Hudson Valley agriculture stands at a critical juncture. As development pressures creep up the Valley, more and more farmers are faced with decisions about the value of their land versus the value of staying in farming. Major changes in the agriculture business both create new market opportunities and make greater demands on a weakened agriculture infrastructure. The result: to remain a viable economic activity, agriculture must change or gradually get squeezed out.
If these key issues are not addressed creatively in the next several years, farmers and residents in the Valley may find themselves in the middle of exurban sprawl, rather than beautiful working farmlands.
Enter Hudson Valley Agri-Business Development Corporation (HVADC), a new private not-for-profit organization designed to take these issues head on. Its purpose is to map out an over-arching plan for agriculture, starting in Columbia and Orange Counties, and then create a network of professionals who can provide the economic expertise to guide new and expanding agri-ventures throughout the Valley.
The organization takes as its road map the American Farmland Trust’s At a Crossroads: Agricultural Economic Development for the Hudson Valley, which examined farming in the Valley and came up with a series of recommendations to protect and strengthen this multi-million dollar industry that is central to the quality of life here. The Number One recommendation was the creation of a regional entity to lead the development of a Hudson Valley agri-business master plan.
The purpose of the plan is to strengthen the economic viability of farms in the Hudson Valley economy, to understand where farm products are moving, and how to keep their revenue in the Valley. By reshaping policy, municipalities and farmers can work together to facilitate growth. That growth may be through increased direct-to-consumer markets, a stronger push for sales at local retailers, or ensuring that packing, manufacturing, processing and shipping operations remain in the Valley, even if the markets are outside.
Other organizations have focused on protecting land from development via easements and park creation, certainly important work. But efforts need to be made to ensure the land stays as working farmland. Agriculture pumps about $80 million a year into the Columbia County economy, about $112 million into Orange County. Simply put: encouraging agricultural entrepreneurship in the Valley is good business that strengthens the local economies.
Incubator Without Walls
The Hudson Valley Agri-Business Development Corp. is poised to do just that. Over the next 10 to 12 months, HVADC will put together a regional Agricultural Development Master Plan focused on Columbia and Orange counties and begin to develop an agriculture “Incubator Without Walls,” a kind of economic development support agency focused on agribusiness.
The incubator programs will work with food processors, forest product industry operators, and other production agriculture-related businesses that can benefit from this technical assistance. The new agency will also target for assistance those in value-added food processing, ag marketing and distribution, ag related alternative energy production, eco/agro/work-camp tourism, and ag biotechnology.
To offer these services, HVADC will develop a business assistance program that includes identification of services needed, provide networking to coaching and facilitation, and monitors progress.
To help provide these services, HVADC will put together a team of professionals available to the region – lawyers, accountants, marketing specialists, financiers, professors/instructors, industry specialists and others.
Expertise at the helm
The expertise to get HVADC up and running comes out of economic development as well as planning and agriculture. Heading up the new agency is Todd Erling, who has worked as deputy executive director at Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) for 5 years. CEDC, with offices in Hudson, will house and provide support services to HVADC.
But HVADC is regional, as reflected in its Board of Directors and funding. Serving as president is Jerry Cosgrove, Northeast Regional Director of American Farmland Trust, where he has worked for more than a dozen years. Treasurer is James Galvin, executive director of CEDC and the Columbia Hudson Partnership, with 30 years before that at Key Bank, most recently as senior vice president, Northeast Region Direct Lending.
On the board from partnering Orange County is David Church, long-time executive director of the New York Planning Federation and now Commissioner of the Orange County Planning Department. From the farming and business communities is board member Donald Kline, whose family has been in the apple business for generations and who runs a successful local business that serves the community, Donald R. Kline Bus Co. Annie Farrell has also agreed to serve on the board, bringing her years of successful farm management experience and vast contacts in the agricultural industry. The board will also create an Advisory Board.
CEDC has a track record not only in spurring economic growth and development but also, specifically, in working with agriculture. Recent projects include assistance for the purchase of a fruit storage and packing warehouse, assistance with the adaptive reuse of a fruit processing facility, loan to an organic food distribution company, assistance in the construction of an award-winning organic market and bakery, and completion of a $400,000 agricultural worker housing protection program.
Ensuring farming’s future
The Hudson Valley has a fertile farming future, but only if proper attention is paid now to defining and creating the necessary support structures. While large milk dairies may have disappeared over the last decade, many new farm ventures have sprung up to replace them, requiring new ways of thinking.
“There’s the opinion that farming is dead,” says Mr. Galvin. “We want people to understand that it certainly is not. There is new agriculture coming down the road,” he says, pointing to a possible new kosher milk processing plant and a bio-diesel fuel plant as examples of likely new ventures in the region.
Potential projects include processing facilities and value-added initiatives, analysis and start-up assistance for new ventures, market expansion and improvement of distribution networks for the region’s agriculture.
“We’re not looking to replace Farm Credit,” adds Mr. Erling. “We want to help keep ag lands in production. We’re talking about getting our boots muddy.”
Funding for development of the regional Master Plan by HVADC as well as creation of its agriculture management company comes from a mix of private and public entities, in keeping with its work.
“We have a critical mass of funding to leverage three years of work,” says Mr. Galvin.
Supporting HVADC to date are: the Dyson Foundation, the Hudson River Bank & Trust Foundation, Rheinstrom Hill Community Foundation, the State Department of State Quality Communities Program, Columbia Economic Development Corporation, Columbia County Empire Zone, Orange County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board. Additional grant applications are pending.
“We are very appreciative of this support,” says Mr. Erling. “We didn’t do it on our own and we won’t be successful on our own. It is a collaborative, regional effort.”
Mr. Cosgrove noted that the Dyson Foundation has played a crucial role with HVADC. “The staff and board of the Dyson Foundation have recognized the importance of agriculture to the Hudson Valley economy – by funding the initial Crossroads study and providing a challenge grant as seed money to get the HVADC started.” Diana M. Gurieva, Executive Vice President of the Dyson Foundation, added, “The Dyson Foundation is pleased to support the HVADC’s efforts to keep agriculture economically viable in the Hudson Valley. Working farms add so much to the quality of life and economic health of our region, and HVADC’s agricultural planning, development, and technical assistance activities will offer needed support.”
For more information about HVADC, call Mr. Erling at 828-4718 or e-mail email@example.com.