With declining membership, rising costs and heavy impact legislation debated in the halls of the state capitol and Congress, the new New York Farm Bureau leader says she hopes to push for new youth career initiatives and advocate for support for Empire State farmers.

CEO Deanna Fox grew up on a dairy farm in Chenango County, and many of her family members were farmers.  

“I’ve always loved farming, always felt driven by the mission of agriculture and how many different avenues touch our lives. Everything is kind of contingent on our agricultural processes,” Fox said.  

Farmers have faced many challenges in the last year including increased input costs, labor challenges, and low commodity prices.  

“There’s a lot of issues and there’s always more coming down the pike from a legislative, trade and economic standpoint so giving as many resources as we can to New York’s farmers is very important to us,” Fox said.  

Kim Skellie, a dairy farmer in Newark, Ontario County, and a farm bureau member, said he hopes Fox can help raise membership.  

“Because of the political climate in Albany causing discouragement amongst farmers and the reduction in the number of farms in New York, our membership has gradually declined, and we would like to get that turned around,” Skellie said.  

The organization currently has about 12,000 members. However, Skellie said he believes Fox will encourage new members to join because of her farming background.  

“Having a CEO who can talk with them and help them be confident that she understands what they’re going through and dealing with really helps a lot in building membership and having members feel like she knows what needs to get done to help them,” Skellie said.

The Census of Agriculture found the average age of New York farmers is 56.7 years old. Fox is hoping to revamp the foundation side of the New York Farm Bureau that plays a role in encouraging young people to enter the industry.  

“The big thing we have coming up now is some events throughout the state which inform guidance counselors at high schools about opportunities for careers in agriculture,” Fox said.  

While traditional farmers are important to the industry, Fox would like to encourage young people to consider other careers in the field as well.  

“There are a lot of different things in the umbrella of agriculture so that could be becoming a craft brewer or working in a winery, working in agritourism,” she said.  

A new federal Farm Bill – already five months late — has been an ongoing concern farmers and advocates, Fox is no different.  

“We’re always keeping the Farm Bill front of mind. We’re always working on a federal and state level, to encourage a productive and official outcome in the farm bill. It’s always a work in progress,” she said.  

Additionally, they have their eyes on a few other state bills that could raise input prices for farmers, including extended producer responsibility and the bottle bill that would both impact farmers that use packaging for their products.  

“In the short term, getting to June 6, which is the end of the session, and hopefully producing our desired outcome there,” Fox said.  

With dairy products being some of New York’s top agricultural products, Fox said addressing concerns in the industry is a priority particularly helping them obtain insurance for an affordable cost.  

“Insurance is difficult across the board, but we find with dairy farms, their margin of loss for insurance tends to be higher so helping dairy farmers find ways in which to limit the opportunity for loss, prohibit loss and make their process to get an insurance policy a little easier,” she said.  

Ultimately, the message Fox wants farmers to hear as she begins this position is the New York Farm Bureau is there to support them.  

“Any issue that’s pressing on them is also pressing on us. Farming is increasingly difficult, so our big area of focus is just making sure we are able to mitigate as best as possible any of those struggles,” Fox said.