Giant Hogweed Warning and Signs

Giant hogweed invasive plant.

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DEC Aids Farms Through Waste Guidelines

Judy Drabicki

Farms play a critical role in the north country’s economy and many of our farmers are following in the footsteps of generations before them.

                Although science and technology are the underpinning of farming today, the agriculture industry also relies on trial and error, gut-instinct, and weather. According to local agriculture expert Jay Matteson, our cool climate is well suited for dairy, cold hardy grapes, soybeans, corn, wheat, alfalfa, grasses, and many other crops and livestock. While the north country has a wide variety of soils ranging from well-drained loams to poorly drained clays, our farmers excel at managing soil resources.

                The farming industry is guided by sustainability and efficiency. Understanding that well-balanced soil creates stronger crops and healthier livestock, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) works closely with local farmers to issue land application permits to spread non-recognizable food processing (NRFP) waste on their fields. This organic waste contains valuable nutrients – especially nitrogen and phosphorous – and land spreading delivers these nutrients directly to the soil. This is a beneficial alternative to purchasing expensive commercial fertilizers and not unlike the time-tested practice of spreading manure on a field. NRFP works well on any soil and is easily applied in the same manner as manure. In addition to the nutrient value, NRFP waste also furnishes organic matter that, when added to fine-textured soils like clays makes the soils looser and increases the amount of pore space available for root growth. Additionally, in coarser, sandy soils, this organic matter can improve the ability of the soils to retain water.

                There are a few farms in our area already spreading NRFP waste on their fields. These farms have collaborated with local dairy product manufacturers to acquire and transport NRFP waste. DEC provides strict oversight of the application of this waste under regulations designed to establish criteria based upon the potential environmental and human health risks involved and protect against nuisances and other possible ill effects of the land application process.

                At its Lafargeville plant, H.P. Hood produces cottage cheese, yogurt, and sour cream. Food production at H.P. Hood also creates waste. This waste is run through another process that prepares it for spreading on the fields as NRFP.

                 H.P. Hood has been a registered land application facility since 2003, when the registration requirements first went into effect. Since 2012, it has been applying an average of 800,000 to two million gallons of NRFP waste annually at BJ Farms, also in Lafargeville. BJ Farms is a 130-acre farm that grows field crops, such as hay. The soil in the fields is tested to make sure the nutrient loading rates are accurate for the crop. The amount of nutrient applied cannot exceed the needs of the crop. 

                Not only is it valuable to the soil, transferring organic waste from large manufacturers to fields means less waste is sent to our landfills, which benefits all of us. Keeping waste out of landfills is known as “diversion,” where waste is diverted to another use such as land spreading or recycling discarded items instead of disposing of them. Diversion is an important goal for communities and landfill operators. Landfilling is expensive and costs are passed on to communities by way of tipping fees to everyone who generates waste. Because we all generate waste, we all share the burden of paying for landfill operations. 

                Diversion is proactive solid waste management, and in the case of land spreading, a benefit to agriculture.

                Eligible land application facilities benefit both our shared environment and the economy when operated in compliance with regulations and basic criteria.

Women in STEM Rising

Judy Drabicki

I have served as the Director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Region 6 for more than a decade. In that time, we have doubled the number of female employees in the region, which covers St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Herkimer and Oneida counties. In the five-county region, 50 women are currently employed in professional roles—a significant increase from the past.

    DEC offers excellent careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), careers in high demand that have been traditionally filled by men.

    In Susan S. Silbey’s 2016 article, “Why Do So Many Women Who Study Engineering Leave the Field,” from the online Harvard Business Review, Silbey noted that engineering is the most male-dominated field in STEM, with just 13 percent of women making up the workforce.

    DEC’s Region 6 Environmental Engineering Unit currently employs six women engineers, up from just one a few years ago. While all employees are selected because they are the best qualified for the job, at DEC we actively encourage managers to hire women, particularly in professions such as engineering, law, and biology—all fields where women are traditionally under-represented.

    Yuan Zeng is a professional engineer for DEC’s Division of Material Management in Watertown. Zeng has worked for DEC for more than 20 years. “I like my environmental career for its positive impact on the environment, such as air pollution control and waste reduction,” says Zeng.

    Her advice to younger generations who may also want a similar career path is to do well in school, intern with professionals, and demonstrate a strong work ethic.

    Jennifer Lauzon is a professional engineer in DEC’s Potsdam, St. Lawrence County office. She says, “My job has never been the same and is always adapting to the current environment. I like that the work I am doing will, in some way, benefit the environment and benefit the world that we live in.”

    Her advice for young women that like math and science and see themselves in an engineering career is to get a dual degree in engineering and engineering & management (E&M).

    As regional director, I see multiple benefits in increasing the number of women in all aspects of the DEC workforce. First, having been underrepresented in the past, seeking equity will mean the absolute best people are doing the work of protecting the environment. Second, women often have a different approach to problem-solving and conflict resolution, which benefits our collective decision-making. And third, the role models women present to the hundreds of students we meet through DEC’s outreach efforts benefits all of the young men and women interested in entering the field of environmental protection—they will see for themselves that DEC is a welcoming agency that employs a diverse group of New Yorkers from a variety of backgrounds, genders, in a range of demanding professions.

    Regardless of gender, our day-to-day business is handled by a team of highly skilled professionals. Working together, we are committed to the DEC mission, the health and safety of New York’s environment, and the communities that we call home. 

Judy Drabicki is regional director, Region 6 NYSDEC, with a career that spans three decades of ensuring the natural beauty of the north country is protected and enjoyed for generations to come. She oversees a staff of more than 200 people, including engineers, biologists, permit writers, Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation officers, operations staff, and many others.