New bill aims to stem decline of rural, family farms

Darin Hickling, whose family owns Hicking’s Fish Farm in Edmeston, points to the automatic feeder suspended over a pond where fish are raised.Sarah Eames | The Daily Star

A federal bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, to expand bankruptcy protections for farmers was signed into law Friday, Aug. 23.

H.R. 2336, the Family Farmer Relief Act, eases the process of reorganizing debt through Chapter 12 bankruptcy rules by more than tripling the debt cap, from $3,237,000 to $10 million.

The changes reflect the increase in land values and the growth over time in the average size of U.S. farming operations, according to a media release.

“It’s an opportunity for farmers to extend their financing and hopefully keep their farms,” said Bradd Vickers, president of the Chenango County Farm Bureau. “Once that farm is gone, that’s period, end of sentence for agriculture.”

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 Census of Agriculture indicated that family farms are disappearing and corporate-owned farms are on the rise.

Nationally, the number of farms fell 3.18 percent, from 2.1 million in 2012 to 2.04 million in 2017, and New York state nearly doubled the national rate of decline, losing 5.91 percent — roughly 2,100 farms — in the same period.

In spite of the overall downward trend, the number of corporate-owned farms grew by nearly 10 percent nationally and more than 3 percent across the state, according to the data. Family-owned farms across the U.S. dropped 4.25 percent in the five-year period, and New York lost more than 7 percent of its family-owned farms.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the passage of the bill represents “a sobering reflection of the current state of the agricultural economy.”

“This law relieves some of the uncertainty farmers are facing due to export market disruptions, weather events and declining farm income,” he said.

“I’m very appreciative that Congressman Delgado was a sponsor of the bill,” said Duane Martin, president of the Delaware County Farm Bureau. “Given the fact that it passed Congress and got signed into law, especially in this tumultuous political climate, I think that says a lot about the need for it and the ability the Farm Bureau has to work on both sides of the political spectrum. We need more of that.”

In March, Delgado formed an agriculture advisory committee with local farmers, industry experts and presidents of 11 Farm Bureau chapters throughout the district, including Martin, Paul Greer of Otsego County and John VanDerwerken of Schoharie County.

“Anything we can do to help farmers is a good thing. Any kind of relief they can get is a big help,” said Darin Hickling, vice president of the Otsego County Farm Bureau and district representative for the New York Farm Bureau.

The legislation, introduced in April and passed by the House last month, is endorsed by the American Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Bankruptcy Institute.

“While the Family Farmer Relief Act is an important first step, our work is not done,” Delgado said in a statement released last week. “I will continue to fight for small and midsize farmers across our region during this downturn in the farm economy.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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