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 or visit .

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

An Agricultural Outlook for 2018


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

                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 (  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

Attention Educators: Ag teachers needed!

Jay Matteson

BY: Jay Matteson

September 22 was National Teach Ag Day.  I had never heard of the day. But as I learned more about its purpose recently, it became necessary to share this story with you. National Teach Ag Day is organized by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.  A small part of the observance is to say thank you to the existing ag teachers across the United States for the fantastic job they do.  The primary reason for National Teach Ag Day is to highlight a gaping demand for ag teachers.

    The website for Teach Ag Day is The website makes very clear the purpose of the day is to “bring attention to the career of agricultural education, get students thinking about a possible career in agricultural education, and support agricultural teachers in their careers.”  There is currently a national shortage of agricultural educators at the high school level. Mrs. Tedra Bean, the Belleville Henderson High School Agricultural teacher recently told me, “there are 40 schools interested in starting agricultural education programs, but they don’t have agricultural teachers.”  Bill Stowell, ag educator at South Jefferson High School supported Mrs. Bean’s statement, adding that recently 24 ag teachers were added across New York state.

    Mr. Stowell and Mrs. Bean indicate that ag education programs at the high school level have three components: classroom instruction; FFA membership and participation; and supervised agricultural experiences.  The classroom instruction includes regular classroom instruction and laboratory learning.  Classroom instruction may cover sciences, business development, and a variety of other courses that develop the knowledge base of the student.  Laboratory instruction involves hands-on learning that may include handling animals, plants, food products, and technology. FFA brings a great opportunity to build leadership and communicative skills as well as the critical tools of time management. FFA ( also allows students to join with thousands of students across the U.S. sharing common interests in a dynamic and large youth-led organization.  Supervised Agricultural Experiences provide students the opportunity to go into fields of their interest and gain true work experience. They may work in a number of fields that could include communications, farming, agribusiness, veterinary, environmental stewardship, and many other agricultural related career paths.   All three components combine into an ag education program that is a powerful tool to prepare students for the many career opportunities that exist in agriculture. 

    Those who graduate from college with a degree in agricultural education have more than one career opportunity they can pursue. Yes, there is tremendous opportunity to become a high school agriscience teacher with the huge demand that exists. College graduates might also follow a path towards being an ag literacy coordinator, an ag education professor in college, farm business management instructor, or a variety of other possibilities.  Here in New York state students graduating high school could pursue an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and then go on to SUNY Oswego to obtain their masters degree. There are many ag education programs across the nation to look into. The Teach Ag Day website mentioned earlier provides many resources for those interested to look at. 

    In addition to the ag programs at South Jefferson and Belleville Henderson schools, there are ag programs at Carthage, Indian River and Alexandria schools in Jefferson County.  In Lewis County ag programs exist at South Lewis, Beaver River and Lowville school districts. St Lawrence County has ag programs at Canton, Gouverneur and Edwards Knox schools along with a specialized program through BOCES called the St. Lawrence Agriculture Academy.   Unfortunately Oswego County does not have an ag education program despite their agricultural industry.

    With so many schools across the nation showing an interest in developing agricultural programs in their schools, and ag teacher positions going unfilled, students will take a second look at this opportunity.   Workforce development is critical to any industry, including agriculture, and having a robust offering of agricultural classroom opportunities in our high schools is important if we want to maintain our food supply.  At the core of providing educational opportunities in agriculture, is the all-important agriculture teacher. Thank you for doing what you do.

National Grid has Programs to Assist Agriculture

Jay Matteson

Farms and agribusinesses considering improving their energy efficiency or an expansion project should look closely at the program National Grid offers. They have been a good partner to many farms across Northern New York offering financial assistance for energy projects. As an example, National Grid assisted a 430-cow dairy just north of Albany in 2015. The farm wanted to improve their energy efficiency and increase their productivity.  National Grid was able to help the farm achieve both objectives through $18,000 in energy efficiency incentives and a $50,000 grant from National Grid’s Economic Development Agribusiness program.

    National Grid offers a variety of energy saving farm incentives. Improved lighting systems can increase milk production per cow and provide a better work environment for farm staff. National Grid provides significant incentives for converting old light systems to newer higher efficiency systems. There is a range of incentives offered depending upon the type of fixture.

    Fans can be a huge electricity demand during the warm summer months. Without fans, herd health and production can drop significantly. It is important to provide well-circulated air flow and cool temperature to keep your cows happy and minimize fly problems.  Through National Grid’s help, farms may be able to obtain more efficient fans that improve air quality and cooler temperatures.  In addition, variable frequency drives and controls can be put in place to allow fans to run only when needed adding additional savings onto a farm electricity bill.

    Assistance on upgrading milking equipment may also be possible from National Grid. Variable frequency driven vacuum pumps, air compressors, pumps, air dryers, milk precoolers, heat exchangers and chillers are eligible for National Grid incentive payments. Many farms have already taken advantage of incentives from National Grid to upgrade this equipment.

    Some of our farms located in the rural areas of Northern New York face limitations because of the power supply to the farm.  In order to upgrade or expand facilities, farms sometimes face needing a three-phase power supply to farm instead of single-phase. This can be a very expensive proposition as the farm will incur the costs of running three-phase power to the farm, if the supply is not present in front of the farm already. National Grid does have a grant program to decrease the cost of obtaining three-phase power. Potentially, depending upon the specific situation the farm faces, it may receive up to $200,000 for running three-phase power.

    The National Grid Agri-Business Productivity Program is available to assist dairy farms, commercial farms, food processing businesses and controlled environment agricultural facilities with energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy projects and delivery or productivity improvements. To be eligible a business or farm must receive electric or natural gas from National Grid and be undertaking an energy efficiency project through any public agency or utility program or be purchasing /installing equipment for a renewable energy project to service the facility. A project that is constructing or upgrading a new controlled environment agriculture facility may also be eligible.  Awards up to $50,000 are possible.

    Our office has a great working relationship with the Economic Development and Corporate Citizenship office of National Grid in Syracuse. Mr. Joe Russo is great to work with and has worked hard to help farms and agribusinesses with their projects.  If you are interested in learning more about these programs, please give our office, Jefferson County Economic Development, a call at 315-782-5865 or by email to or contact Mr. Russo directly at 315-428-6798.  You’ll find a good partner through National Grid with your energy efficiency or expansion projects.

Jay M. Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Contact him at His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

Farmer’s Market Season is Upon Us!

Jay Matteson

By: Jay Matteson

A true sign that Northern New York has moved away from snow season is the beginning of farmer’s markets in May. Fresh, local produce, baked goods, potted flowers and local wine are among some of the things that visitors to a market will find.  Having a great conversation with a friend, getting a bite to eat from a food vendor and sometimes enjoying musical entertainment are extras that make our local open air markets something many look forward to.

    The first market of the year to open is the big Watertown Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays, beginning May 24, in front of the Dulles State Office Building on Washington Street in Watertown. This market features almost everything you want from an outdoor market.  Local produce, eggs, meats, wine, plants, baked products, fudge, candies, honey and many other farm products are available depending upon the time of the season.  You’ll also find arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, informational booths and many food vendors.  They commonly have musicians providing live performances during the market.  This market begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. The market accepts FMNP, WIC and SNAP benefits.

    Three markets open on Friday May 26, 2017 and run on Fridays until their end date. The Carthage Farmer’s Market is held at the Farmer’s Market pavilion on Riverside Drive from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. This market accepts FMNP benefits.  The Alexandria Bay Farmer’s Market opens at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. It is located in the Kinney’s Drugs parking lot. The Alexandria Bay Market does not accept any benefit programs. If you can’t make any of the daytime markets, you might want to visit the Jefferson Bulk Milk (Cheese Store) Farmer’s Market on Route 3 in Hounsfield as they start in mid-afternoon at 2:30 p.m. and end at 6 p.m. This market accepts FMNP,WIC, and SNAP benefits. Another market that runs on Fridays but doesn’t open until June 2 is the South Jeff Chamber of Commerce Farm and Artisan Market.  This is the first year for this market which will be held in the big pavilion behind the Adams Volunteer Fire Department.  The South Jeff market starts at 3 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m. allowing people to visit the market after working hours. They will not be accepting any benefit programs.

    On Thursday, June 1, the Clayton Farmer’s Market opens. Held in the Village Park, this market starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. They are not accepting any benefit programs. This beautiful location gives visitors a nice chance to walk around downtown Clayton and view the mighty St. Lawrence River.

    Saturdays are also a busy farmer’s market day. The earliest market opens at 9 a.m. in the pavilion at J.B. Wise Place behind Public Square in Watertown. The Saturday Farmer’s Market opens at 9 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m., beginning on June 3. This market accepts FMNP, WIC and SNAP benefits.  Starting June 17 on the Village Green in Cape Vincent, you will find the Cape Vincent Farmer’s Market. This market opens at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. They do not accept any benefit programs.

    A new farmer’s market in Jefferson County is at one of our newest farm wineries. The Busted Farmer’s Market is hosted at the Busted Grapes Winery at 19557 Ball Road, Black River. They are also the only market open on Sundays. Starting on June 18, they will open at 11 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.  They do not accept any benefit programs.  This could be a fun market to visit if you’re not doing anything on a Sunday, just don’t get busted!

    All of this information is available on the calendar of agricultural events found at The list of markets is also available in the “Local Food Guide” published by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. The local food guide will be available on their website, as soon as it is published.

Agriculture Gearing Up for the Event Season


Jay Matteson

   Warm weather is on the way! At least by July the snow will be gone and it’ll be time to get outside. If you visit and click on the calendar tab at the top, you’ll be taken to our calendar of agriculture for Jefferson County and Northern New York. Here are a few of the many events, found on the website, which you can look forward to in 2017.
     On April 21, the annual Jefferson County Agricultural Development Conference will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown. From 9 to 10:45 a.m., Chris Lorence from Christopher A. Lorence PR & Marketing Services will provide a workshop on advanced use of social media for marketing and advertising in agriculture. Mr. Lawrence will take course participants on a journey exploring how to use social media for advanced advertising of products and services offered by farms and agribusinesses. The workshop is free, but participants must register in advance due to limited seating capacity.
     Following Mr. Lorence at 11a.m., Christine Watkins, executive director of Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation, will provide a presentation on the environmental stewardship efforts of our agricultural industry, highlighting the tremendous work and expense our farms put forward to maintain and improve the quality of the environment in which we live. Mrs. Watkins presentation will be geared both for the public and farm community. Following Mrs. Watkins there will be a light lunch for conference participants. During lunch, I will present my annual overview of our agricultural industry report, discussing the challenges and highlights from 2016 and looking forward into 2018.
     Our keynote presentation at the Agricultural Development Conference will feature a panel presentation from Nichole Hirt and William Stowell. Mrs. Hirt is the agricultural program teacher from Indian River High School and Indian River FFA advisor. Mr. Stowell is the South Jefferson High School agricultural teacher and FFA advisor. Together Mr. Stowell and Mrs. Hirt will look at agricultural education in our local area and across New York State and share with our audience their thoughts on how agricultural education in our classrooms relates to workforce development in the agricultural industry and the challenges and opportunities we face.
     While the Agricultural Development Conference is free, advanced registration is required by April 14. Those interested may register by calling 315-782-5865 or emailing
     On Saturday, May 6, Old McDonald’s Farm Agricultural Education Center near Sackets Harbor will open its doors for the season, weather permitting. If you have not visited Old McDonald’s Farm, it is a real treat. As one of the largest agricultural education centers in New York state, it is a fantastic place to take your children to have fun and learn about agriculture. Visit their website at
     Planning has started for the Jefferson County Dairyland Festival and Parade on Friday, June 2. The festival kicks off at 9 a.m. at the Dulles State Office Building on Washington Street in Watertown. The festival is geared for children ages pre-school through sixth grade. The festival includes interactive exhibits, displays and demonstrations related to our dairy industry and agriculture. Schools may register their classes by visiting and clicking on the festival link on the right hand side of the home page. Classes must register to attend before May 5. The second part of the exciting celebration is the Dairy Parade which kicks off at 7 p.m. The parade lines up at Watertown High School and proceeds down Washington Street, ending at the State Office Building. The judging stand is directly in front of the State Office Building, where our Master of Ceremonies provides live narration of the entire parade. The parade is full of exciting and fun entries, including marching bands, HUGE farm equipment, fire trucks, live animals, floats, youth groups and businesses. Anyone wishing to enter the parade may also visit and follow the directions on the festival page. Entry forms must be submitted by May 22. The parade is a “points parade” for local fire departments. At 8 p.m., the Jefferson County Dairy Princess and her court will dish out free ice cream sundaes in the Dulles State Office Building for everyone as long as supplies last.
     There are many more events, activities, workshops and meetings that may be of interest to you. Check the calendar on our website to keep track of what is happening that you might be interested in. There is a lot to do in our great agricultural community!

Jay M. Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Contact him at His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

It’s Maple Season!

Jay Matteson

A true harbinger of spring is seeing sap buckets nailed to the side of massive gray sugar maple trees in a forest still covered in old snow from the winter’s last breath.  Driving down the winding country road, you see blue tubing strung from tree to tree until finally the little river of sweet sap pours into a giant white container.  If you are lucky enough, you stop at a small wooden shack that has steam pouring out of the top. For the untrained, one may wonder what in the blue blazes is going on until they suddenly sniff the sweet aroma of maple sap boiling tinged with the sentimental fragrance of wood fire. Sugar season has arrived.

                Many of us who live in the north country have experienced this birth of spring many times.  Few ever take it for granted. It is now that families start to consider placing the buckets and tubing throughout the maple woods called a sugar bush.  For many, they have been cutting firewood all winter to heat the giant boiling pan in which the sap has the water boiled out to make maple syrup.  Some use gas fired burners to heat the pan. Advanced technologies in the Sugar Shack, the building where they boil the syrup, might include using ultraviolet light to help filter out any impurities.

                In the woods, vacuum pumps may be used with the tubing to promote more sap collection. A lot of sap is needed to provide us the delicious maple products many of us look forward to. Sugar maple and black maple are the preferred trees to tap, but sap can be collected from red and silver maple as well, although their sap has higher water content.  Native Americans enjoyed maple syrup long before Europeans arrived in North America. In the sugar house, some operations are using reverse osmosis units to remove some of the water from the sap before it enters the boiling pan.

                Hopefully, you’re wondering when and where you should go to experience this tasty tradition of springtime.  Our maple syrup producers have made it easy for you.  On the weekends of March 18-19 and March 25-26, we celebrate Maple Weekend across New York State. There are many sugar shacks across the north country that open their doors to public.  Thirteen sugar shacks across Northern New York provide a variety of experiences for visitors during the weekend.  These include hayrides, learning how to tap trees and collect the sap, how to boil the sap into syrup and also how to make all the other delicious treats people love to enjoy. Of course all have maple products for sale. 

                If you want to experience Maple Weekend, you can visit either of two websites. The first website we recommend is This provides great information about the maple industry and has a listing of all the sugar shacks across New York that are participating. Then you can visit and find an interactive map where you can search for participating maple producers near you. The other part of Maple Weekend I highly recommend is taking in one of the many pancake breakfasts put on by local organizations. There is a listing on the Maple Weekend website.  With the winter we’ve had here in the north country, why not get out and taste a little of the magic that is our maple industry?

Organic Milk Production in Jefferson Co. and NYS

Agri-business column by Jay Matteson

Northern New York is one of the leading dairy-producing regions in New York State and the nation. Dairy farms in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties combined produced approximately 1.8 billion pounds of milk in 2010.  That is a lot of milk!  All three counties rank in the top 10 of dairy-producing counties in the state and top 50 counties in the United States.

                We are also seeing continued growth in organic milk production in our region. According to Sharad Mathur, chief operating officer with Dairy Marketing Services, it is estimated that Northern New York has over 100 dairy farms producing about 5 million pounds of pure organic milk every day. Nearly one-third of the organic dairy farms in the state are located in Jefferson and St Lawrence counties. There are conventional dairy farms interested in converting to organic dairy production, but are looking for good markets for organic milk.

                Organic milk is different than conventional milk in that certified organic dairy farms are required to follow strict guidelines that govern use of pesticides, herbicides and type of fertilizer applied to farms, the type of feed that can be used to feed cows and the management practices a farm may use to keep cows healthy. The price organic dairy farms receive for every one hundred pounds of milk they ship is generally higher than what conventional farms receive for their milk, but the cost of producing one hundred pounds of organic is generally higher than producing one hundred of conventional milk.

                We are now seeing a limited number of farms further differentiating their production method by going to certified grass-based milk production.  This certification required the farms to follow a different set of regulations regarding the use of grass in feeding cows on the farm. Certified grass-based farms receive an even higher premium than organic farms.

                In our efforts to attract new agribusiness into Northern New York from Europe, this diversity in our milk production is important.  Our office is currently talking with two dairy manufacturing companies that are interested in organic milk.  The fact that Northern New York produces pure, high-quality milk, and especially is a leader in organic milk production, is critical to our efforts. Our area has potential to grow our dairy production, especially organic milk production, and that is what these two companies are looking at.

                For the consumer, we are very fortunate to live in an area where you have choices between pure and nutritious choices in dairy products.  Our farmers are fortunate that our soils, temperatures and terrain provide opportunities for diverse production methods that suit the management styles of the farm owners. Whatever your preference is for great tasting dairy products, Northern New York provides some of the purest milk available.


Economics and agriculture in the future

Jay Matteson

I couldn’t find a fortune teller with a crystal ball so I called two people who have a good grasp on what expectations are in the dairy industry for the coming year. They are members of the informal cadre of people I turn to for guidance on what is happening in agriculture. Ron Robbins is an owner of North Harbor Dairy Farm near Sackets Harbor, a 1,000-cow dairy operation. Ron’s family owns Old McDonald’s Farm, an agricultural educational and entertainment destination.  Ron has served on a variety of state, regional and national organizations and was the state executive director of USDA Farm Service Agency for New York for a number of years.

                Bruce Krupke is the executive vice president of Northeast Dairy Foods Association based in Syracuse, serving dairy processors across eight states in the northeastern United States. Bruce also serves on many state regional and national committees. Both Bruce and Ron do a good job of keeping their finger on the pulse of the dairy industry.

                Dairy farmers have been suffering through very difficult times for the past two years.  The price they are paid for their milk, measured in units of one hundred pounds of milk shipped, or hundredweights (cwt), has been well below the cost of production.  The average cost of production in Northern New York tends to run at $18 per hundredweight or one hundred pounds of milk shipped. Prices have dipped as low as $14 per hundredweight over the last two years.  At $14, if the price stayed that low the entire year, a 500-cow dairy with each cow producing an average of 90 pounds of milk per day per cow would lose approximately $657,000 for the year. That is a significant loss.

                Mr. Robbins indicates that it is looking like prices will remain below cost of production until halfway through 2017.  Why? According to Ron there is a tremendous supply of milk and milk products on the market.  Even though demand is strong for dairy products, the low milk prices over the last two years allowed manufacturers to build a tremendous inventory of products that now has to work its way out of the system. Ron indicates that even though U.S. production continues to be “on a tear” with cow numbers increasing and production per cow moving higher, world production is coming down.  That could be very beneficial to U.S. dairy prices paid to the farmer.  Mr. Robbins believes the last six months of 2017 will hopefully see farm gate prices finally cross the profitable threshold.  Unfortunately, it will take many months for farms to recoup the losses they’ve incurred through this low price cycle.

                Bruce Krupke indicates a similar trend, anticipating prices to gradually rise into 2017.  Mr. Krupke heavily emphasized the importance of the world market for U.S. products. “This is where our future lies” Mr. Krupke said.  World dairy prices are rising enough to bring parity with U.S. dairy prices allowing our industry to become competitive. Bruce indicated that we would benefit most if we could achieve a good dairy trade situation with our neighbor to our north. Canada is putting heavy tariffs on ultra-filtered milk products that are hurting two dairy plants in New York, one in Batavia and one in Cayuga County. Bruce indicates concern that the situation will “back up” milk supply in the state.

                I also asked both gentlemen about expectations for the impacts of the Trump administration on agriculture.  Mr. Robbins said right now there is mixed expectations about President Trump.  President Trump’s pro-business tendencies are welcomed in agriculture. The last several years of intense regulatory burden, rapidly increasing cost of business due to federal policies and heavily increasing tax burdens are expected to ease and that will be very welcome. Ron said there is a nervous anticipation within the industry at the same time.  Agriculture, including the dairy industry, is heavily impacted by foreign trade.  There is concern about the unknowns of the new president’s trade policies.  Much work is being done behind the scenes to help the administration better appreciate the importance of trade to agriculture and our farms.

                Bruce Krupke shared a very positive outlook for the business policies of President Trump.  Mr. Krupke indicated he believes that the administration will be very business friendly and that should generate a positive outlook for dairy manufacturers. Bruce hopes that the president will improve our dairy trade opportunities with Canada which will especially benefit New York’s dairy industry.

                Let’s hope that the expectations of both men are correct. Our dairy farmers need a light at the end of the tunnel.  Prices have been too low for too long.   If we can improve the business climate for our farms and manufacturers, the dairy industry can thrive.  Should our business climate improve, perhaps more dairy or food manufacturing opportunities will come along.

Ag a major driver for regional tourism


Jay Matteson

Jay Matteson

The Thousand Islands International Tourism Council recently hosted a bi-national tourism summit at the Clayton Harbor Hotel. With more than 100 people attending from both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, and great discussions generated from the day’s presentations, the summit was very successful. I was excited when Gary DeYoung, director of tourism for the Thousand Islands International Tourism Council, asked me to present about the role that agriculture plays in tourism and some of the changes we’ve seen. Over the past few decades, agriculture has emerged as a major driver in tourism in the Thousand Islands region.
Since 1986, we have benefited from the creation of “destinations” based on farming. The “Mother of Ag Tourism in Jefferson County,” Nancy Robbins, started Old McDonald’s Farm near Sackets Harbor. Old McDonald’s farm, according to Nancy, started because she found that friends wanted to bring their children to see farm animals and learn about farming. Nancy capitalized on that interest and built one of the foremost agricultural destinations in New York, this year educating nearly 40,000 about farming.
Another development that spiked our region’s tourism opportunities is the development of a farm based craft beverage industry. In the early 2000’s a Fort Drum officer was retiring from the Army and fell in love with the St. Lawrence River and how it reminded him of German river valleys he saw while traveling in Europe. Steve Conaway found cold hardy species of grapes that could grow in our frigid climate and began making wine in a garage on a farm he purchased. This was the beginning of Thousand Islands Winery, the largest farm winery in Northern New York. Steve was quickly joined by fellow visionaries Phil Randazzo, Nick Surdo, and Kyle and Rick Hafemann who recognized the potential for a northern wine industry based in the Thousand Islands. Their wineries, Coyote Moon Vineyards, Yellow Barn Winery and Otter Creek Winery quickly inspired others. Today we have 16 farm-based wineries, distilleries, and breweries drawing people to our shores, year-round.
Unfortunately the industry is growing faster than we are attracting people from outside our area. During the summit I described our tourist base as a pie. Right now we are in a transition time where we haven’t reached a critical mass of destinations to become a huge draw similar to the Finger Lakes. Every new farm-based craft beverage facility divides the “pie” of customers into thinner slices. This is not a suggestion that entrepreneurs shouldn’t go into the craft beverage industry. But, everyone should realize the challenge we face of trying to expand our customer base.
One barrier that hurts the Thousand Islands region is the “tariff wall” placed by Canada on their citizens that severely limits Canadians from purchasing our alcohol based craft beverages. With major metropolitan areas within a few hours’ drive to our area from Canada, we could increase our customer base for our craft beverage industry. It is very expensive for Canadians to cross the border to visit our craft beverage facilities, purchase our products and bring them back into Canada.
The Tariff Wall is far more severe than any placed on U.S. citizens visiting Canada. Phil Randazzo, owner of Coyote Moon Vineyard, has suggested previously, and I reiterated during my presentation at the Tourism Summit, that possibly we should consider working with our friends across the River to create an International Farm Beverage trail that accomplishes two key things. The first is two create a unique device to market our international region to attract an increasing number of visitors. Second, as I proposed during my presentation, create a tariff-free zone starting at a westerly line from Kingston, Ont., to Sackets Harbor and proceeding east to the Ogdensburg International Bridge. The tariff free zone would extend 25 miles inland from those points and the St. Lawrence River. Any farm based beverage produced within that region could receive a special label that exempts the product from being charged with tariffs when transported across the border. Obviously there are many details that would need to be worked out, but it is worth considering.
It is exciting to witness the growth of an industry from its infancy that serves both agriculture and tourism. Our work should be to do everything we can to attract more people to our area and remove barriers that inhibit our growth.

Jay M. Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident who lives in Lorraine. Contact him at His column appears monthly in NNY Business.