After Chester Massey & Sons duck farm in Eastport closes later this year, there will be just one surviving business in what was once among Long Island’s most prominent agricultural industries.
That fact is not lost on Doug Corwin of Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue, which has for years been Long Island’s largest duck farm and will soon be its last.
But even as operating costs continue to escalate and costly state regulations change — a major reason why the Massey family is calling it quits — Mr. Corwin says he’s not going anywhere.
“I see all types of regulatory changes, [from] taxwise to laborwise to food safety,” he said, speaking from the office of the farm his great-grandfather founded in 1908. “Change is the nature of life.”
For that reason, he said it’s long been his family’s business model to budget in a manner that helps them stay ahead of the regulatory curve. Mr. Corwin said he invests in new technologies each year to meet ever-changing standards, most recently spending $3.5 million to update the wastewater treatment facility on the farm.
“I’ve got to think this way,” he said, standing beside a $55,000 piece of equipment that, once installed, will double the farm’s ability to screen out waste solids before treatment.
Mr. Corwin said he’s had success in navigating the standards set by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and is sympathetic to duck farmers who haven’t been able to keep up with regulations.
State DEC officials notified Paul Massey this past winter that operations on his 24-acre Eastport farm, where about 125,000 ducks are still being raised outdoors each year, would need to be moved inside. This would require an addition of hatcheries, or barns, and additional wastewater treatment capability to maintain and clean those structures daily.
For Mr. Massey and his brother Kurt, who have no relatives interested in continuing the family’s 70-year-old farming tradition, the investment was not feasible.
“At one point, for the majority of the people on the East End of Long Island, this was their livelihood. They either lived or worked on the duck farm,” said Mr. Massey. “Now [the perception has] become this smelly farm that is polluting the environment, but that is not the case … I hope [the industry] is remembered for what it did for the heritage of Long Island.”
According to Suffolk County records, Long Island duck farming reached its peak in the 1950s, with more than 90 farms producing 7.5 million ducks annually — about two-thirds of all nationwide production. At that time, the local duck industry was as significant to the New York State economy as the statewide commercial fishing industry.
But state environmental agencies were growing wise to its potential impacts, particularly pollution from effluent runoff entering nearby waters. In fact, by 1948 an earlier version of what’s now known as the Clean Water Act was already beginning to influence the industry. The legislation was aimed at managing pollutants — including animal waste — that discharged into surface waters.
“Was it an environmental situation? It was,” Mr. Corwin said. “[But] we’ve always tried to be proactive.”