Since Connor was in high school and working on his grandfather's dairy farm, he knew that's what he wanted to do. After graduation from SUNY Cobleskill with a degree in Dairy Production & Management he went to work on a few local dairy farms. But he soon came to realize that he wanted to own his own farm with around 250 cows and grow all his own forages. As a young farmer just starting out, he encountered many obstacles. Farmland for a New Generation New York, a partnership between American Farmland Trust and New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, came to his aid. Farmland for a New Generation New York includes a searchable database of available land and those looking to access land (think match.com for farmers), trained service providers (or Regional Navigators) across the state positioned to support both farmers and landowners in this land access process, and a collection of online resources. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County, a Regional Navigator with the program, became a resource for Connor in his journey.
We recently met up with Connor to see how his first year of farming is progressing, gain a better understanding of the challenges he has encountered, and how we can continue to support him, and other young, first-generation farmers.
Connor is currently leasing around 75 acres, which comprises three parcels in Broome County. In 2022 he hopes to double that to approximately 180 acres. He is growing wheat and hay, and will add corn to the mix in 2022. Leasing is the arrangement he chose while he continues to look for the best location for his dairy farm. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County, in the capacity as Regional Navigator, connected Connor with a non-farming landowner looking to keep her land in production and wanting to work with a young farmer. CCE Broome also supported both Connor and the landowner in the leasing process through providing sample leases and education on the important components of a lease. Leasing, as opposed to buying, will enable him to gain his footing in growing and marketing his crops without the necessary, and expensive, cash outlay required for a land purchase. His dream dairy farm will have 250 cows and use robotic milkers. Young farmers often gravitate towards the efficiency of technology and Connor is no stranger to that!
Finding suitable land took Connor around six months. It started with the creation of his profile on NYFarmlandFinder.org, the Farmland for a New Generation New York website (which another young farmer mentioned to him) and finding parcels which suited his needs in terms of location, lease arrangements, and allowed agricultural activities. He was able to find multiple parcels which fit his needs, offering a promising glimpse into the future as more landowners seek out young farmers to keep their land in production!
Looking at 2022, Connor's next challenges will be finding the additional land he needs to increase production, and purchasing another tractor. He may also be looking at a grain bin to store the harvested grains until they can be sold to a grain mill. Growing grains for a mill is not common in the Southern Tier, but it just to the west in the Finger Lakes region. Connor will be working with those grain mills to better understand market demand and appropriate varieties. His final challenge is looking at increased supply chain costs and how to potentially control them based on pre-purchasing items such as fertilizers.
Connor has also engaged with multiple service providers in his farming journey. Not only with Cornell Cooperative Extension Broome County in looking to access available land, but he also has received a beginning farmer loan from the Farm Service Agency which he used to purchase his tractor and other equipment.
Story contributed by Cornell Cooperative Extension Broome County, published in January 2022