Long Island farming is no oxymoron.
Although there was a 75 percent reduction in farmland on Long Island between 1950-92, over the past 20 years, farmland under cultivation on the island has remained stable and that's a good thing, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said at a press conference held at White Post Farms in Melville Tuesday.
Referencing Long Island's 644 farms and more than 35,000 acres of farmland, DiNapoli said that anyone who thinks agriculture on Long Island "is something of the past is missing the point of the reality of today."
"This is such an important contributor to our economy on Long Island and also to our identity and our quality of life," said DiNapoli, a lifelong resident of Nassau County. "We need to be appreciative of the great creativity and vitality that we see in this industry."
Long Island accounts for only 6 percent of agricultural sales statewide, according to the most recent census in 2007, but Suffolk County–the state's largest producer of pumpkins, tomatoes and cauliflower–had the highest sales–$242.9 million–of any county in the state.
That figure does not include wine sales (1.2 million gallons a year) from Long Island's famous East End wineries—recently ranked by TripAdvisor readers as the 5th best wine destination in the country.
"It basically confirms what a lot of people on the East End, and certainly on the North Fork, have been feeling for sometime, which is that agriculture and agritourism are a tremendous boon to the local economy," said Steve Bate, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, of DiNapoli's report.
The Long Island wine region, unlike other wine hotspots around the world, has seen an increase in visitor traffic during a recession, said Bate, adding that he expects figures on Long Island winery visitors to increase this year from 1.3 million in 2011.
Visits to the wineries also generate an estimated $130 million in "non-winery economic impact," coming out to the East End, Bate said, speaking of a multiplier effect as visitors also boost sales at local restaurants, stores and hotels.
Vito Minei, of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said the report highlighted the value of agriculture in the county.
"Way too many residents of Suffolk County and all too many elected officials in Suffolk County don't understand and appreciate the value of agriculture throughout Suffolk County," Minei said.
Frank Beyrodt, the president of Long Island Farm Bureau, said having the state's comptroller recognize the positive impacts of the local farming industry "is really a proud moment for us."
Beyrodt said the report proved that farmers can endure even through trying times, adding, "We do need to make concerted efforts to preserve what's left, not just because of our history, but because of our future."
See the pdf (above right) to read DiNapoli's full report.