FFA Continues To Grow Nationally

Jay Matteson

I remember, as a young kid, thumbing through a binder full of old family photos. I came across a photo that was labeled, “Lyman” and had a face circled on the photo. It was from the early 1940s and a sign on the wall behind this group of students read Future Farmers of America. “Lyman” was my dad and he grew up on a dairy farm in Oswego County in the Central Square area during the depression. I asked my dad what was Future Farmers of America? He didn’t say much other than it was a leadership organization for farm kids. I’m not sure what ever happened to the farm but my dad married my mom and spent many years as an electrician in the Oswego area. I never thought about Future Farmers of America again. 

    Growing up in the Oswego area I never heard anything more about Future Farmers of America. Attending Oswego High School in the mid 1980s, it seemed the push was to drive kids towards college for business or teaching careers. I was the odd ball as I wanted to pursue wildlife biology. After I attended college I returned home and worked with the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District. Even working for the Soil and Water Conservation District for six years, I never heard about Future Farmers of America. It was not until I moved to Jefferson County and became the director of the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District that I heard about an organization called FFA. 

    I quickly learned that FFA was the new name of Future Farmers of America. The name had just been changed to better reflect the nature of the youth organization and that not all participants in FFA go on to become farmers. I was very surprised that in all the years, since I first saw my dads photo, I never heard anything of the organization. It was a great surprise! 

    FFA is very strong in Jefferson County and the north country. When I first came to Jefferson County there were five FFA programs in Alexandria Bay, Belleville-Henderson, Carthage, Indian River and South Jefferson school districts. Although there are slight differences between each districts FFA programs, there are strong similarities in each. FFA uses agriculture as a foundation to help students build tremendous career and leadership skills. It is very hands on and very active! FFA welcomes students who aspire to careers such as doctors, scientists, teachers, bankers, business owners and farmers. The opportunities through FFA are many. Nationally, there are FFA opportunities at the middle school, high school and collegiate levels. 

    As I began learning about FFA, I was very impressed. I quickly discovered that these students were busy! In addition to their traditional classes, these students were growing things, building things, writing business plans, traveling to regional, state and national events and providing service to their communities. I learned that I could call upon FFA students to help me with events and know that when the iconic blue and gold FFA jackets showed up, I had a group of volunteers that I could depend upon to the get the job done right. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to know and develop strong friendships with many FFA students across the north country. I’ve watched them go on to become business owners and farmers, journalists and teachers, financial advisors and veterinarians. Many are now leaders in their communities. 

    Today there are six FFA chapters in Jefferson County. Watertown School District started an FFA chapter a few years ago that is beginning to thrive. I just saw a report that National FFA hit a record in membership with 760,113 student members in 2020. That is a nearly 60,000 student increase from 2019. Incredible, especially given the circumstances of 2020! The top five student membership states are Texas, California, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma. In 2020, the organization has more than 115,831 latino members, more than 40,000 black members, and more than 12,000 members who are American Indian and Alaska Natives. Fifty one percent of members are male and forty four percent are female. FFA chapters exist in 24 of 25 of the largest cities in the United States. Since 2017, FFA chapters in NYS have grown by 30 percent. The largest FFA Chapter in New York State is located in New York City. 

    It is fantastic to see a valuable student organization growing in these days where so many of our youth programs struggle with declining enrollment. If you are interested in learning more about FFA visit the New York FFA website at www.nysffa.org or the national FFA website at www.ffa.org or contact your local high school to learn about FFA. 

Food Distribution Programs And Webinar Series See Great Start

Jay Matteson

The impact of the shutdown of our economy to dampen the impact of the COVID 19 disaster has hit every single person. Businesses have temporarily and permanently closed their doors. Many people were temporarily unemployed or lost their jobs. There were significant disruptions in our food supply system. As we have heard many times. We are living in an extremely rare time where a global pandemic has impacted every single person in the United States and had a devastating impact on our economy. Many people, in the low income to middle income sections of our population, began experiencing challenges in finding food. 

    At the national level, we saw President Trump, the U.S. Congress and the United States Department of Agriculture work together to create the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). One section of the CFAP used federal funds to begin buying food products from farms and food processors and working through local food distributors to provide free food to people in need. This program is a success. Jefferson County Economic Development has worked with American Dairy Association Northeast to set up the logistics of multiple food distribution events. Our largest to date saw 1,800 vehicles at Salmon Run Mall go through the distribution program. There have been events at Salmon Run Mall, Jefferson Community College and Clayton Arena. Every vehicle, while supplies last, receives at least two gallons of milk, a box of precooked meat products, a box of produce, and a box of dairy products. Unfortunately, the demand is greater than the supply of food boxes and they run out before the milk. Renzi Food Service based in Watertown, Glaziers packing in Potsdam, and Upstate Niagara Dairy Cooperative, provide the aggregation and distribution assistance. HP Hood in LaFargeville provides some of the dairy products in the boxes. 

    At the State level, Governor Cuomo, the state Legislature and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets created the Nourish NY program to help ensure local food banks have enough food on their shelves to help local people, and also provide food distribution events. State funds are used to purchase New York state food products to give to food banks and distribution events. Lucki 7 Livestock Company in Rodman, Sharps Bulk Food in Belleville and Great Lakes Cheese in Adams have participated in the Nourish NY program providing locally produced food to food banks as far away as Long Island. 

    Because so many food products and businesses from Jefferson County are involved in the two food distribution programs, we are roughly estimating a total economic impact of the two programs to date of $18 million as the dollars coming into local companies and farms for the purchase of food products ripples throughout Jefferson County and NNY. This is a nice “charge” to our local economic engine, with agriculture as its foundation.  

Agriculture Webinar Series Off to Great Start 

    Jefferson County Economic Development started a monthly webinar series in June inviting speakers to participate who have an opportunity to look at agriculture through a broader lens than we might experience locally. We call the webinar series, “Road to Recovery, The Path to 2025 Farmers’ Luncheon Series”. On Aug. 27, we have Mr. Thomas Sleight scheduled to speak. Mr. Sleight is former chief executive officer for the U.S. Grains Council and has traveled the world working on foreign trade programs and opportunities benefitting U.S. agriculture. 

    The Farmers’ Luncheon series is a live webinar scheduled for the fourth Thursday of every month at 12 p.m. The webinar is not a typical slideshow presentation with questions at the end. Instead, I sit down at the table, remotely, with our guest and have a conversation about the various topics we wish to discuss. The program is highly interactive, and the audience can submit questions in real time which I try to include into the discussion. To learn more, visit www.agricultureevents.com 

Economic Effects: The Farm Labor Bill

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NNY Questions: Agricultural Development with Jay Matteson

Jay Matteson, the Agricultural Coordinator for Jefferson County Agricultural CoordinatorÕs Office at the Lucki 7 Livestock Co. in Rodman on Wednesday. Emil Lippe/NNY Business

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Growing A Community: Agbotic, Inc. plants seeds for the future

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Progressive Dairy Farming

Alyssa Kealy

Dairy cattle are much larger than the typical companion animals, and they are more technically savvy. I am not saying that cows carry around smartphones, but they do interact with technology in their day to day lives. Technology in dairy barns is not necessary to keep the cows in touch with their friends (they prefer to socialize face to face or muzzle to muzzle), but to focus primarily on cattle health, comfort and production. 

    Here are several examples of technology you can find on progressive dairy farms: 

  • Fit Bits: Dairy cows wear pedometers and/or activity pendants around their neck. This tracks their activity, which can be indicative of overall health. If a cow’s device is showing abnormal activity patterns, such as she didn’t get up to eat, this can be a red flag for the farmer to give her a closer look. Activity monitoring is a proactive process because it allows those caring for the cows to see abnormalities before they become clinical symptoms of illness, which could prevent serious health issues or the need for treatment in the future.

    RFID (radio frequency identification) tags- These are the ear tags worn for identification; they are so much more than a monogrammed earrings. Today, ear tags have radio frequency that communicates with the farm’s dairy computer program, like Dairy Comp 305, to keep a profile for each cow with data like her breeding dates, any medical treatments, due dates, etc. as well as communicates with parlor systems to track milk production. Essentially, cows carry their medical records with them! 

    Moocall– This technology was designed specifically for cows about to give birth. A small meter gets fastened around the tailhead and based on contractions and muscle loosening; it will send a text the farmer when the cow is about to calf. With these alerts, farm staff will be able to respond to any needs of the mother and calf. 

  • Robotics: Some farms are taking technology to the next level and replacing manpower with robotics. Examples include robotic milking systems and feed pushers.

    Robotic milking systems- Cows can enter the individual stall at their leisure, are fed grain/supplements, and finished milking within minutes. Whether it is the snacks or the relief that milking often brings to the mammary system that keeps cows loitering around the robots, waiting for their next turn. Since manual labor isn’t needed for milking, this system gives farm staff even more time to focus on cow health and facility hygiene. 

    Robotic feed pusher- Cows can even have a robotic waiter help serve them food. Farms often feed once a day which means a big pile is distributed and meant to last throughout the day. Sometimes, as feed gets eaten and pushed along by muzzles, feed can get pushed just out of reach. Farms can use a skid steer to push the feed, or high-tech farms use a robot to travel along the feed area and push the food closer to the cows throughout the day, ensuring they always have access to fresh food. 

    Dairy farms that have larger cow numbers are turning to a different style of milking parlor, literally. Rotary parlors allow 100 cows to be milked at once on what is essentially a merry go-round equipped with milking equipment. Cows get on the rotary and go for about a 5-minute ride while getting milked, sanitized, and then meander back to their barn. This is a very expensive technology, however as farms grow and agricultural labor becomes sparser, farms are choosing technology to fill voids on the farm and ensure cows get the best, most efficient care, possible.

What is a payment in lieu of taxes?

Jay Matteson

A Payment in Lieu of Taxes or “PILOT” is an economic development tool that may mean the difference between a business locating in your community or locating somewhere else in New York State or the United States. The use of a PILOT brings about a gain in the tax base and usually more jobs. A PILOT helps grow the local economy by helping an existing business grow or a new business to start up in a community. 

    The PILOT works by allowing for a “managed” increase in taxes for the business. Let’s use an example to make this clear. A new business comes into the community and buys an acre of land. Prior to the business opening its doors, the acre of land brings $1,000 of tax revenue to the community. After the business opens its doors, let us say the full taxes on the higher-valued property is $20,000. To help the business get started and better manage its initial startup expenses, a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement is negotiated. The PILOT may last for 15 years, under which the business would pay 25% of the higher tax assessment for the first 5 years (an additional $5,000/yr.), 50% ($10,000/yr.) for the next 5 years, 75% ($15,000) for the last five years, and then ramp up to the full tax of $20,000 in year 16. This is all new money for the community. The business started out on year one paying more in taxes than was collected before the business opened it doors. More tax revenue for the community. By year 16 the company was paying full taxation on the property. If the PILOT had not been employed, the business may not have started or may have decided to locate elsewhere which equals no increase in the tax base or local jobs. 

    This was a simple example of how a PILOT may be set up. The PILOT helps the company manage its tax increases over a negotiated number of years. The following is a real example of a PILOT negotiated with Great Lakes Cheese Company in Adams in 2007 when they began considering building a new cheese plant. Great Lakes was considering moving the plant to western New York and was receiving pressure to do so. Jefferson County Economic Development stepped in and helped the company by negotiating a 20-year PILOT because of the size of the project and the number of jobs created. As you review the graph, you’ll see the taxes paid by Great Lakes Cheese went up $35,000 the first year of their project and then over 20 years the taxes have gone up in a manageable manner. Great Lakes Cheese built their $86 million dollar plant next to their old plant in Adams. This created jobs, brought new revenue into the community and supported the dairy industry in Northern New York. 

    The Jefferson County Economic Development is responsible for managing the tax incentive tools such as a PILOT. Jefferson County Economic Development staff will work with affected municipalities, such as Jefferson County, a local school district and other municipalities to negotiate the PILOT with the project developer. The goal of Jefferson County Economic Development is to create a win – win situation for everyone involved. The community wins by supporting the expansion of the existing business and adding jobs or through bringing in a new business creating new jobs, new opportunity and a stronger tax base. 

    PILOTS may be employed to assist with traditional business start-ups such as manufacturing and service industries., as well as to attract renewable energy projects – all of which can bring thousands of dollars to local communities. In Jefferson County PILOTS are not available to small retail business, retailers, or food establishments. PILOTs are a good tool to use to grow our local communities. 

Food Evolution Summit: Exciting, inspiring and concerning

Jay Matteson

As I write this column, I’m traveling at 400 miles per hour, 30,000 plus feet above the heartland of the U.S. It’s appropriate to be writing at this altitude as the last two days have allowed me to view our food systems from high above sea level. Our journey to the Food Evolution Summit in Palm Springs, California, was exciting, inspiring and concerning. I met many food developers, chief executive officers, food researchers and company vice presidents during the two-day conference. Our three-fold mission during the conference was to look for potential companies considering new locations on the east coast and especially New York state; explore opportunities to bring new business to our companies in Jefferson County, and gain a broader perspective on new food and beverage trends. 

    Our first presenter was David Rice, vice president of research and development strategies and portfolio management for Pepsico. Mr. Rice discussed world demographics and our aging populations. Food companies need to be adjusting their products to meet the needs and tastes of an older population while also creating new and exciting food products for new generations. David also indicated that the consumer, especially the U.S. consumer, is demanding our food stream produce less waste, from the farm to the table. “Upcycling” became a hot topic during the conference. Upcycling is going beyond the traditional three “R”s of waste reduction. Upcycling is finding waste products and converting them into new food products or packaging. It’s not just reusing the waste product as it is, but converting the product into a different use. Almost every presenter after Mr. Rice discussed upcycling at some point in their presentations. 

    As a great example of upcycling that came out of the conference was a company using grape pomice, the byproduct of wine-making that contains seeds, skins and stems. A company in California has developed a technology to isolate the resveratrol from the pomice and turn it into either a concentrated powder or liquid. The resveratrol can then be added to other food and beverages to bring its health benefits to the product. The presenter from Napa Hill Inc., is using the concentrated liquid in a specialized water product that contains concentrated juices from the grapes grown in Napa Valley. This creates a unique almost wine-like flavor without the alcohol but containing many of the health benefits obtained in wine. The pomice is upcycled, reducing the waste stream from the winemakers. 

    Joshua Reid, senior director for research and development at Kashi discussed their new line of food products called Kashi for Kids. Kashi gathered together a group of teenage food entrepreneurs from across the United States. These kids were involved in creating their own food businesses or were very active in sustainability efforts. Kashi brought the group together to create a new line of food products geared towards kids. The teenagers were given basic ingredients to work from and allowed to be creative in developing the products. Everything from developing the flavor profiles to the shape and texture was examined. The team of teenagers also looked at sustainability issues of the product and its packaging, causing Kashi to adjust how they normally package their products. We had the opportunity to sample the products and they are incredible. I’m bringing home a box of their honey cinnamon cereal. The cereal is a combination of crunchy pieces of cereal with a cinnamon coating and then cereal puffs filled with a honey apple mixture. It was impressive to learn how the kids were given a big palette to work from to create healthy food products. My only disappointment with this effort was the failure to expose the teenage team to the farmers who grow the ingredients. We heard extensively about how Kashi sources their products and demands strong sustainability practices from the farms. But they failed to bring the kids to the farms. 

    This has been an ongoing concern of mine, long before this summit. Food processing companies are marketing their products with environmentally conscious messages, but not connecting with the farmers who produce the ingredients to understand why farms use the practices they do, what farms have already done to minimize their carbon footprint, and to build better partnerships between the consumer, the farmer and the food processor. I did ask Mr. Reid quietly about why they hadn’t connected the kids with the farms. His answer was simple: they had not considered it. Perhaps in the future they will place more importance on that connection. 

    There were several other interesting presentations and fantastic connections made. We’ll work to maintain and build these connections with hope that perhaps it will bring more food processing to Jefferson County. 

A Change In Job, But Not A Change In Mission

Alyssa Couse

Since my last article, quite a bit has changed, both personally and within the agriculture industry. 

    First, I’d like to reintroduce myself as the new director of member services and industry relations for the Northeast Dairy Producers Association. The NEDPA Mission Statement reads: 

    “The Northeast Dairy Producers Association is an organization of dairy producers and industry partners committed to an economically viable, consumer-conscious dairy industry dedicated to the care and well-being of our communities, our environment, our employees and our cows.” 

    This not-for- profit organization serves its members by providing them with timely updates within the dairy industry, working on current issues, and supporting them and the good work they do for their land, animals, families, and their communities. One key issue that has been a focus recently is agricultural labor. The passing of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices act in mid-July, which is due to take effect in January 2020, could affect some farms significantly looking forward, but the uncertainty of what the future farm workforce will look like is greater now than ever. 

    While putting together a newsletter a couple weeks ago, I read an article that has been thought-provoking ever since. The article was titled “A vision of the future dairy workforce” by Richard Stup, of Cornell University’s Ag Workforce Development team. It addressed the current stigma surrounding farm work: low skill, low-wage jobs in a high-skill, high-wage economy. This has made recruiting, hiring and retaining quality workers a tremendous challenge. The dairy industry specifically seems to be at a turning point when it comes to the future of farm labor.  

    “The future of the dairy industry in the U.S. depends on reducing or eliminating low-skill jobs and replacing them with technology and high-skill jobs. This process is well underway, with the adoption of self-guided farm machinery, group calf feeders, robotic feed pushers and automatic milking systems.” said Ricard Stup, Ag Workforce Development . 

    As technology develops and farming becomes more technical and precise, the skills needed to be successful in the industry will also evolve. Cattle genetics continue to improve and with research and development, people are better able to understand which management strategies make cows the most comfortable, most productive, and most free to do what they do best, be cows. 

    According to Dr. Stup, the future dairy farm employee will need an enhanced set of skills such as heightened critical thinking and problem solving, systems analysis, and will need to not only be compassionate and nurturing, but also well educated and data savvy. These are the skills that make for a successful middle to upper manager on farm today, but these skills will need to be characteristics of employees of all levels. 

    The agriculture industry cannot simply wait around for the next generation of ideal farm workers to emerge; the need is now. It is no secret that it is incredibly difficult for farms to attract and rely on a local labor force, especially in times of extremely low unemployment rates. Thus, the industry has had to turn to a workforce of immigrants and people of diverse backgrounds. This process is often complicated with differences in lifestyle, language barriers, and navigating through paperwork and regulations. However, most foreign workers come with an invaluable work ethic. As their birth rates decline and more opportunities arise in their home countries, U.S. agriculture is in growing need of a larger demographic of future employees. 

    So where will the rest of the future ag workforce come from? They will most likely be new to the farming lifestyle and not born into the family business like in generations of the past. Many students are studying animal science and related studies simply because they love animals and want a career with them. Like our farm managers today, future employees will need to be versatile and embrace the balance between manual labor as well as office work, such as navigating cattle health software. Some will enter the industry to fulfill their calling to feed others and desire to do an essential work. The future of farm labor will no doubt be diverse. As the industry evolves and becomes more technical, more high-skill, there’s hope that farm labor will become a sought after, fulfilling career.