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. 

20 Questions: Nurturing Northern New York

SYDNEY SCHAEFER/NNY BUSINESS
Nutrition Program Manager at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County April Bennett poses for a portrait inside the cooperative’s office kitchen in Watertown.

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What Will Happen To Our Cows?

Jay Matteson

Being good environmental stewards is in everyone’s best interest. Clean water, clean air, clean soils are critical to life. Every industry and person should conserve our natural resources and reduce our impact on the environment, especially our climate. Let’s be clear, our climate is constantly changing. As most are aware, there is a huge debate about how much is caused by humans, to what degree natural systems cause the changes, and even to what degree our sun impacts climatic cycles. In the end, the hysterical arguments and claims damage the ability of people and industries to work together, calmly, to clean up our environment and make the world a cleaner place to live for our grandchildren. It seems sweeping bold claims and major pieces of legislation are the way, instead of common, sensical, reasonable steps forward that allow for people to adopt, adapt and embrace. 

    In the New York State Legislature there is legislation, the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), that is intended to make New York State the leading state in adopting climate change legislation. The CCPA requires a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. By 2050, the CCPA sets a standard of zero greenhouse gas emissions within New York state. Let me say that again, within thirty years, greenhouse gas emissions will be eliminated within New York state, according to the legislation. All sectors of our economy, including agriculture, are targeted. 

    In thinking about this initiative, I immediately am concerned for our dairy processing companies. Natural gas is important to our food processing industry. How will these companies operate their plants, which employ about 300 people in Jefferson County alone, if they cannot use natural gas? Thirty years is not much time to identify new technologies that can replace natural gas in food processing. How will these companies afford transforming to new technologies? We use trucks, trains and planes to transport our raw products and value-added goods across the nation. Will we tell companies you can’t license fossil fuel powered transportation in the state but if transportation comes in from outside New York state, we allow it? Will the cost of production be driven so high in New York that these companies will shutter their plants here, possibly moving to other states? If New York causes companies to move their operations to other states where the regulatory impact is less, have we created a false utopia? Whereas, supporting research and development, and rewarding good voluntary environmental stewardship efforts, might keep business in New York state. 

    What about our cows? Many of us have heard or read about efforts to regulate cow flatulence. Will our livestock be targeted in the CCPA? Will livestock be allowed in New York state? Cows do emit greenhouse gases. I’m not aware of any filters that can be placed to control dairy air. 

    Of equal concern in considering this important issue is how will sweeping new regulations impact our average citizen’s finances. I read some reports from environmental advocacy groups about how jobs will be created because of the CCPA. Certainly, some will. The real question is how many more jobs, that the average citizen needs, will be lost because companies cant keep up with regulations and mandates? If people cannot afford to feed their families and have a reasonable quality of life, the last thing they worry about is the environment. There are very few people that will live like hermits so they can be good environmentalists. 

    As I began, so will I end. One of my favorite books is Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. Aldo is regarded as the father of conservationism. The book has much wisdom about how the environment works. It is wise to do everything reasonably possible to minimize our footprints on this planet. As big and wild as it may seem, it is still the only home we have. But we humans are here, and we must measure how we impact each other in the things we do and the regulations we pass. 

NNY Recognized for Unique Intersection of Industries

ALYSSA COUSE

The North Country was recently recognized for the unique intersection of its two largest industries: agriculture and the military. The area received the honor of being named a Great American Defense Community at the Association of Defense Communities National Conference in Washington, D.C. The award was a result of a collaboration between Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County and the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization to bring this effort into the spotlight, quite literally. Association of Defense Communities (ADC) Director of Communications, Grace Marvin, and her camera man, Christopher Wright of Optix Creative, traveled across the country to film a promotional video highlighting the Cornell Small Farms Program Farm Ops project and how local veterans are finding their roots in agriculture. 

    The video featured three local farmer veterans. All three had very unique backgrounds and expertise from their military experiences and all chose use these skills in their next mission: farming. 

    Lee Igo and his wife Denise had lived on several bases throughout the country and despite being from sunny Florida, decided to make the Fort Drum area their permanent home after Lee’s retirement. The Igo’s now have a poultry farm, Igo to the Farm, in Depauville, NY where they raise their beloved birds and sell their eggs to locals. Fort Drum families make the largest portion of Igo to the Farm’s market. 

    Steve Conaway and his wife purchased an old dairy farm in Alexandria Bay, NY to call home after Steve’s retirement from the Army. With countless hours of research on the wine industry, the Conaway’s decided to take a chance on viticulture in the North Country. The Thousand Islands Winery was the first of its kind in the area and now produces about 125,000 gallons of wine a year! With being located near the beautiful Thousand Islands and the international bridge to Canada, the TI Winery is no doubt a tourist destination for locals and visitors alike. 

    Cody Morse had roots in the Fort Drum area from being raised on an organic dairy farm in southern Jefferson County before entering the military. After leaving the Marines and returning home, he connected with his co-founder, then Agbotic Inc. was born. This farm is a true testament to how the entrepreneurial nature of veterans can help them thrive in agriculture. Agbotic Inc. is comprised of a series of high tech greenhouse that allow for perfect growing conditions all year round. Another unique feature is the robotic system that spans the greenhouses and acts as an all-in-one piece of farm equipment that can perform everything from data collection, irrigation, and seeding just to name a few functions. The innovation that originated in a small test greenhouse in the front of the farm property now has expanded to a multi-greenhouse facility with several patents pending. 

    “You take a soldier who is defending the nation and they transition to a career where they then are feeding the nation and in many ways there’s skills that are transferrable there.” says Kevin Jordan, Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. As many farmers look to transition their farms to the next generation, it is evident that veterans are a viable demographic to help fill that void. With similar values, skillsets, and dedication to bettering the lives of others, farmers and veterans are built from similar molds. 

    Below is the link for the North Country cut of the video that premiered at the Association of Defense Communities National Conference in Washington D.C. Enjoy!  

https://vimeo.com/user13701449/r view/341709149/a87e94e886 

20 Questions: Tug Hill Winery

DAYTONA NILES/NNY BUSINESS
Susan Maring, Tug Hill Vineyards Proprietor and President.

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From The Battle Field To The Cattle Field

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY/NNY MAGAZINES
Tucker family is he heart and soul of of the Tucker Black Angus Ranch, back, from left, Hunter, Kelly, and Justin, front from left, Addie Dayton and Carson.

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Lewis County is Dairy

 

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Women’s Roles in Agriculture Grow Strong

ALYSSA COUSE

I recently attended The New York Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Conference in Albany.  The theme of the meeting was “Young Farmers- The Future Agriculture Superheroes”.  It is no secret that the agriculture industry has experienced volatility in recent years, whether it be changing markets, new regulations, or extreme weather, so investing in the future of the industry is more crucial than ever.  Building versatile, resilient, invested young leaders is becoming more of a focus and as you look around the room, there is no doubt a growing proportion of lip gloss wearing, braid-bearing farmers. 

    The keynote speaker of the conference, Vance Crowe, director of millennial engagement for Bayer Crop Sciences, discussed the importance of telling the story of farming and building relationships with consumers.  It is evident that this is a significant task, even just from the fact that millennial engagement and consumer relations are now job titles within agribusinesses.  More often than not, it is the mother, sister, aunt, etc. on the farm that takes on the role of managing social media pages, community events/tours, and newsletters. Most women have the inherent finesse to connect emotionally in creative ways, which is key to building relationships with consumers these days.  In addition to online or written outreach, many farms today are incorporating more opportunities for visitors to get a hands on experience. 

    Some farms take advantage of their home being a tourist destination and participate in some form of agritourism.  Agritourism involves encouraging visitors to a farm/ranch for any agriculturally based operation.  Activities offered can be equine boarding facilities, u-pick fruit and veggie patches, farm tours, hay rides, petting zoos, and open houses just to name a few! This can also be an extra source of income for farms and an opportunity to diversify from everyday production. Such experiences are quite literally being craved by consumers today as they yearn to learn more about when, where, and how their food came to be.  This need stems most directly from the fact that many young people today are four to five generations separated from the farming lifestyle.  What the agriculture industry once took for granted was the innate trust and knowledge of the food system that once was, when almost every family had a part in the production from dairy farms to road side stands.  Today, less than 2 percent of the population are involved in production farming.  Yes, those 2 percent are feeding themselves and the other 98 percent.  Thus, reestablishing people’s connections to their food and how it was produced is a growing need.

    Agritourism was another area we focused on at the recent conference, specifically the new Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act.  The “Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act,” now part of New York’s General Obligations Law (“GOL”), provides that owners and operators of agricultural tourism areas “shall not be liable for an injury to or death of a visitor if the provisions of General Obligations Law Section 18-303(1)(a) – (e) are met.” Statutory requirements for protection include directional signage, employee training, warning to visitors concerning inherent risks of farm activities, operator provided written information, visitor responsibility signage, posting of notice of right to a refund, and operator duties. In a nutshell, in order to protect visitors and business owners, there must be posted signage stating any potential risks and well trained employees to help ensure safe and enjoyable experiences.  When thinking about compliance for your agritourism business, think like a paranoid mother of a toddler! What can they get into? What could go wrong? Then make a sign warning against those actions.  For example, if guests are able to feed livestock treats, warn them to be cautious of being nibbled, because fingers look a lot like carrots. It is important to make signage specific to the operation and not just post a few general warning signs. To ensure that coverage requirements are met, it is best to work with a lawyer.  

    For more information: https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/Press%20Releases/Inherent_Risk_Guidance.pdf

    Women’s roles in agriculture continue to grow exponentially.  Based on observations of the crowd at recent leadership conferences, you can expect the female voice to become louder throughout the industry in the years to come.  In addition to becoming great farmers, they will become leaders in technology, marketing, and communications.

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.

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.