Editorial: Happy 30th to the agricultural forum

Along with falling snow and falling temperatures, the annual agricultural forum held in Riverhead is a sure sign that January has arrived.

For 30 years now, the Long Island Farm Bureau and Cornell Cooperative Extension have hosted a two-day event that offers the latest news and information on a broad range of topics, from what works and what doesn’t in organic pesticides for vegetables to more arcane topics such as the importance of macro- and micro-nutrients on potato crop development and quality.

It’s heartening to see that the need for such a forum continues, in spite of the endless pressure on farmers to jump off their tractors for good, whether it’s because of diminishing financial returns or the lack of interest in the younger generation. There was no need for a seminar on how the East End agricultural industry has changed since that first ag forum. Wine grapes have replaced potato plants on thousands of acres. There’s a greater diversity in what’s grown here, including considerably more nursery stock. Farm stands and “agri-tainment” businesses offering pumpkin picking, corn mazes and hayrides have grown in popularity and economic importance.

Even so, no small amount of tillable land has been lost over the years during real estate booms. And depending on your perspective, the loss of venerable businesses such as the cauliflower auction block and Rolle Brothers equipment in Riverhead are either worrisome signs or simply an indication of the ag industry’s continuing evolution.

One of the few positive side effects of the so-called “Great Recession” is that builders are not snatching up farm acreage as voraciously as they did not all that long ago. But if the past gives any hint to the future, that’s a temporary reprieve.

The good news is that 30 years after the first ag forum, farming is — in its many versions and interpretations — still going strong. There are some outstanding issues, such as the relatively recent conflict over concerts and other events at vineyards. But think of it this way: We’ve still got farm acreage to fight over.

If we’re smart and forward-thinking, there will be a 60th ag forum, and more after that.