Small Business Success: Agriculture 2.0

Sarah O’Connell

In rural Northern New York, agriculture has been one of the major economic drivers of the region since it was first settled by European immigrants.  According to a 2015 article cited in Wikipedia, New York is “one of the top five states for agricultural products, including dairy, cattle, apples, cabbages, potatoes, beets, viniculture, onions, maple syrup and many others.”  But for a variety of reasons including declining milk prices, global competition, and so on, the iconic small family farms are disappearing.  Or are they?

                What we’ve been seeing in the past few years is a variety of new ways to keep young people on the farm.  They are discovering new opportunities, improved technology, and niche markets as ways to stay (or move here) and earn a living.  As I mentioned in my May column, there are several distinctive ag-related enterprises that make our own north country marketable, whether it’s locally sourced foods (meats, cheese, maple, honey) and beverages (wine, beer, cider, liquors) or ag-tourism (the American Maple Museum, farm tours, bed and breakfasts on operating farms, edible or flower garden tours, etc.).

                At the most recent Business Leaders’ Breakfast sponsored by Lewis County Economic Development, some local food producers were spotlighted.  Cedar Hedge Farm, owned by Jan Virkler and Jeff Van Arsdale, has been producing artisanal goat cheeses: feta, sharp feta and unsalted chèvre as well as a variety of jams, jellies and breads using their cheese products.  Two things that really stood out for me in their presentation.  One is that, although it’s a third-generation farm in the Virkler family, Jan decided to move back  here in 2012 with Jeff from professional jobs in New Jersey to embrace the ag life. The other thing I loved was its motto:  “If we don’t grow it, we don’t make it.”

                If you’ve been at any local events or craft fairs or farmers markets in the past couple of years, you’ve probably seen (and hopefully tasted) the caffeinated creations from Tug Hill Artisan Roasters.  Their various roast blends are also carried by and served in several area restaurants and shops. The company is the brainchild of brothers Ian and Scott Gilbert and friend Gregory Widrick and opened in April 2017.  It meets a couple of the marks of current trends – artisanal coffee represents a unique niche as well as a locally produced product, although of course, we haven’t yet figured out how to grow coffee beans in  Northern New York.  But who knows – no one thought we could grow grapes hardy enough for local wines a few years ago! Two transplants from the New York City area, Julian Mangano and Alice Waite, recently founded Of the Earth for the Soul company, which operates Della Terra as a small, bio-intensive farm in Castorland. In their “About” section on their Facebook page, the farmers note, “We are dedicated to providing food with integrity, engaging in organic, non-chemical, non-GMO practices.”  While not certified organic, they do not use herbicides or pesticides and grow an amazing quantity and quality of vegetables in a very small space called square foot gardening.

                It’s impossible to talk about Lewis County agriculture without mentioning maple syrup.  One of the newer local maple syrup businesses is Silver Sap Maple, owned by Cassandra Buell, who also happens to be the Lewis County planner, and her husband, Brian.  While still very new to the maple business, they are adding their taps by leaps and bounds each year and successfully selling their sweet wares.

                We’re now officially in the summer season.   Just as we encourage people to shop small and local in the winter holidays, we hope everyone will pledge to support our local food (and beverage) producers this summer and EAT local!

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

A new venture: Zenda Farms Preserve

WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES FILE PHOTO
Thousand Islands Land Trust’s Zenda Farm Preserve.

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Homestead Organic Roots: Looking at the future of food, agribusiness and leading by example

DAYTONA NILES / NNY BUSINESS
Ed Walldroff, owner of Homestead Field, stands with his dairy cows in Lafargeville.

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The Dairy Debate: When and how will the industry change?

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A few Dairy cows drink some water off of W. Martinsburg Road in Lowville.

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Artificial Farming Intelligence: Agbotic utilizes robotic tech to grow food

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Darren Strock checks hoses and nozzles on an automated watering machine at Agbotics.

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FARM FRESH to Farmers Market : Bush Gardens family farm stays local from seed to sale

DAYTONA NILES / NNY BUSINESS
Loren and Chris Bush pick lettuce in preparation for their Wednesday Watertown Farmer & Craft market.

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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.

 

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.