Economist says agriculture has been ‘resilient’ through pandemic

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WATERTOWN — Agriculture’s output in much of the north country went up by roughly 12% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to an agriculture economist and Cornell University associate professor who gave a presentation to farmers on Friday.

Professor Todd M. Schmit said he’s still trying to wrap his head around the increase from 2019 to 2020 in the agriculture economy in Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Oswego and Lewis counties. Mr. Schmit gave a presentation to a group of farmers at the Hilton Garden Inn on the economic contributions of agriculture to the Northern New York economy.

Toward the end of the presentation, he said the output of agriculture in the four counties went up 12% in 2020 compared to 2019. Jobs went up 2%, and labor income went up about 38%. While other industries saw significant decreases across the board, agriculture thrived, according to Mr. Schmit.

“Agriculture was resilient in the economy and facing these structural changes,” Mr. Schmit said. “I found that fascinating.”

These increases might shock many, and farmers in the room listening to the professor almost paused before accepting that conclusion. There might be more context to these numbers, they said, like how some of the increase is likely due to relief payments or subsidies for lost milk in 2020.

“I think the story is not written yet,” said Doug Shelmidine, a farmer in Belleville. “I think you have to wait for them to do the final analysis, but generally, agriculture fared better through 2020 than anybody expected it to.”

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