Agri-Business: Farm-based beverage sector grows

Within the past decade, Jefferson County and Northern New York witnessed a refreshing emergence of new businesses making beverages and growing ingredients from agricultural products. Our region is well known for producing large amounts of high-quality milk and turning that milk into award-winning cheeses and cultured dairy products. Our dairy industry will continue to thrive and grow for the foreseeable future. But the emergence of other opportunities in agriculture has invigorated local entrepreneurs not interested in dairy farming. The question is, what can our region support? [Read more...]

Bumper corn harvest expected if farmers avoid killer frost

Corn tassels wave in the wind on Maxon Road near Watertown. Farms could yield 25 tons per acre. Justin Sorensen / Watertown Daily Times

The corn harvest is expected to be abundant for farmers, but some could be scrambling to avoid a late-season killer frost.

Because crops were planted later than usual in May, most farmers in the north country are running about two weeks behind schedule and waiting for corn to finish growing or dry, said Michael E. Hunter, field crops expert for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Some farmers started harvesting corn last week, he said. Those who didn’t are expected to start before the end of the month.

Because of the threat posed by freezing weather, some farmers might decide to start harvesting corn before it’s fully mature, Mr. Hunter said. On the night of Sept. 18, temperatures in Jefferson and Lewis counties dropped into the range of 27 to 35 degrees. When temperatures drop to 28 degrees or lower, corn and soybeans are in peril.

Some cornfields were unscathed by the frost, Mr. Hunter said. But the outcome was worse for other cornfields, which have drooping cornstalks with dead leaves and low moisture content.

“They can withstand 30 degrees for a few hours,” he said. “But if you get to 28 degrees or below, it doesn’t take long to fully kill” crops.

Cornstalks that appear to be dead can be deceiving, however, because they often retain a lot of moisture after cold spells, Mr. Hunter said. Leaves of the cornstalk are only about 10 to 15 percent of the total weight of harvested silage. That’s why it’s important for farmers to test the moisture of corn to make sure they aren’t chopping it too early, he said.

“We still have a lot of moisture in the corn and ear, and it’s going to be wetter than people thought,” Mr. Hunter said. “You don’t want to harvest wet, because you can lose nutrients.”

Dairy farmer Lyle J. Wood of Cape Vincent said he got a jump-start by harvesting 200 acres of corn last week. Mr. Wood, who co-owns a 1,150-cow operation on County Route 9 with Scott F. Bourcy, said that 2,000 acres of corn and 700 of soybeans planted in the spring weren’t affected by last week’s cold weather. [Read more...]

Annual ‘Day at the Farm’ set Saturday in Chase Mills

People tour the Stauffer Farm in North Lawrence during the annual Day at the Farm in 2011. Melanie Kimbler-Lago / Watertown Daily Times

The eighth annual Day at the Farm event will come to Chase Mills this year, as the fifth-generation McKnight’s River Breeze Farm will play host this weekend.

The activities take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and are free and open to the public.

The Day at the Farm is sponsored by the St. Lawrence County Farm Bureau and is hosted by a different dairy farm each year.

“It is financially supported by the agricultural business and is all done by volunteers from the farming community,” program chairperson Mary Lou McKnight said. “This is our second time here. We did it at this location six years ago as well.”

The farm is operated by Stephen, Mary Lou, Travi, and Natalie McKnight.

The business was recently awarded the New York state Agricultural Society Centennial Farm award. The recognition is for a designated farm that has been in operation for at least 100 years.

“We do guided farm tours that include educational stations, such as animal nutrition and welfare, a milking center presentation, calf raising and care, and we also do nutrient management,” Ms. McKnight said. “Our main objective for the day is to give the public the opportunity to see an operating dairy farm.” [Read more...]

Watertown Farm & Craft Market draws large opening day crowd

People browse Bonnie’s Decorative Painting on the opening day of the Farmer’s Maket on Washington Street Wednesday. Justin Sorensen / NNY Business

People browse Bonnie’s Decorative Painting on the opening day of the Farmer’s Maket on Washington Street Wednesday. Justin Sorensen / NNY Business

Washington Street was filled Wednesday, as the Watertown Farm & Craft Market launched its season in a big way.

Hundreds of people came out for the event, despite lower-than-expected temperatures and steady winds. Linda I. Gibbs, owner of Linda Gibbs Handmade, took the cool in stride, showing off a collection of crocheted scarves, hats and bags in front of City Hall. Her traffic was pretty busy for opening day.

“A lot of people came back,” Ms. Gibbs said. “I love seeing return customers.” [Read more...]

John Gaus’s startup to launch agriculture robots for tilling vegetable crops

John P. Gaus, entrepreneur and founder of Golden Technology Management, Potsdam, recently launched Agbotic Inc. He is pictured at NNY Business magazine’s ‘20 under 40’ luncheon in December at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown, where he was the keynote speaker. Watertown Daily Times Files.

John P. Gaus, entrepreneur and founder of Golden Technology Management, Potsdam, recently launched Agbotic Inc. He is pictured at NNY Business magazine’s ‘20 under 40’ luncheon in December at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown, where he was the keynote speaker. Watertown Daily Times Files.

Robots that will automatically till soil for vegetable crops are coming to the north country.

Entrepreneur John P. Gaus launched a technology startup in January called Agbotic Inc., which has designed agriculture robots that it plans to test this summer at farms. Agbotic is owned by Golden Technology Management of Potsdam, a firm founded by Mr. Gaus in 2004 that oversees technology ventures and employs graduates of the Clarkson University School of Business.

Mr. Gaus said Agbotic is close to securing nearly $500,000 in investments that will enable it to launch robotic technology this summer. The Development Authority of the North Country also has assisted the firm by applying for a $99,650 grant from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to buy robotic equipment. [Read more...]

Dairy farmers get crash course on OSHA rules to prepare for random inspections

Ronald L. Williams with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration told farmers Tuesday that the agency will begin conducting inspections at random beginning Oct. 1. Ted Booker / Watertown Daily Times

Ronald L. Williams with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration told farmers Tuesday that the agency will begin conducting inspections at random beginning Oct. 1. Ted Booker / Watertown Daily Times

Dairy farms across upstate New York will be held to tougher enforcement of safety rules by the government, starting next fall.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will begin conducting inspections at random when the federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1, Ronald L. Williams told farmers during a presentation Tuesday at the Copenhagen Fire Hall hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson and Lewis counties.

Mr. Williams, a compliance assistance specialist at OSHA’s Syracuse office, said OSHA has decided to launch a “dairy local emphasis program” in New York to curb the increasing number of farm-related accidents and deaths in the state. About 20 farmers attending the workshop learned about a dozen farm hazards that cause most OSHA violations. For example, all tractors manufactured after October 1976 must be equipped with roll-over protective structures; manure lagoons must be protected with barriers to avoid machinery-related accidents; a sink eyewash station must be situated where corrosive chemicals are used, and warning signs must be posted at areas where employees could be physically harmed.

Farmers peppered Mr. Williams with questions throughout the two-hour workshop, which was followed by an afternoon tour of Milk Street Dairy, Woodville, led by James Carrabba, agricultural safety specialist at the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health.

Anxiety about OSHA inspections is pervasive among farmers, and for a reason: In 2012, inspection officers from the agency’s 24-county Central New York region, which includes the north country, handed out 1,346 violation citations to businesses during 592 inspections. Fines totaled $2.6 million, with the average about $2,500 and the highest about $7,000. The inspections included various businesses, including agriculture, manufacturing and construction. It was unclear how many of the violations pertained to farms.

OSHA officers now inspect dairy farms only when they receive a safety or health-related complaint or referral from an employee, resident or other agency, Mr. Williams said. Starting next fall, the agency will begin conducting inspections at random on dairy farms. OSHA started a similar inspection program in Wisconsin in 2012.

“We’ll come up with a listing of all establishments, and then we’ll randomly choose them for inspections,” Mr. Williams said.

A lively discussion during the meeting centered on what rights OSHA inspectors have during farm visits. Inspections are permitted only on farms that have 11 or more employees, and/or have established a temporary labor camp during the past 12 months. Despite what many believe, OSHA does not have the authority to inspect the living arrangements of farmworkers, Mr. Williams said; those inspections are done by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Dairy farmer William J. Marks, a managing partner at Marks Farms in Lowville, said he is disconcerted that OSHA inspectors sometimes are accompanied by representatives from advocacy groups when they conduct inspections. One such group he referred to is the Workers’ Center of Central New York, a Syracuse-based organization that advocates for the rights of undocumented immigrant farmworkers.

“There are some advocacy people that OSHA is dealing with, and these groups claim they have the same rights as OSHA,” Mr. Marks said. “But you can tell them to get off your site because they don’t have the authority.

But we don’t know how to handle it, because these advocacy groups come on hard. Is it my job to call the police? Because I think OSHA should be responsible to make sure they’re not there, because they’ve created a liability.”

In response, Mr. Williams said farmers have the right to refuse access to advocacy groups that wish to participate in OSHA inspections. He said OSHA would be responsible for advising such a group to leave if a farmer objects. But he did not know whether the agency could force the group to do so.

Mr. Marks continued, “How do we comply with any of these regulations? I’ve dealt with OSHA people throughout the state, and it’s all up for interpretation.”

Farmers learned Tuesday that, on average, it takes OSHA about six months to resolve an investigation.

Michael R. Burger, owner of Deer Run Dairy in Adams, said his farm already has made some changes to comply with OSHA regulations. It has improved its training program, for instance, to ensure employees know about the farm’s health and safety policies. Though the OSHA guidelines have spurred Mr. Burger to make changes, he said, most large dairy operations already provide a safe working environment without government intervention.

“The problem is that farming is not like operating a factory because we’re busy doing different things all the time,” Mr. Burger said. “Accidents are going to happen, and not necessarily because of work safety issues.”

Farmers can view a webinar on OSHA compliance or download the PowerPoint presentation from Tuesday’s workshop at http://wdt.me/o5UVNf.

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times

Beef farmers planning commingled cattle pool to do business with big buyers

Farmer Donald H. Holman checks some of his cattle in his pasture on Route 178 in Adams. Norm Johnston / Watertown Daily Times

Farmer Donald H. Holman checks some of his cattle in his pasture on Route 178 in Adams. Norm Johnston / Watertown Daily Times

North country beef farmers are preparing to do business with farms across the Midwest next fall by pooling their calves into a commingled herd.

Livestock educators from six counties across the region have offered training over the past three years with that goal in mind, encouraging farmers to adopt cattle similar calf management practices needed to establish the feeder pool, said Betsy F. Hodge, who leads Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Northern New York Regional Livestock Team. To establish a commingled herd marketed to buyers, she said, beef calves all would have to be similarly bred, weaned and vaccinated. They should be preferably crossbred, weigh in the range of 450 to 650 pounds and be bred with black hides.

Creating the feeder pool would enable buyers to purchase a large number of cattle with the same weight, color and health treatment. Those feeder cattle likely would be marketed and sold at the Canandaigua-based Finger Lakes Livestock Exchange, along with local cattle backgrounders and finishers who raise them to be slaughtered. The Finger Lakes sales barn, which hosts auctions twice monthly from September through December, sells calves to farmers who raise them for slaughter.

Beef cattle producers in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties already have considered joining the pool, Ms. Hodge said. Some 80 beef farmers own farmland in Jefferson and Lewis counties; there are about 80 beef farmers in St. Lawrence County alone. Some farmers have begun to raise their calves using practices recommended by educators, she said, who launched the feeder pool initiative in 2012.

“I think we’ve reached a point where they could get a group together, because we’ve worked on this a long time,” said Ms. Hodge, who recently applied for a $7,000 research grant to kick-start the initiative from the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. That funding will go toward research to determine what management practices farmers are using to raise calves.

“We want to get a handle on how farmers are marketing calves to sell now so that we know where to start,” said Ms. Hodge, a livestock educator at St. Lawrence County’s extension office. “Farmers who haven’t been to our meetings need to get on the same page.”

A few farmers in Jefferson and Lewis counties are interested in contributing cattle to the feeder pool, said Ronald A. Kuck, livestock educator for Jefferson County’s extension.

“We’re trying to recruit a group of like-minded beef farmers to do everything similar,” he said. “That’s going to attract a group of outside buyers that will be willing to make a trip to the north country. They’re willing to pay higher prices for cattle that have been vaccinated, castrated and weaned correctly.”

Those large groups of cattle could net up to 45 cents more per pound on the market than what they’ve garnered individually at auctions, Mr. Kuck said. That difference would equate to sales of about $270 more per head for 600-pound cattle.

The feeder pool initiative is expected to be launched on a small scale, Mr. Kuck said, then grow incrementally in successive years.

“If 10 guys contribute 10 calves, and five guys contribute 20, that would give us a pool of 200 to start out with,” he said.

The biggest buyers at the Canandaigua auction are seeking to buy large quantities of cattle, with 70 to 100 head that are transported in tractor trailers, said Michael J. Baker, beef cattle specialist at Cornell University, Ithaca. Dr. Baker, who helped launch the feeder pool program here, is hopeful enough beef farmers will participate to launch the program in the fall of 2014.

“Even if we don’t get the magic 70-head number to sell that trailer load next fall, we could get three or four farms to put together 50 or 60 calves,” Dr. Baker said. “We could either send them down together to the Finger Lakes sale barn, or we could leave them on the farms and have them described and presented at the sale; maybe even with a video, so that buyers can bid on them without being there at the barn.

“That would remove the stress of shipping them to the sale barn, and then to their ultimate destination. Those loads are going out of state to Kansas, Texas, Missouri and a variety of places, because we just don’t have a large feeding industry in New York.”

Out-of-state buyers are lured to the Canandaigua auction mainly because of the comparatively low prices for preconditioned feeder cattle, Dr. Baker said. Those calves now are sold at a relatively low price at the Finger Lakes Livestock Exchange, according to findings from a three-year study led by Cornell University. Data from the second year of the project, collected on nearly 10,000 cattle head and 3,900 lots, show they were sold at an average of $2.80 per hundredweight; that price is 29 cents per hundredweight less than the national average.

Adams beef farmer Donald H. Holman, who raises Angus cattle to be finished, said he might be interested in selling and buying calves in large numbers by participating in the feeder pool if it’s established. He now buys anywhere from 100 to 150 calves from about eight farmers who live within 50 miles of his farm. Once calves became full-sized adults with a weight of 1,200 to 1,500 pounds, he transports them to an auction barn in Paradise, Pa. He sells about 250 to 300 cattle a year.

If enough beef farmers join, “this pool could be phenomenal because you could go to one place, one time, and pick up 50, 100 or 200 head,” Mr. Holman said. “I now buy almost everything I need from private individuals, but if they join the pool then I’m going to still get those cattle, because I know them.”

The most lucrative market for cattle in the pool, however, likely will be among Midwest buyers, Mr. Holman said.

“The whole point of this pool is to get buyers from the Midwest to come up here because they can buy a potload of cattle,” he said. “They’ll keep coming here as long as they can take them in potloads of about 45,000 pounds.”

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times

Training for OSHA farm visits set Tuesday

Training for farmers to prepare for unexpected visits from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Copenhagen Fire Hall, 9950 Route 12. The cost is $30 to attend the program, which includes lunch.

The workshop hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County will include an afternoon visit to Milk Street Dairy, Woodville, to put the morning workshop into perspective.

To RSVP, contact Arthur Baderman from Jefferson County’s Extension office at 788-8450 or afb2@cornell.edu, or Peggy Murray from Lewis County’s Extension office at 376-5270 or mlm40@cornell.edu.

-Watertown Daily Times

Overnight stays spotlighted at Country Cousins Farm on Open Farm Sunday

Jack A. Laisdell, 4, Redwood, tours the dairy barn with his grandfather, Bob A. Laisdell, and sister, Lydia M. Laisdell, 2, (not pictured), during Open Farm Sunday at Country Cousins Farm in Evans Mills. Justin Sorensen/ Watertown Daily Times

Jack A. Laisdell, 4, Redwood, tours the dairy barn with his grandfather, Bob A. Laisdell, and sister, Lydia M. Laisdell, 2, (not pictured), during Open Farm Sunday at Country Cousins Farm in Evans Mills. Justin Sorensen/ Watertown Daily Times

Guests from New York City, New Jersey, Syracuse and Toronto got to experience authentic “country living” this summer by staying overnight at a cabin at Country Cousins Farm, a small, 57-cow dairy farm in Evans Mills.

That was one of the reasons Stanley S. Horning’s farm was chosen by Agri-Mark Cooperative as one of 51 dairy farms across the Northeast to host a public open house on Sunday. The third annual “Open Farm Sunday,” held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., featured Cabot and McCadam cheeses because milk from Country Cousins and other Agri-Mark members is used to make it. About 100 people visited the farm, 29415 Fults Road, and ate burgers topped with different Cabot cheeses, macaroni and cheese, and a variety of cheese samples.

Mr. Horning has owned the 270-acre farm with his wife, Sharon E., since 1993, when the couple moved here from Lancaster, Pa. The couple began hosting farm visits in May 2012.

A family of Ecuadorian immigrants from New York City stayed at the farm during the Fourth of July weekend, when they helped with chores and asked a plethora of questions. Mr. Horning said it was about 4 a.m. when the six-member group, including two children, arrived at the farm’s cabin, which has room for up to eight people and is equipped with two double beds, a pair of bunk beds, a futon and appliances including a television and coffee maker.

The guests from the Big Apple were initially amazed by how quiet it was on the farm, Mr. Horning said. The 50-year-old owner laughed when he recalled how the group reacted when the Hornings started morning chores at 4 a.m.

“They were scared because they weren’t used to the silence,” he said. “So when I called the cows from the pasture into the barn, it scared them. They heard me yelling, ‘C’mon, c’mon!’ to the cattle, and they ran outside to see what was happening and peered through the windows of the barn.”

Later during their stay, “the family spent some time to squeeze fresh milk right out of the cow to drink it up,” he said. “They also watched the sun come shimmering up from the horizon outside the cabin, which they don’t see in the city because it’s blocked by buildings.”

Peculiarities are commonly exhibited by guests who hail from big cities, Mr. Horning said. Some of them volunteer to get their hands dirty by helping with farm chores — milking cows, scraping manure and piling hay.

Others are more reclusive, choosing to stay in the cabin for most of their time.

Families are always welcomed to pitch in during morning chores before breakfast. Seven days a week, Mr. Horning and his 17-year-old son, Derek L., wake up early to milk and feed the herd together. But most guests, understandably, elect to help during the afternoon shift instead.

This August, “we had the father of a family from Syracuse who got up with us early once for chores,” Mr. Horning said. “We don’t ask them to do anything they don’t want to do. But if they want to get in there to scrape the manure and milk cows at 4 a.m., they’re welcome to help.”

In early August, the Hornings rented the cabin to a young man in his mid-20s who came from the coast of New Jersey. As a limousine chauffeur habituated to city life, the urbanite had no prior knowledge of farming.

“He liked it here so much that he stayed an extra day,” Mr. Horning said. “We tried to teach him the difference between the cows, but it seemed to all go over his head. He helped bale hay, and we took him for a ride on the tractor. He had family suppers with us during the evenings and played cards.”

The Hornings haven’t yet attracted enough visitors to make a profit on the cabin, Mr. Horning said. He expects it to take three to five years to build a strong client base. But the Christian family — who advertises the farm stays as a ministry — didn’t open the cabin simply to rake in cash.

“At some point, we’ll hopefully make some money to cover our costs, but this cabin thing is more about the ministry for us,” Mr. Horning said.
Jefferson County dairy princess Casey S. Porter, 17, served food and mingled with visitors Sunday. Eight other dairy princesses and ambassadors from Jefferson and Lewis counties also volunteered.

“The farm stays offered here are awesome,” Miss Porter said. “They give people an opportunity to see what goes on at a farm. It tends to be tough for people to understand because publicity (about farms) in the media is sometimes negative.”

Visit www.countrycousinsfarm.com to learn more about the farm.

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times

Variety of vendors contributed to busy season at Watertown farmers market

Customers check out the wares Wednesday at the last Watertown Farm & Craft Market of the season on Washington Street.

Aubrey J. Smith, a 9-week-old, napped in her stroller Wednesday morning at the Watertown Farm & Craft Market on Washington Street while Margaret G. Patchen gingerly pulled a purple crocheted hat — made cute by a pink flower — over her head.

The baby continued to sleep undisturbed as the $8 hat was removed and paid for by her mother, Marlana J. Smith, during the last day of the market hosted by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce.

Mrs. Patchen said her sales were up from last year at the market, where a total of 57 vendors participated this season. She attributed that success to an expanded offering of handmade items, including tutu dresses made for young girls and priced from $15 to $40. She also sold turtleneck sweaters for short-haired dogs, designed to keep them warm during the winter.

“I’ve heard many times from customers that I should sell more than just hats during the summer, and the tutus have been very popular this season,” she said. “You have to keep changing things up to have people come back every year to buy things.”

The variety of vendors at the farmers market this year impressed Mrs. Smith, who visited the market for the first time Wednesday with her husband, Jacob W. Smith, a 24-year-old Fort Drum soldier who returned from Afghanistan two weeks ago. The young couple from Fort Smith, Ark., said the farmers market is a notch above others they’ve visited.

In Arkansas, “markets are usually out of town so you have to drive a half-hour, and they only sell fruits and vegetables,” Mrs. Smith said. “I like having the variety here, and it’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I’ll be back next summer.”

A line of people waited Wednesday at the fruit and vegetable stand run by Simmons Farm of Copenhagen. Purchasing a handful of cucumbers grown at the farm was Kimberlin S. Ponciano. The Watertown resident, who is employed as a nurse at Samaritan Medical Center, has been a loyal customer at the market.

“I usually buy cucumbers and squash to make salads,” the 31-year-old said. “I also like to buy bottles of wine from Coyote Moon.”

Ms. Ponciano is among a group of regular customers who buy fresh produce from Simmons Farm. Vendor Shari L. Simmons often sells out of fruits and vegetables, which fill baskets to the brim when the market opens at 6:30 a.m. Wednesdays. One new trend is that customers now are sending her text messages with their shopping lists to reserve their purchases in advance, she said.

On Wednesday, customers made large orders to stock their freezers with fresh produce for the winter.

“A lot of my customers would be happy if they could spend the entire year at the farmers market without having to go to the grocery store,” said Mrs. Simmons, 54. “They like it here because they know where their stuff comes from.”

Patrons who are natives of Southern states often have a penchant for sweet-tasting wines offered by Coyote Moon Vineyards, said Lori S. Randazzo, co-owner of the Clayton-based winery. Its wine called Fire Boat Red, made with Concord grapes, is especially popular at Coyote Moon, which has been a vendor at the market for four years.

“We call it ‘sweet nectar from the north country,’ because a lot of people from the South like the sweet wines and come here just to buy them,” Mrs. Randazzo said.

Thanks to a grant of about $10,000 from the state FreshConnect program secured this year by the Watertown chamber, special discounts for low-income families were offered this season. For every $5 purchase made with EBT cards, customers received a $2 discount coupon, said Georgia F. Gagnon, assistant market manager. Ms. Gagnon, who was hired by the chamber thanks to the FreshConnect grant, said the program aims to make fresh produce affordable for low-income families.

“We’ve gotten quite a few new customers who have asked about how this works,” she said. “We usually get large crowds here at the beginning of the month when people get their food stamps. Saving $8 in coupons when you spend $40” is a good incentive.

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times