Raising Agriculture to Economic Prominence

(#328) – Last week’s column promised more ideas on a comprehensive plan for economic development for Sullivan County.  The urgency of the matter is driven by the surge of major projects that will double our economy and transform our way of life. Imbedded in the details of these outside investments in our area are opportunities for major advances in the health of our environment and people as well as opportunities for assisting existing businesses.

Our agricultural sector is reported to produce about $80,000,000 in direct revenue.  Even with a high local multiplier effect that produces $234,000,000 in revenue, our agricultural sector can grow very dramatically with great benefits to every other sector.

The Sullivan County Strategic Plan for Economic Development that will be available very soon contains several strategies for raising agriculture to leading prominence in the county economy.  Some are provided with detailed strategies or are already under development such as the animal slaughtering plant and the food hub.  What is needed is a comprehensive agricultural development plan that develops new and increases investment in current agricultural enterprise.

A good place to begin is to tie agricultural development to the surge of new visitors who will be coming to Sullivan County.  Millions of additional meals will be served.  The new agricultural position to be shared by the County Department of Planning and Cornell Cooperative Education should be a person with very strong planning expertise and charged with the priority task of completing an assessment of new opportunities to serve the surge food requirements that is about to take place and identify training programs, production methods and sources of revenue to support these initiatives.

The revenue for these investments should come primarily from the sponsors of the major development projects now negotiating terms with our town councils and development agencies. Direct or indirect benefits accrue to them from dedicating substantial sums to these agricultural projects.

Here is a short list of specific strategies that the County Agricultural Advisory Board, legislature, development agencies, educators and farmers should consider.

But first, a theme might even be helpful such as, “We will make things,.”  Such as wonderful food, furniture and other useful products from our very rich forest resources, and apparel from a greatly enlarged fiber-based agriculture.  Light manufacturing of high value, affordable products will draw more visitors to the new stores that spring up in our villages and rejuvenates downtown spaces.

Our dairy and meat producers will have local and metropolitan markets for a wide variety of value-added products. Our children in school will eat nutritious food and learn food culture for healthy and more enjoyable lives. Our growing number of vegetable and fruit producers will receive the resources to substantially increase their number, size of operation and engage in season extending production through a wide variety of renewable energy technologies specifically designed for their needs.

It is most important that county leadership complete this agricultural plan in a very short period of time, give it dedicated staff, and, commit to following through with requirement of $2-3,000,000 in grants from the major developments who are committed to being our neighbors.  The advantage to the developers is obvious. It’s time to secure compensation for the benefits we provide through developing this partnership for economic development of Sullivan County.

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