How Will Mandatory Overtime Pay Impact Agriculture?

Jay Matteson

Agriculture tends to be a labor-intensive industry. Dairy farms depend upon labor for everything from milking cows to planting and harvesting crops.  Apple Orchards have only a few weeks to harvest apples in the fall.  Vegetable farms need help all season long planting, weeding, harvesting and processing their produce. New York agriculture is second only to California in the cost of farm labor as a percentage of the value of receipts for products sold.   Farm labor is 13.2 percent of the value of farm receipts in New York state. The national average is 9.5 percent

    High risk is part of farming especially when you consider the dependency on natural cycles and Mother Nature.  A cold wet summer or hot dry growing season can equally spell disaster. Diseases and illness can severely impact crops and livestock.  A disease or crop pest can sweep in on the wind unexpectedly and wipe out crops. Livestock herds may be impacted by illness, requiring money and labor to help nurse a herd back to health.

    Most important, when thinking about the impact of labor on agriculture, is the seasonal vulnerability of the farm.  Short windows exist to plant and harvest crops. These periods are intense and workers hired to perform planting and harvest know coming in to the position, they’ll work many hours to get the job done.  This is part of farming and is expected.

    Mix all of this, with slim margins and, for dairy farms, no control on the price they are paid for their product, and you have an industry that is very susceptible to negative impacts from government imposed arbitrary mandates. In New York state minimum wage increases and now a proposed mandate for overtime pay for farm workers could place many farms, or their workers, in jeopardy.

    The New York State Senate and Assembly have introduced legislation to mandate farms pay their employees overtime if they work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. According to a report from Farm Credit East, “The Economic Impact of Mandatory Overtime Pay for New York State Agriculture” (February 2019), estimated farm labor costs would increase 17.2 percent. This is in addition to the impacts of increasing minimum wage.

    Combined together, mandatory overtime pay and scheduled minimum wage increases will cost our farms in New York state $299 million, the Farm Credit East report indicates, as well as driving down net farm income by 23.4 percent.   That is hard to fathom.  New York state is imposing mandates that will drive down net farm income by almost 25 percent, according to Farm Credit East, a respected and well-established financial institution. It is also notable that payroll taxes and workers compensation costs, paid to New York state, will increase.

                It is not hard to anticipate how farms will adjust to these government mandated expenses. In talking with farm owners, there are three common replies. One common response is that they will reduce full time employees to part time workers. Part-time workers do not receive all the benefits paid to full-time employees and the farm will have several part-time workers coming in shifts to do the work of a full-time worker. This allows the farm the ability to avoid mandatory overtime pay.  Another response is to cut benefits paid to workers to make up the difference in overtime pay. A third common response is to shift to less labor-intensive crops and reduce the farm workforce.  In any of these scenarios, it is a lose-lose-lose situation.  The farmworkers will lose, the farm will lose, and New York State will lose. It is that simple. A question for you, how much more are you willing to pay for your food?

Women’s Roles in Agriculture Grow Strong

ALYSSA COUSE

I recently attended The New York Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Conference in Albany.  The theme of the meeting was “Young Farmers- The Future Agriculture Superheroes”.  It is no secret that the agriculture industry has experienced volatility in recent years, whether it be changing markets, new regulations, or extreme weather, so investing in the future of the industry is more crucial than ever.  Building versatile, resilient, invested young leaders is becoming more of a focus and as you look around the room, there is no doubt a growing proportion of lip gloss wearing, braid-bearing farmers. 

    The keynote speaker of the conference, Vance Crowe, director of millennial engagement for Bayer Crop Sciences, discussed the importance of telling the story of farming and building relationships with consumers.  It is evident that this is a significant task, even just from the fact that millennial engagement and consumer relations are now job titles within agribusinesses.  More often than not, it is the mother, sister, aunt, etc. on the farm that takes on the role of managing social media pages, community events/tours, and newsletters. Most women have the inherent finesse to connect emotionally in creative ways, which is key to building relationships with consumers these days.  In addition to online or written outreach, many farms today are incorporating more opportunities for visitors to get a hands on experience. 

    Some farms take advantage of their home being a tourist destination and participate in some form of agritourism.  Agritourism involves encouraging visitors to a farm/ranch for any agriculturally based operation.  Activities offered can be equine boarding facilities, u-pick fruit and veggie patches, farm tours, hay rides, petting zoos, and open houses just to name a few! This can also be an extra source of income for farms and an opportunity to diversify from everyday production. Such experiences are quite literally being craved by consumers today as they yearn to learn more about when, where, and how their food came to be.  This need stems most directly from the fact that many young people today are four to five generations separated from the farming lifestyle.  What the agriculture industry once took for granted was the innate trust and knowledge of the food system that once was, when almost every family had a part in the production from dairy farms to road side stands.  Today, less than 2 percent of the population are involved in production farming.  Yes, those 2 percent are feeding themselves and the other 98 percent.  Thus, reestablishing people’s connections to their food and how it was produced is a growing need.

    Agritourism was another area we focused on at the recent conference, specifically the new Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act.  The “Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act,” now part of New York’s General Obligations Law (“GOL”), provides that owners and operators of agricultural tourism areas “shall not be liable for an injury to or death of a visitor if the provisions of General Obligations Law Section 18-303(1)(a) – (e) are met.” Statutory requirements for protection include directional signage, employee training, warning to visitors concerning inherent risks of farm activities, operator provided written information, visitor responsibility signage, posting of notice of right to a refund, and operator duties. In a nutshell, in order to protect visitors and business owners, there must be posted signage stating any potential risks and well trained employees to help ensure safe and enjoyable experiences.  When thinking about compliance for your agritourism business, think like a paranoid mother of a toddler! What can they get into? What could go wrong? Then make a sign warning against those actions.  For example, if guests are able to feed livestock treats, warn them to be cautious of being nibbled, because fingers look a lot like carrots. It is important to make signage specific to the operation and not just post a few general warning signs. To ensure that coverage requirements are met, it is best to work with a lawyer.  

    For more information: https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/Press%20Releases/Inherent_Risk_Guidance.pdf

    Women’s roles in agriculture continue to grow exponentially.  Based on observations of the crowd at recent leadership conferences, you can expect the female voice to become louder throughout the industry in the years to come.  In addition to becoming great farmers, they will become leaders in technology, marketing, and communications.

Agricultural Outlook for 2019

ALYSSA COUSE

This time last year, I wrote about the upcoming farm bill and hopes for 2018.  As government typically moves at a molasses-like pace, here we are into 2019 talking about the same farm bill, and with the same hopes for the new year as the last.

    Here are a few reactions from the recent passage of the farm bill from New York Farm Bureau President and NNY farmer, David Fisher and Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue respectively.  Both comments focus on the dairy safety net program, which has been a hot topic during the current crisis in the industry:

    “Today’s final vote for the 2018 Farm Bill is a major victory for New York’s farmers, rural communities and consumers. Farmers needed stronger risk management tools in place moving into next year where there are signs that the economic stress will continue in the farming community. In particular, the new Farm Bill enhances the dairy safety net for farms of every size, including increasing the margin that qualifies for federal insurance programs. New York Farm Bureau also appreciates the research and support programs in the bill that will benefit New York’s specialty crop producers. Having some certainty moving forward in challenging times is a relief for farmers.” – NYFB President David Fisher 

    “More than 21,400 dairy producers opted for coverage through the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) in 2018, up by more than 2,000 producers from the previous year. This U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program was significantly updated in February by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said those changes attracted more producers to enroll in the safety net program or to increase their coverage.

    Dairy producers have long been battling low prices, high input costs, and a surplus in the global market. Unfortunately, the 2014 Farm Bill did not provide a sufficient safety net to dairy producers and so it was timely that Congress opted to provide additional support through the Margin Protection Program las February,” – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue

    Economic predictions seem to point towards an average increase of only about $1 per hundred weight of milk over 2019.  While it is nowhere near a complete solution, both Fisher and Perdue indicate that the new programs should provide some more relief to farmers than previous programs have.

    A strong leader is a vital role during hard times. Cornell University and Cooperative Extension have several programs currently in session to help dairy producers be the best mangers they can be.  Academy of Dairy Executives is being hosted in the north country region this year and kicked off in December.  Designed for future managers, this program focuses on building effective teams, decision making, and financial stability.  These skills are vital for survival in the current dairy market.

    For more on the program CLICK HERE.

    At the first Academy for Dairy Executives session, agriculture workforce specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Richard Stup, included a slide in his presentation about dairy industry workforce and team building that stuck with me:

    “Never waste a good crisis”

Teams need some adversity to really grow

Stay positive and point out little wins

Frame up the story as eventual victory over adversity

    While this message could be applicable to any field, it rings loud and clear for agriculture right now.  By viewing industry challenges as a chance for growth or improvement and pointing out the little victories, such as a reduced vet bill this month, are much easier to focus on than the stagnant milk price or more bills.  Staying positive and fine tuning efficiencies on the farm may sound easier said than done but can be attainable if everyone is on the same page.

    Other upcoming programs in the north country include Dairy Day, Crop Congress, and monthly shop talks.  In addition to research updates and economic outlooks, winter programs like Crop Congress will feature information on how to best utilize your acres for your farm, and for the volatile market changes we’ve seen.  For more information on dates and locations, visit ccejefferson.org or check social media outlets!

So how can you help the north country’s farmers this year?

    Chat with them. Purchase New York products. Have a question about why the farm down the road does something? Ask.  By connecting with your local farms whether by farm tour, farmer’s market, or a simple conversation at the end of the driveway, trust can be strengthened between producer and consumer, which benefits everyone.  

CLICK HERE for the local food guide!

Alyssa Couse is an agricultural outreach educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Born and raised in the north country, she feels at home working with Jefferson County residents, both two-legged and four-legged. Contact her at amc557@cornell.edu.

A Healthy Organization For Healthy Communities

ALYSSA COUSE

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County is recognized for its community involvement in many different capacities. However, one theme seems to intertwine them all: healthy communities.  From out to pasture to on post, CCE Jefferson promotes overall wellness throughout the county.  If you aren’t yet familiar with our office, you can find educators in the areas of agriculture, youth development, nutrition, military life and parenting.  When you hear the term “health,” fruits, veggies and exercise probably come to mind, but social and mental health are also important to overall wellness and successful communities. 

Nutrition and Parenting

                In addition to teaching healthy cooking classes and bringing healthy recipes to area schools, the CCE Jefferson Nutrition Program helps other organizations to become healthy workplaces.  Through the Adopting Healthy Habits Community Coalition, wellness policies are developed and changes are implemented to make grabbing a nutritious snack or being active in the workplace a possibility.  If you are interested in getting your organization started, check out the Adopting Healthy Habits page on http://ccejefferson.org/nutrition/adopting-healthy-habits

                The nutrition and parenting departments also interact with families on a daily basis.  Whether it be financial stress or tension within the family unit, educators provide direct assistance to help these families get the most out of their money and their relationships.  For example, Eat Smart New York (ESNY) is a free and completely confidential program that teaches shopping on a budget, meal planning, food safety, etc., to ensure better physical health.  In addition, parenting courses are offered to improve the mental and emotional state of local homes. 

4-H

                4-H youth development is also making health a focus of its programming.  After all, health is one of the H’s! (head, heart, health, hands). As an agriculture educator, I was invited to attend one session during the 4-H afterschool farm-to-table unit. The program began with a healthy snack (varies by day, but usually includes milk and fresh fruit options) and a few minutes to unwind after the school day.  The group had been working on an extensive food web showing how food and other products, such as leather goods, make it from farm to consumers’ homes.  That particular day, the lesson focused on dairy products.  I brought the ever popular wooden milking cow and discussed as much about lactation, cattle nutrition and benefits of consuming dairy products as their attention spans could handle.   The session finished up with the students making their own butter!  This is just one example of how 4-H members are educated about healthy choices and where their food truly comes from.  Other programs, such as    4-H Yoga for Kids, not only teaches kids a new skill but also actually gets their bodies moving!

Agriculture

                The agriculture and food systems department focuses mostly on the health of Jefferson County’s plants, animals, and ecosystems to support the production of wholesome local foods and successful farms.  The health and well-being of the farmers themselves is a growing (pun intended) priority within the industry.  With low commodity prices, increased expenses, and lack of rain, farmers need help now more than ever.  To help with the social stress and even depression that has come with the economic downturn, CCE offices all over the state are connecting producers with resources such as NY FarmNet, transition plans, and even crisis hotlines.  NY FarmNet is a Cornell University program that provides financial counseling as well as personal counseling for struggling farm families.  How can you help the health of farm families? Support them by simply buying their products: milk, cheese, yogurt, fruits and veggies, meats and whole grains.

                There is no escaping healthy habits in this office either. A centrally located healthy snack center makes it easy to choose nutritious snacks like carrots, almonds, or cheese versus chips or sweets. Many staff choose to spend their breaks going for a walk around the block or participate in a monthly challenge.  For example, a challenge might be who can make the most trips up the stairs in a work day.  Just yesterday, we had a six-member team of afternoon break walkers! Even the bathroom stalls are plastered with flyers for physical or food challenges. Staff members also share their heathy habits on the CCE Worksite Wellness Facebook page.  Whether it is hiking with the family, a Zumba class, or kayaking, here you can see how staff practice what they preach…. even after hours!

Interested in finding local foods? Check out the Local Food Guide:

https://s3.amazonaws.com/assets.cce.cornell.edu/attachments/30623/2018_Local_Food_Guide_FINAL.pdf?1526321007

Power Lines Can Inhibit Farm Production

Jay Matteson

Imagine you are a farmer. It is the beginning of spring and you are excited to head out to the fields to start preparing ground and planting your crops.  You’ve had a tough go of it for the last couple years because the price you get paid for your milk has been lower than what it costs you to make the milk.  You’ve lost a lot of equity in the farm and had to borrow money to cover operating costs. But it is spring time and with spring comes renewed optimism in the growing season and what lies ahead for your business. 

    The farmer arrives at one of his fields to find new cable lines installed on existing utility poles that are on a right of way given decades ago.  The new cable lines go directly across the middle of the field and are barely 12 feet off the ground.  The tractor you are sitting in needs 15 feet of clearance to pass under the utility lines.  This is not a good way to start the season after the previous bad year. What does the farmer do? 

    Some might say farm around the utility line.  If the farmer can find a way to get his equipment to the opposite side of the field, the farmer could plant as close to the right of way as possible.  Previously the farm was able to plant underneath the existing lines. The only production lost was the footprint of the utility poles. Now, because the farmer cannot plant underneath the utility lines, the farm loses several acres of crop land. If the farmer paid $3,000 an acre when he or she bought the land, the economic loss to the farm quickly builds. In addition, the farm has lost feed production for livestock, that will need to be made up elsewhere.  With large modern farming equipment, it’s not easy to change the cropping pattern to maximize a smaller field.  This decreases potential production. The economic impact of the low utility lines quickly builds into the tens of thousands of dollars.

    The National Electric Safety Code (NESC) prescribes minimum requirements for clearances between overhead utility facilities and land traversed by vehicles. NESC Rule 232 covers the vertical clearances of wires, conductors, cables and equipment above the ground, roadway, rail, or water surfaces. Rule 232 indicates the minimum clearance for communication lines on utility poles, usually the lowest of all lines on poles, is 15 feet, 5 inches.  This distance is measured at the lowest point of the line “sag” to the surface below, such as a farm field.

    Rule 232 indicates that if facilities are out of compliance with current NESC standards, the applicable utility shall be responsible for rectifying the situation. If the facilities are shown to follow the standards, but the farmer desires the line to be elevated to allow for access or equipment operation, the farmer is responsible for paying the cost of the work to elevate the line.

    If utility lines are encountered that are in the way of equipment, farmers should never attempt to touch or move the line. The line should always be considered “live” and dangerous. Farmers are advised to contact the appropriate utility company. If the farm is not successful in determining the name of the company, then they should contact the local electric company.   In the event the issue is not being resolved satisfactorily, then contact the New York State Department of Public Service at 1-800-342-3377.

                Our office is currently working with a local utility company to rectify problems with new utility line installation.  The company has indicated a strong willingness to work with our farms and that is very appreciated. If any farmer has questions, please call our office at 315-782-5865.

June Festival Offers Ag Education Opportunities

ALYSSA COUSE

Now more than ever children need to be educated about agriculture.  Mainly due to the fact that if they aren’t taught about it, they may never understand it or be able to experience it.  Most kids are three to four generations separated from farming, which makes having hands on experience and knowledge of the food system much harder to grasp.  The message that food originates from farms and doesn’t magically appear on the grocery store shelves is becoming more crucial to relay to our future consumers.  A few examples of efforts being made locally to help increase agriculture and food awareness include farm tours, Agriculture Literacy week, and participating in community events, such as career fairs and festivals. 

    An upcoming event is the 2018 Dairyland Festival and Parade.  This is an annual event held in June, because June is dairy month! So, you may be wondering why we dedicate a whole day to dairy.  New York is the third highest milk producing state, only preceded by California and Wisconsin.  There are over 160 dairy farms in Jefferson County, alone as well as several dairy processing plants.  Dairy farming is evidently a staple of north country agriculture and the economy. Many have tried to imitate this natural product with different substitutes, but none have come close to wholesome, nutrient-packed milk.  Cow’s milk has nine essential nutrients and according to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference on the American Dairy Association website, they are called essential for a reason.  These nutrients are potassium, protein, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, and Vitamin A.  In just one eight-ounce glass of milk, regardless of flavor, there is as much potassium as one banana, as much protein as 1 ½ medium eggs, as much riboflavin as 1/3 cup of almonds, 20 cherry tomatoes worth of Niacin, the same amount of calcium as 10 cups of raw spinach, one cup of kidney beans worth of Phosphorus, as much Vitamin B-12 as 4 ounces of cooked turkey, ¾ ounce of cooked salmon worth of vitamin D, and as much Vitamin A as ¾ cup of broccoli.  Thus milk is one of the most affordable, nutrient-dense sources of nutrition.  Chocolate milk has even been proven to be one of the best recovery beverages an athlete could ask for.

     This year’s Dairyland event will be held at the Dulles State Office Building on Friday, June 1st.  This is also World Milk Day, thus the theme “As the World Churns: Celebrating World Milk Day.”  From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the doors are open to elementary school students, teachers, parents, and the public to go through and learn from farmers, agencies, and organizations involved in agriculture in Jefferson County.  Visitors will get to sample different dairy products, participate in games/activities, and get hands-on with animals, plants, and food!  A few examples include the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s infamous wooden milking cow, making cheese curd and butter, garden in a glove, Dairy princess and her court, and a Critter Corner full of animals to visit.  Since the theme of this April’s magazine is motorsports, I’ll mention that there will be equipment and farm safety demonstrations at Dairyland Festival as well!  Tractors, ATVs, skid steers, and trucks are vital for efficient operation of most modern dairy farms.

    The fun continues later that evening at the Dairyland Parade.  Downbeat Percussion, the official drumline of the Buffalo Bills, will kick things off with a performance starting at 6 p.m. in the Dulles State Office Building courtyard.  The “As the World Churns: Celebrating World Milk Day” Parade will start its route at 7 p.m. from Watertown High School to the State Office Building.  If you are into motors, this parade is for you! Farm equipment of all shapes, sizes, and colors will be comingled among the floats and marching bands. (to join the parade, visit http://www.comefarmwithus.com/dairyland-festival-and-parade/ ). Afterword, the Jefferson County Dairy Princess Court will be serving a free giant ice cream sundae to participants and attendees.

If you are interested in reading more about dairy products, check out: 

https://www.americandairy.com/

https://www.midwestdairy.com/nutrition-and-health/dairy-nutrition/

https://www.choosemyplate.gov/dairy-nutrients-health

If you are interested in EXPERIENCING more…. see you at the Dairyland Festival and Parade, June 1, 2018!

alyssa couse is an agricultural outreach educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Born and raised in the north country, she feels at home working with Jefferson County residents, both two-legged and four-legged. Contact her at amc557@cornell.edu.

Growing Our Workforce

Jay Matteson

Recently we completed the 2018 Jefferson County Agricultural Development Conference. It was an exciting program with a broad agenda that explored agriculture locally, at the state level and globally. In addition to the actual agenda for the conference, there were several efforts to grow our local agricultural workforce represented.  I didn’t realize until I stood at the podium and thanked everyone for attending, how these efforts were to be represented.

    On our agenda for the conference was our keynote speaker, Mr. Maurice (Moe) Russell.  Moe owns Russell Consulting Group, located in Iowa, which advises farmers not only in the United States, but around the World on marketing and financial issues.  Moe’s presentation focused on the outlook for agriculture in 2018 and beyond and explored the challenges and opportunities facing our farms.  Moe’s presentation was dynamic and challenging.  I expected that. What I wasn’t anticipating, and welcomed, was his message he gave for people coming in to agriculture.  Despite the crisis the dairy industry is in right now, Moe told the audience that there will still be tremendous opportunity for people to work in agriculture.  Even when challenged by a local farmer because of the dairy crisis, Moe stood his ground. He acknowledged the challenges faced by dairy farmers but said there is a future for farming in New York State, including dairy, and we need people, especially young people, to pursue the growing demand for agricultural products.

    In the audience at the conference were students from the agribusiness program at Jefferson Community College.  I had the opportunity to serve as an adjunct instructor for the Agricultural Law and Regulations course this semester.  Seven students, some of whom were present, participated in the class.   It was exciting to be the instructor for the class. As a one credit hour class, we just completed meeting for 2 hours a week for eight weeks to meet course requirements.  Every week the students came to class enthusiastic to learn more.  I challenged them with a course project in which each student had to identify an agribusiness they wanted to start and the community where they wanted to locate the business.  Throughout the eight weeks, the students had to identify the various laws impacting agriculture and especially their business.  The students had to contact resource specialists knowledgeable about the laws and regulations they would be impacted by.  Their task was to interview the specialists and learn how they could comply with the laws and regulations.  The students were tasked with presenting projects and their findings, to the class as if we were a municipal planning board. The project counted as 45% of their overall course grade. It was neat to see the students embrace the class and complete these projects.  To have the students attend the Ag Conference was encouraging as they were able to listen to several presenters provide an interesting, “60,000 feet” program on agriculture.

    Our final panel discussion at the Ag Conference featured Terrence Harris, Associate Vice President of Workforce Development at Jefferson Community College, Bill Stowell, Agriculture program teacher and FFA advisor at South Jefferson High School and Professor William Jones, Chief Diversity and Affirmative Action Officer at SUNY Canton. The three panelists discussed perspectives on the future of agriculture.  Their conversation discussed the strengths and weaknesses of our agricultural workforce.  It was interesting to hear each relate the opportunities they see and the demand for students to go into agriculture careers.  The use of technology in agriculture, each panelist agreed, should be a huge draw for the younger generations who are very interested in technology.  The three indicated that the agricultural industry fails, unfortunately, to emphasize how technology is used, which then results in losing students to other careers.   They encouraged everyone present to think about the messaging we are using to attract people in to the industry and how it might be imporved.

    As the Conference went on during the day, the conversations discussed the opportunities and challenges of working in agriculture.  It was interesting to observe how the need for people to come into agriculture was present in every discussion, it was better to see how there were young people around the room, who recognize this opportunity and are trying to pursue it.  Just in case you are interested in an agricultural career, we encourage you to visit mygpsforsuccess.com and explore the agriculture section of the website.

 

Women’s Role in Ag Industry Increasing

ALYSSA COUSE

You may have noticed there are more female faces behind the windshield of a tractor and more mascara around the agribusiness roundtable. It is undeniable that the face of agriculture is changing. Exhibit A: I am a living, breathing example. I am a graduate of St. Lawrence University (65 percent female) who went on to do an agricultural research experience at William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, which comprised of a class of 12 female interns, working hand-in-hand with the research director, as well as one of the PhDs who is principal investigator for many of the research trials, both of whom are female. The trend continues as I navigate through my first two years at my current job with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.

    The majority of staff in our local office are women and the North country Regional Agriculture team is 5:1. This is evident in the agricultural youth groups CCE caters to as well. Here’s a few examples: The 2016-17 Dairy Prospects class, a group of local high school students exploring careers in the dairy industry, was comprised of seven young women and only one young man. A number of young girls became new 4-H members this year. The Dairy Princess program, facilitated by the Jefferson County Ag Promotion Board, which is also majority farm women, mothers, and young female professionals, is through the American Dairy Association North East. It provides opportunities for girls who are passionate about the industry to educate other youth and spread awareness of the value of dairy products and the people that produce them. If you hadn’t guessed from the name, this is currently an exclusively female group…for now. We hope to acquire some “dairy dudes” to help advocate for dairy locally as many of the girls have brothers, cousins and friends that already help at events.

    To give you a broader perspective, the number of farms operated by women has more than doubled since 1978 according to the USDA 2012 Ag Census. Across the country, nearly 300,000 women serve as principal operators on 62.7 million acres of farm and ranchland, accounting for $12.9 billion in farm products in 2012. There are 18, 750 women farmers in New York State (34% of NY farmers) alone and they represent 2,635,328 acres of NYS land, and have a $215.9 million economic impact (USDA). The USDA supports projects designed to help women in agriculture improve production, develop good business and risk management practices, and transfer knowledge to other women agricultural leaders. To help connect this growing group, the USDA created a Women in Ag mentoring network at AgWomenLEAD@usda.gov and by searching #womeninag on social media you can join the conversation.

    While these alone are some astonishing numbers, this does not include the women who work in the agricultural industry off-farm. Countless more women live, work, and raise families in rural America in addition to being veterinarians, nutritionists, breeders, consultants, researchers, saleswomen, legislators, educators, etc. This trend is due a great deal to the fact that more young women are pursuing animal science, environmental science, sustainability, ag communications, and food science degrees. Between 2004 and 2012, the largest percent increases of bachelor degrees awarded to women included environmental science (128%), food science and technology (98%), animal sciences (52%), agricultural mechanization and engineering (49%), and fisheries and wildlife (45%).                

    “Better representation of women in agriculture means more than just an increase in the amount of food produced on women-owned or women-operated farms and ranches. It means expanded opportunity for today’s women agriculturalists to access credit and grow their operations, assume leadership roles at the local, state, and federal level, and perform cutting-edge research that will help ensure the future food security of our nation and the world.” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

    Interested in joining in? Here are several “women in agriculture” resources:

Dairy girl network
https://dairygirlnetwork.com/
 

Women in Ag mentoring network AgWomenLEAD@usda.gov

Dairy Food Advocacy Network (DairyFAN) http://mail.adadc.com/dairyfan.html

Annie’s Project http://www.anniesproject.org/home/media/AnniesStory.pdf

NYS Senator Patty Ritchie Press Release https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/patty-ritchie/women-sowing-seeds-agriculture

ALYSSA COUSE is an agricultural outreach educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Born and raised in the north country, she feels at home working with Jefferson County residents, both two-legged and four-legged. Contact her at amc557@cornell.edu.

Agricultural Development Conference on March 23

Jay Matteson

On Friday, March 23, agriculture will be showcased at the annual Jefferson County Agricultural Development Conference at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown. The conference is free to attend, but advance registration is required by March 16. The morning agenda will look at local agricultural development efforts underway or proposed for Northern New York. A nationally recognized keynote speaker will discuss opportunities and challenges for our agricultural industry in 2018 and beyond during our midday program. In the afternoon, the event will feature panel discussions that examine the future of agriculture and workforce development issues. Those interested in more information or in registering should call (315) 782-5865.

    Our keynote speaker, Moe Russell, is the cofounder of Russell Consulting Group, a leading provider of marketing and financial advice to crop and livestock producers.  Moe is a frequent business speaker on motivation, planning and entrepreneurship. He developed a webinar series on commodity marketing and writes for Farm Journal magazine.

    Prior to starting Russell Consulting, he spent 26 years with Farm Credit Services and served as division president, branch lending, where he was responsible for 82 lending offices in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. Moe has international consulting experience in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Middle East and South Africa. He is also on the faculty of the “The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers” (TEPAP) program at Texas A & M University.

    Our keynote presentation will begin at 11 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m. with a break for lunch. Immediately following the keynote presentation, Moe Russell will be joined onstage by Mr. Chris Laughton, director of knowledge exchange at Farm Credit East and John Jennings, plant manager of Great Lakes Cheese in Adams. The panel will build upon Mr. Russell’s presentation, examining current events in agriculture, the strengths and weaknesses of Northern New York agriculture, and will discuss their thoughts on how to grow our industry.

    The conference begins at 8:15am with an important update on the Regional Food Hub Program and what efforts are being made to help farms with marketing and distributing their food products. Building upon the food hub program, we’ll also learn about the Drive for 25 Farm to School initiative to get more local farm products onto our school lunch menus.  These two programs are chipping away at the barriers that have made it difficult for produce farms to thrive in our region.

    At 9:30 a.m., there will be a report on the International Agribusiness Park of the Thousand Islands. Much work is being done to develop this industrial park for agriculture and conference participants will hear the progress being made on this exciting project. Tied to the Agribusiness Park presentation, Dr. Travis Maddock from Dakota Global Group of North Dakota will be on hand to discuss the feasibility of a USDA meat processing facility here in northern New York. 

    Our final program of the day features a panel discussion on pathways for agricultural workforce development.   The panel discussion begins at 2:30 p.m. and features Dr. Stephen Todd, superintendent of Jefferson – Lewis BOCES, Dr. William Jones, who helped create the new agribusiness degree program at SUNY Canton, and William Stowell, agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at South Jefferson High School. This panel will discuss the various programs they are involved with at their institutions and what opportunities and needs they see affecting our agricultural workforce.

    The Jefferson County Agricultural Development Conference begins at 8:15 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown.  Participants may choose to attend a portion or all of the conference.  Lunch is served from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. The entire program is free thanks to sponsorship from Afgritech LLC, Great Lakes Cheese Co., Midway International Logistics, North Harbor Dairy Farms, Farm Credit East, Monroe Tractor and Jefferson County Local Development Corporation.  To learn more about the program or register, one may call (315) – 782-5865, email coordinator@comefarmwithus.com or visit www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com .

Jay Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Contact him at coordinator@comefarmwithus.com. His column appears every other month in NNY Business.

An Agricultural Outlook for 2018

ALYSSA COUSE

Intense anticipation for the next farm bill stems from the pressure that farmers are under due to the “kick me while I’m down” status the industry has experienced the last few years.  Low commodity prices, unpredictable weather, diminishing markets, raise in minimum wage, and just plain getting older to name a few.  While some have adapted to survive the times, others have had no choice but to sell out.  Martin Luther King, Jr., who we honor on the 15th day of this month, said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 

                With the drought of summer 2016 leaving farms with minimal options other than to pay to drill more wells, pay for water to be trucked in, and pay for their feed commodities to be sourced in because they were unable to grow a sufficient crop on their own land, wallets were also sucked dry. Coming into the fourth year of low milk and commodity prices, farms could have used a bumper crop year in 2017 to help compensate, but instead fields were flooded by rain.  Planting and harvest was less than desirable and sometimes impossible. To learn more about making the best out of your core acres and feeding the right crop versus the best crop during tough years (among other great dairy related topics), see Joe Lawrence/Ron Kuck speak at Dairy Day Jan. 23 at Ramada Inn in Watertown. To register, call CCE Jefferson at 315-788-8450 or email me at amc557@cornell.edu

                In challenging times it is common to feel like you are alone in your struggles; this is not the case.  Financial and emotional counseling is available to help you make the best decisions for the farm and your family.  Such services are available through local organizations like Cornell Cooperative Extension, NY FarmNet, SCORE, Farm Credit, and USDA Farm Service Agency.  

How the Government could help: Farm Bill and Tax Reform

      The first farm bill was in 1933 as a response to major hardships resulting from events such as The Great Depression and Dust Bowl and they continued sporadically in the decades to come.  It was not until the 1970’s that the farm bill was taken up by Congress on a set, four–year schedule.  The latest is available for download on the USDA’s website if you’d like 357 pages worth of light reading.  The farm bill has been described with analogies like a two–engine freight train or a Swiss army knife with many tools available for use in a pocket–sized gadget.  Though these objects are drastically different, they both indicate that the farm bill is multifaceted.  It contains 12 titles and while content remains fairly constant, titles can vary from farm bill to farm bill: Title I: Commodities, Title II: Conservation, Title III: Trade, Title IV: Nutrition, Title V: Credit, Title VI: Rural Development, Title VII: Research and Extension, Title VIII: Forestry, Title IX: Energy, Title X: Horticulture, Title XI: Crop Insurance, and Title XII: Miscellaneous. Unbeknownst to most, 80 percent of the funds go to nutrition programs.

                Budget reconciliation, which allows for reconsideration of certain tax, spending and debt limitations, is important to mention in the context of the 2018 bill due to the fact that House and Senate Republican leaders have announced their intention to use this tactic at least twice throughout 2017.  Dairy, crop insurance, and commodities are among the areas stated to be in need of substantial reform.  For example, the Margin Protection Program that was created for dairy in the 2014 Farm Bill has left many dairy producers severely dissatisfied.  Many farms grow their own crops to feed their animals so improvements to these programs could have a positive impact on multiple aspects of their farm business. Several states would like disaster assistance to farmers facing droughts and other extreme weather events. Although Northern New York doesn’t have to deal with enormous wildfires or relentless hurricanes like other areas of the country, there is no doubt that drought and excessive precipitation has taken a significant toll on our local agricultural industry over the recent years. 

                In addition to the potential changes brought about by Farm Bill 2018, the new tax reform recently passed in late December could provide some relief for farmers.  A few ways the new tax bill could benefit farmers include repeal of estate tax, full expensing of certain capital investments, and lowering of tax rates on pass-through businesses, which comprises 94 percent of farms (heritage.org).  In last year’s economic outlook from Jay Matteson, an underlying message was one of hope. It seems that this sense of hope for the future has only intensified looking towards 2018.

Alyssa Couse is an agricultural outreach educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Born and raised in the north country, she feels at home working with Jefferson County residents, both two-legged and four -legged.  Contact her at amc557@cornell.edu.