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.

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Suicide Prevention and Understanding in NNY

Bob Gorman

Suicide remains the death that dares not speak its name.

    Families often write around the word in obituaries to avoid citing the actual cause of death. Medical examiners are occasionally begged to do the same thing if writing the word “suicide” in their report will mean the loss of benefits for a grieving survivor with three small children.

    And all those drug overdoses? Local death statistics include actual question marks. That’s because even though investigators are pretty sure many of these deaths were intentional, they can’t be certain if there were no notes or witnesses.

    If you talk to first responders, nonprofit leaders and high school guidance counselors, you learn quickly that suicide is a topic that can no longer be avoided. Somebody this year will attempt suicide while in jail, or at a halfway house or after another evening of reading texts from a mob attacking the psyche of a solitary teenager.

    My one lone involvement with a suicide was the death of an employee at the Watertown Daily Times in 1999. Charlie Tenny took his life by hanging himself from a tree in his beloved Adirondacks. Because Charlie was a journalist, many other journalists tried to make sense of the senseless.

    One of Charlie’s friends, who worked at the Hartford Courant, wrote a column almost a year after Charlie’s death that included this: “The timing of his suicide remains incomprehensible to me. He did it while his sister, Carol, was in China adopting a baby girl. Carol got the news of Charlie’s death in Los Angeles, between flights on the way home to Pittsburgh. She screamed “No! No! No!” so loud that people came running across the terminal.

    Back home, Carol fell into depression.

    “I did feel my life changed unalterably from the moment I found out that Charlie did what he did,” Carol told me. “I would look at teenagers laughing, and I would just be amazed. They were like foreign animals. What are these people doing? There just seemed to be such a gulf between me and them.”

    In public places, Carol would suddenly blurt out, “I love you, Charlie.”

    “I thought I was saying it quietly, but people would look at me funnily… but I couldn’t talk to anybody without telling them about [Charlie’s suicide]; it was a central fact of my life.”

    To encourage a conversation about the value of life, the United Way of NNY in late March sponsored events at eight high schools and two evening programs with Roger Breisch of Batavia, Ill. Breisch has spent the last 15 years as a counselor on local and national suicide hotlines, often talking to teenagers who think their lives are useless.

    Breisch’ s talk, “Finding Life on the Suicide Hotline” challenged students to take an inventory of their own lives and find ways to value the person they are, and not give credence to a false narrative about who they aren’t.

    His uplifting message comes at a good time. The region’s suicide prevention coalitions in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties are working to reverse a trend that saw 163 people commit suicide in the three-county region over a five-year period.

    Kevin Contino, a data analyst for the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, has statistics collected locally and through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    In 2016, the suicide death rate per 100,000 population was:

  • 12.8 for the three-county region
  • 8.5 for New York State
  • 13.9 for the United States

 Over the most recent five years of federal data (2012-2016), the death rate due to suicide was:

  • 14.1 in Jefferson County (83 deaths, 16.6 per year)
  • 21.4 in Lewis County (29 deaths, 5.8 per year)
  • 9.2 in St. Lawrence County (51 deaths, 10.2 per year)
  • The most common mechanisms for suicide were firearms (48 percent), hanging/suffocation (31 percent), and poisoning (19 percent).
  • Eighty-four percent of decedents were male.
  • Sixty percent of suicide deaths were at the decedent’s home, 7 percent were in an outpatient medical facility, and 33 percent elsewhere.
  • During the five year span, the death rate per 100,000 people for the age groups 15-24, 34-44 and 65-74 was almost identical at just over 17 percent.
  • In 2016 residents of the tri-county region had 235 emergency department visits with a principal diagnosis of either suicide attempt or suicidal ideation. The numbers for each county were: Jefferson, 161; Lewis; 15 and St. Lawrence: 59. Seventy-one percent of these patients were younger than 30; the median age was 21 and the percentage of male and female was identical.

    And for every one of these cases, there are dozens of survivors, like Charlie’s sister, who still cry out a loved one’s name.

    As Roger Breisch showed the north country last month, there is never a wrong time to start having a regional conversation to help reduce that suffering.

Bob Gorman is president and CEO of United Way of Northern New York. Contact him at bgorman@unitedway-nny.org or 315-788-5631.

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