previous year’s $12 billion aid package, for a grand total of $28 billion in what effectively amounts to a trade-related bailout of the agricultural industry.
Despite all that cash, family farm bankruptcies in the US hit an eight-year high in 2019, according to data released last week by the federal court system. The midwest, southeastern, and western United States were hit the hardest. In New York, 20 farms declared bankruptcy, four fewer than the previous year. Between 2010 and 2019, New York lost 202 farms.
- Columbia County added 24 farms and five percent more farmland. In 2017, the average farm earned $170,718, up 27 percent from 2012.
- Dutchess County lost 58 farms and nine percent of its farmland. The average farm earned about $70,817, down 2 percent.
- Putnam County added 17 farms and 21 percent more farmland. The average farm earned $35,342, down 22 percent.
- Greene County lost 67 farms and 18.5 percent of its farmland. The average farm earned $95,927, up 17 percent.
- Ulster County lost 65 farms and 17 percent of its farmland. The average farm earned $129,088, up 12 percent.
- Orange County lost 37 farms and nearly eight percent of its farmland. The average farm earned $141,571, down 7.5 percent.
- Sullivan County added 45 farms and 11 percent more farmland. The average farm earned $77,550, down 8 percent.
As the numbers show, even some local counties that added farms and acreage saw declining revenues. Most of the losses were among dairy farms, which fell by 14 percent. The number of farms growing vegetables and fruit remained constant. And of course, the data from the USDA agricultural census predate the trade war with China, which slapped retaliatory tariffs on many American goods, including dairy products. Last August, New York Farm Bureau public affairs manager Steve Ammerman told Spectrum News that the tariffs had probably cost New York dairy farmers $150 million.
Precarity is nothing new for farmers, however, and farmers in New York—which has a diverse agricultural sector, a huge non-farming economy, and forward-thinking programs like the farm brewery and cidery licenses—are better positioned than many farmers elsewhere in the country.