Agriculture pumps $1.7B into local economy, rivaling Fort Drum

Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 5:47 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - $1.7 billion - that’s the economic footprint local agriculture has on the economy. If that number amazes you, you’re not alone.

“I was very surprised,” said Jefferson County Agricultural Coordinator Jay Matteson.

A report out by Cornell University’s Dr. Todd Schmit explains that Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, and Oswego counties generated $1.7 billion in 2019.

“We know that agriculture is a huge part of our local economy, but never anticipated that it was quite that large,” said Matteson.

The report shows the dairy sector generated $428 million alone in 2019. Matteson says that number is much higher if you include dairy processing.

Grain and oilseed generated the second most at $77.3 million. Then beef and poultry at $50.9 million, and fruit and vegetables at $16 million.

The 5th largest sector of agricultural production is the greenhouse. To the owner of Zehr’s Flowers & Landscaping, that comes as no surprise.

“We live in an agricultural-rich area, and agriculture land has become more valuable,” said Samantha Widrick, owner.

Matteson also points out that the $1.7 billion is largely local money compared to the public dollar pumped into Fort Drum. The Army post had a roughly $1.5 billion economic footprint on the region in 2020.

Whichever way it is, Widrick says there is something to shopping local; plenty of farmers are customers here.

“Shopping local for us is a favorite, one hand washes the other,” she said.

Widrick says her business has grown since the pandemic as more people are staying home and picking up gardening.

Matteson says he wouldn’t be surprised if other sectors have grown since the pandemic as well.

“We’ve seen an increase in production from our dairy plants,” he said.

Matteson says there’s a strong demand for other local foods, like in the meat industry. He says county meat processors are struggling to keep up with the demand and the county is working with them to help their businesses grow.

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