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.

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.

 

Agricultural Development Conference on March 23

Jay Matteson

On Friday, March 23, agriculture will be showcased at the annual Jefferson County Agricultural Development Conference at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown. The conference is free to attend, but advance registration is required by March 16. The morning agenda will look at local agricultural development efforts underway or proposed for Northern New York. A nationally recognized keynote speaker will discuss opportunities and challenges for our agricultural industry in 2018 and beyond during our midday program. In the afternoon, the event will feature panel discussions that examine the future of agriculture and workforce development issues. Those interested in more information or in registering should call (315) 782-5865.

    Our keynote speaker, Moe Russell, is the cofounder of Russell Consulting Group, a leading provider of marketing and financial advice to crop and livestock producers.  Moe is a frequent business speaker on motivation, planning and entrepreneurship. He developed a webinar series on commodity marketing and writes for Farm Journal magazine.

    Prior to starting Russell Consulting, he spent 26 years with Farm Credit Services and served as division president, branch lending, where he was responsible for 82 lending offices in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. Moe has international consulting experience in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Middle East and South Africa. He is also on the faculty of the “The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers” (TEPAP) program at Texas A & M University.

    Our keynote presentation will begin at 11 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m. with a break for lunch. Immediately following the keynote presentation, Moe Russell will be joined onstage by Mr. Chris Laughton, director of knowledge exchange at Farm Credit East and John Jennings, plant manager of Great Lakes Cheese in Adams. The panel will build upon Mr. Russell’s presentation, examining current events in agriculture, the strengths and weaknesses of Northern New York agriculture, and will discuss their thoughts on how to grow our industry.

    The conference begins at 8:15am with an important update on the Regional Food Hub Program and what efforts are being made to help farms with marketing and distributing their food products. Building upon the food hub program, we’ll also learn about the Drive for 25 Farm to School initiative to get more local farm products onto our school lunch menus.  These two programs are chipping away at the barriers that have made it difficult for produce farms to thrive in our region.

    At 9:30 a.m., there will be a report on the International Agribusiness Park of the Thousand Islands. Much work is being done to develop this industrial park for agriculture and conference participants will hear the progress being made on this exciting project. Tied to the Agribusiness Park presentation, Dr. Travis Maddock from Dakota Global Group of North Dakota will be on hand to discuss the feasibility of a USDA meat processing facility here in northern New York. 

    Our final program of the day features a panel discussion on pathways for agricultural workforce development.   The panel discussion begins at 2:30 p.m. and features Dr. Stephen Todd, superintendent of Jefferson – Lewis BOCES, Dr. William Jones, who helped create the new agribusiness degree program at SUNY Canton, and William Stowell, agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at South Jefferson High School. This panel will discuss the various programs they are involved with at their institutions and what opportunities and needs they see affecting our agricultural workforce.

    The Jefferson County Agricultural Development Conference begins at 8:15 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown.  Participants may choose to attend a portion or all of the conference.  Lunch is served from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. The entire program is free thanks to sponsorship from Afgritech LLC, Great Lakes Cheese Co., Midway International Logistics, North Harbor Dairy Farms, Farm Credit East, Monroe Tractor and Jefferson County Local Development Corporation.  To learn more about the program or register, one may call (315) – 782-5865, email coordinator@comefarmwithus.com or visit www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com .

Jay Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Contact him at coordinator@comefarmwithus.com. His column appears every other month in NNY Business.

Attention Educators: Ag teachers needed!

Jay Matteson

BY: Jay Matteson

September 22 was National Teach Ag Day.  I had never heard of the day. But as I learned more about its purpose recently, it became necessary to share this story with you. National Teach Ag Day is organized by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.  A small part of the observance is to say thank you to the existing ag teachers across the United States for the fantastic job they do.  The primary reason for National Teach Ag Day is to highlight a gaping demand for ag teachers.

    The website for Teach Ag Day is www.naae.org/teachag/index.cfm. The website makes very clear the purpose of the day is to “bring attention to the career of agricultural education, get students thinking about a possible career in agricultural education, and support agricultural teachers in their careers.”  There is currently a national shortage of agricultural educators at the high school level. Mrs. Tedra Bean, the Belleville Henderson High School Agricultural teacher recently told me, “there are 40 schools interested in starting agricultural education programs, but they don’t have agricultural teachers.”  Bill Stowell, ag educator at South Jefferson High School supported Mrs. Bean’s statement, adding that recently 24 ag teachers were added across New York state.

    Mr. Stowell and Mrs. Bean indicate that ag education programs at the high school level have three components: classroom instruction; FFA membership and participation; and supervised agricultural experiences.  The classroom instruction includes regular classroom instruction and laboratory learning.  Classroom instruction may cover sciences, business development, and a variety of other courses that develop the knowledge base of the student.  Laboratory instruction involves hands-on learning that may include handling animals, plants, food products, and technology. FFA brings a great opportunity to build leadership and communicative skills as well as the critical tools of time management. FFA (www.ffa.org) also allows students to join with thousands of students across the U.S. sharing common interests in a dynamic and large youth-led organization.  Supervised Agricultural Experiences provide students the opportunity to go into fields of their interest and gain true work experience. They may work in a number of fields that could include communications, farming, agribusiness, veterinary, environmental stewardship, and many other agricultural related career paths.   All three components combine into an ag education program that is a powerful tool to prepare students for the many career opportunities that exist in agriculture. 

    Those who graduate from college with a degree in agricultural education have more than one career opportunity they can pursue. Yes, there is tremendous opportunity to become a high school agriscience teacher with the huge demand that exists. College graduates might also follow a path towards being an ag literacy coordinator, an ag education professor in college, farm business management instructor, or a variety of other possibilities.  Here in New York state students graduating high school could pursue an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and then go on to SUNY Oswego to obtain their masters degree. There are many ag education programs across the nation to look into. The Teach Ag Day website mentioned earlier provides many resources for those interested to look at. 

    In addition to the ag programs at South Jefferson and Belleville Henderson schools, there are ag programs at Carthage, Indian River and Alexandria schools in Jefferson County.  In Lewis County ag programs exist at South Lewis, Beaver River and Lowville school districts. St Lawrence County has ag programs at Canton, Gouverneur and Edwards Knox schools along with a specialized program through BOCES called the St. Lawrence Agriculture Academy.   Unfortunately Oswego County does not have an ag education program despite their agricultural industry.

    With so many schools across the nation showing an interest in developing agricultural programs in their schools, and ag teacher positions going unfilled, students will take a second look at this opportunity.   Workforce development is critical to any industry, including agriculture, and having a robust offering of agricultural classroom opportunities in our high schools is important if we want to maintain our food supply.  At the core of providing educational opportunities in agriculture, is the all-important agriculture teacher. Thank you for doing what you do.

National Grid has Programs to Assist Agriculture

Jay Matteson

Farms and agribusinesses considering improving their energy efficiency or an expansion project should look closely at the program National Grid offers. They have been a good partner to many farms across Northern New York offering financial assistance for energy projects. As an example, National Grid assisted a 430-cow dairy just north of Albany in 2015. The farm wanted to improve their energy efficiency and increase their productivity.  National Grid was able to help the farm achieve both objectives through $18,000 in energy efficiency incentives and a $50,000 grant from National Grid’s Economic Development Agribusiness program.

    National Grid offers a variety of energy saving farm incentives. Improved lighting systems can increase milk production per cow and provide a better work environment for farm staff. National Grid provides significant incentives for converting old light systems to newer higher efficiency systems. There is a range of incentives offered depending upon the type of fixture.

    Fans can be a huge electricity demand during the warm summer months. Without fans, herd health and production can drop significantly. It is important to provide well-circulated air flow and cool temperature to keep your cows happy and minimize fly problems.  Through National Grid’s help, farms may be able to obtain more efficient fans that improve air quality and cooler temperatures.  In addition, variable frequency drives and controls can be put in place to allow fans to run only when needed adding additional savings onto a farm electricity bill.

    Assistance on upgrading milking equipment may also be possible from National Grid. Variable frequency driven vacuum pumps, air compressors, pumps, air dryers, milk precoolers, heat exchangers and chillers are eligible for National Grid incentive payments. Many farms have already taken advantage of incentives from National Grid to upgrade this equipment.

    Some of our farms located in the rural areas of Northern New York face limitations because of the power supply to the farm.  In order to upgrade or expand facilities, farms sometimes face needing a three-phase power supply to farm instead of single-phase. This can be a very expensive proposition as the farm will incur the costs of running three-phase power to the farm, if the supply is not present in front of the farm already. National Grid does have a grant program to decrease the cost of obtaining three-phase power. Potentially, depending upon the specific situation the farm faces, it may receive up to $200,000 for running three-phase power.

    The National Grid Agri-Business Productivity Program is available to assist dairy farms, commercial farms, food processing businesses and controlled environment agricultural facilities with energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy projects and delivery or productivity improvements. To be eligible a business or farm must receive electric or natural gas from National Grid and be undertaking an energy efficiency project through any public agency or utility program or be purchasing /installing equipment for a renewable energy project to service the facility. A project that is constructing or upgrading a new controlled environment agriculture facility may also be eligible.  Awards up to $50,000 are possible.

    Our office has a great working relationship with the Economic Development and Corporate Citizenship office of National Grid in Syracuse. Mr. Joe Russo is great to work with and has worked hard to help farms and agribusinesses with their projects.  If you are interested in learning more about these programs, please give our office, Jefferson County Economic Development, a call at 315-782-5865 or by email to coordinator@comefarmwithus.com or contact Mr. Russo directly at 315-428-6798.  You’ll find a good partner through National Grid with your energy efficiency or expansion projects.

Jay M. Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Contact him at coordinator@comefarmwithus.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

Farmer’s Market Season is Upon Us!

Jay Matteson

By: Jay Matteson

A true sign that Northern New York has moved away from snow season is the beginning of farmer’s markets in May. Fresh, local produce, baked goods, potted flowers and local wine are among some of the things that visitors to a market will find.  Having a great conversation with a friend, getting a bite to eat from a food vendor and sometimes enjoying musical entertainment are extras that make our local open air markets something many look forward to.

    The first market of the year to open is the big Watertown Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays, beginning May 24, in front of the Dulles State Office Building on Washington Street in Watertown. This market features almost everything you want from an outdoor market.  Local produce, eggs, meats, wine, plants, baked products, fudge, candies, honey and many other farm products are available depending upon the time of the season.  You’ll also find arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, informational booths and many food vendors.  They commonly have musicians providing live performances during the market.  This market begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. The market accepts FMNP, WIC and SNAP benefits.

    Three markets open on Friday May 26, 2017 and run on Fridays until their end date. The Carthage Farmer’s Market is held at the Farmer’s Market pavilion on Riverside Drive from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. This market accepts FMNP benefits.  The Alexandria Bay Farmer’s Market opens at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. It is located in the Kinney’s Drugs parking lot. The Alexandria Bay Market does not accept any benefit programs. If you can’t make any of the daytime markets, you might want to visit the Jefferson Bulk Milk (Cheese Store) Farmer’s Market on Route 3 in Hounsfield as they start in mid-afternoon at 2:30 p.m. and end at 6 p.m. This market accepts FMNP,WIC, and SNAP benefits. Another market that runs on Fridays but doesn’t open until June 2 is the South Jeff Chamber of Commerce Farm and Artisan Market.  This is the first year for this market which will be held in the big pavilion behind the Adams Volunteer Fire Department.  The South Jeff market starts at 3 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m. allowing people to visit the market after working hours. They will not be accepting any benefit programs.

    On Thursday, June 1, the Clayton Farmer’s Market opens. Held in the Village Park, this market starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. They are not accepting any benefit programs. This beautiful location gives visitors a nice chance to walk around downtown Clayton and view the mighty St. Lawrence River.

    Saturdays are also a busy farmer’s market day. The earliest market opens at 9 a.m. in the pavilion at J.B. Wise Place behind Public Square in Watertown. The Saturday Farmer’s Market opens at 9 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m., beginning on June 3. This market accepts FMNP, WIC and SNAP benefits.  Starting June 17 on the Village Green in Cape Vincent, you will find the Cape Vincent Farmer’s Market. This market opens at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. They do not accept any benefit programs.

    A new farmer’s market in Jefferson County is at one of our newest farm wineries. The Busted Farmer’s Market is hosted at the Busted Grapes Winery at 19557 Ball Road, Black River. They are also the only market open on Sundays. Starting on June 18, they will open at 11 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.  They do not accept any benefit programs.  This could be a fun market to visit if you’re not doing anything on a Sunday, just don’t get busted!

    All of this information is available on the calendar of agricultural events found at www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com. The list of markets is also available in the “Local Food Guide” published by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. The local food guide will be available on their website, www.ccejefferson.org/local-foods as soon as it is published.

Agriculture Gearing Up for the Event Season

 

Jay Matteson

   Warm weather is on the way! At least by July the snow will be gone and it’ll be time to get outside. If you visit www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com and click on the calendar tab at the top, you’ll be taken to our calendar of agriculture for Jefferson County and Northern New York. Here are a few of the many events, found on the website, which you can look forward to in 2017.
     On April 21, the annual Jefferson County Agricultural Development Conference will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown. From 9 to 10:45 a.m., Chris Lorence from Christopher A. Lorence PR & Marketing Services will provide a workshop on advanced use of social media for marketing and advertising in agriculture. Mr. Lawrence will take course participants on a journey exploring how to use social media for advanced advertising of products and services offered by farms and agribusinesses. The workshop is free, but participants must register in advance due to limited seating capacity.
     Following Mr. Lorence at 11a.m., Christine Watkins, executive director of Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation, will provide a presentation on the environmental stewardship efforts of our agricultural industry, highlighting the tremendous work and expense our farms put forward to maintain and improve the quality of the environment in which we live. Mrs. Watkins presentation will be geared both for the public and farm community. Following Mrs. Watkins there will be a light lunch for conference participants. During lunch, I will present my annual overview of our agricultural industry report, discussing the challenges and highlights from 2016 and looking forward into 2018.
     Our keynote presentation at the Agricultural Development Conference will feature a panel presentation from Nichole Hirt and William Stowell. Mrs. Hirt is the agricultural program teacher from Indian River High School and Indian River FFA advisor. Mr. Stowell is the South Jefferson High School agricultural teacher and FFA advisor. Together Mr. Stowell and Mrs. Hirt will look at agricultural education in our local area and across New York State and share with our audience their thoughts on how agricultural education in our classrooms relates to workforce development in the agricultural industry and the challenges and opportunities we face.
     While the Agricultural Development Conference is free, advanced registration is required by April 14. Those interested may register by calling 315-782-5865 or emailing coordinator@comefarmwithus.com.
     On Saturday, May 6, Old McDonald’s Farm Agricultural Education Center near Sackets Harbor will open its doors for the season, weather permitting. If you have not visited Old McDonald’s Farm, it is a real treat. As one of the largest agricultural education centers in New York state, it is a fantastic place to take your children to have fun and learn about agriculture. Visit their website at www.oldmcdonaldhasafarm.com.
     Planning has started for the Jefferson County Dairyland Festival and Parade on Friday, June 2. The festival kicks off at 9 a.m. at the Dulles State Office Building on Washington Street in Watertown. The festival is geared for children ages pre-school through sixth grade. The festival includes interactive exhibits, displays and demonstrations related to our dairy industry and agriculture. Schools may register their classes by visiting www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com and clicking on the festival link on the right hand side of the home page. Classes must register to attend before May 5. The second part of the exciting celebration is the Dairy Parade which kicks off at 7 p.m. The parade lines up at Watertown High School and proceeds down Washington Street, ending at the State Office Building. The judging stand is directly in front of the State Office Building, where our Master of Ceremonies provides live narration of the entire parade. The parade is full of exciting and fun entries, including marching bands, HUGE farm equipment, fire trucks, live animals, floats, youth groups and businesses. Anyone wishing to enter the parade may also visit www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com and follow the directions on the festival page. Entry forms must be submitted by May 22. The parade is a “points parade” for local fire departments. At 8 p.m., the Jefferson County Dairy Princess and her court will dish out free ice cream sundaes in the Dulles State Office Building for everyone as long as supplies last.
     There are many more events, activities, workshops and meetings that may be of interest to you. Check the calendar on our website to keep track of what is happening that you might be interested in. There is a lot to do in our great agricultural community!

Jay M. Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Contact him at coordinator@comefarmwithus.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

It’s Maple Season!

Jay Matteson

A true harbinger of spring is seeing sap buckets nailed to the side of massive gray sugar maple trees in a forest still covered in old snow from the winter’s last breath.  Driving down the winding country road, you see blue tubing strung from tree to tree until finally the little river of sweet sap pours into a giant white container.  If you are lucky enough, you stop at a small wooden shack that has steam pouring out of the top. For the untrained, one may wonder what in the blue blazes is going on until they suddenly sniff the sweet aroma of maple sap boiling tinged with the sentimental fragrance of wood fire. Sugar season has arrived.

                Many of us who live in the north country have experienced this birth of spring many times.  Few ever take it for granted. It is now that families start to consider placing the buckets and tubing throughout the maple woods called a sugar bush.  For many, they have been cutting firewood all winter to heat the giant boiling pan in which the sap has the water boiled out to make maple syrup.  Some use gas fired burners to heat the pan. Advanced technologies in the Sugar Shack, the building where they boil the syrup, might include using ultraviolet light to help filter out any impurities.

                In the woods, vacuum pumps may be used with the tubing to promote more sap collection. A lot of sap is needed to provide us the delicious maple products many of us look forward to. Sugar maple and black maple are the preferred trees to tap, but sap can be collected from red and silver maple as well, although their sap has higher water content.  Native Americans enjoyed maple syrup long before Europeans arrived in North America. In the sugar house, some operations are using reverse osmosis units to remove some of the water from the sap before it enters the boiling pan.

                Hopefully, you’re wondering when and where you should go to experience this tasty tradition of springtime.  Our maple syrup producers have made it easy for you.  On the weekends of March 18-19 and March 25-26, we celebrate Maple Weekend across New York State. There are many sugar shacks across the north country that open their doors to public.  Thirteen sugar shacks across Northern New York provide a variety of experiences for visitors during the weekend.  These include hayrides, learning how to tap trees and collect the sap, how to boil the sap into syrup and also how to make all the other delicious treats people love to enjoy. Of course all have maple products for sale. 

                If you want to experience Maple Weekend, you can visit either of two websites. The first website we recommend is www.mapleweekend.com. This provides great information about the maple industry and has a listing of all the sugar shacks across New York that are participating. Then you can visit http://nysmaple.com/mapleweekend/ and find an interactive map where you can search for participating maple producers near you. The other part of Maple Weekend I highly recommend is taking in one of the many pancake breakfasts put on by local organizations. There is a listing on the Maple Weekend website.  With the winter we’ve had here in the north country, why not get out and taste a little of the magic that is our maple industry?

Organic Milk Production in Jefferson Co. and NYS

Agri-business column by Jay Matteson

Northern New York is one of the leading dairy-producing regions in New York State and the nation. Dairy farms in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties combined produced approximately 1.8 billion pounds of milk in 2010.  That is a lot of milk!  All three counties rank in the top 10 of dairy-producing counties in the state and top 50 counties in the United States.

                We are also seeing continued growth in organic milk production in our region. According to Sharad Mathur, chief operating officer with Dairy Marketing Services, it is estimated that Northern New York has over 100 dairy farms producing about 5 million pounds of pure organic milk every day. Nearly one-third of the organic dairy farms in the state are located in Jefferson and St Lawrence counties. There are conventional dairy farms interested in converting to organic dairy production, but are looking for good markets for organic milk.

                Organic milk is different than conventional milk in that certified organic dairy farms are required to follow strict guidelines that govern use of pesticides, herbicides and type of fertilizer applied to farms, the type of feed that can be used to feed cows and the management practices a farm may use to keep cows healthy. The price organic dairy farms receive for every one hundred pounds of milk they ship is generally higher than what conventional farms receive for their milk, but the cost of producing one hundred pounds of organic is generally higher than producing one hundred of conventional milk.

                We are now seeing a limited number of farms further differentiating their production method by going to certified grass-based milk production.  This certification required the farms to follow a different set of regulations regarding the use of grass in feeding cows on the farm. Certified grass-based farms receive an even higher premium than organic farms.

                In our efforts to attract new agribusiness into Northern New York from Europe, this diversity in our milk production is important.  Our office is currently talking with two dairy manufacturing companies that are interested in organic milk.  The fact that Northern New York produces pure, high-quality milk, and especially is a leader in organic milk production, is critical to our efforts. Our area has potential to grow our dairy production, especially organic milk production, and that is what these two companies are looking at.

                For the consumer, we are very fortunate to live in an area where you have choices between pure and nutritious choices in dairy products.  Our farmers are fortunate that our soils, temperatures and terrain provide opportunities for diverse production methods that suit the management styles of the farm owners. Whatever your preference is for great tasting dairy products, Northern New York provides some of the purest milk available.

 

Economics and agriculture in the future

Jay Matteson

I couldn’t find a fortune teller with a crystal ball so I called two people who have a good grasp on what expectations are in the dairy industry for the coming year. They are members of the informal cadre of people I turn to for guidance on what is happening in agriculture. Ron Robbins is an owner of North Harbor Dairy Farm near Sackets Harbor, a 1,000-cow dairy operation. Ron’s family owns Old McDonald’s Farm, an agricultural educational and entertainment destination.  Ron has served on a variety of state, regional and national organizations and was the state executive director of USDA Farm Service Agency for New York for a number of years.

                Bruce Krupke is the executive vice president of Northeast Dairy Foods Association based in Syracuse, serving dairy processors across eight states in the northeastern United States. Bruce also serves on many state regional and national committees. Both Bruce and Ron do a good job of keeping their finger on the pulse of the dairy industry.

                Dairy farmers have been suffering through very difficult times for the past two years.  The price they are paid for their milk, measured in units of one hundred pounds of milk shipped, or hundredweights (cwt), has been well below the cost of production.  The average cost of production in Northern New York tends to run at $18 per hundredweight or one hundred pounds of milk shipped. Prices have dipped as low as $14 per hundredweight over the last two years.  At $14, if the price stayed that low the entire year, a 500-cow dairy with each cow producing an average of 90 pounds of milk per day per cow would lose approximately $657,000 for the year. That is a significant loss.

                Mr. Robbins indicates that it is looking like prices will remain below cost of production until halfway through 2017.  Why? According to Ron there is a tremendous supply of milk and milk products on the market.  Even though demand is strong for dairy products, the low milk prices over the last two years allowed manufacturers to build a tremendous inventory of products that now has to work its way out of the system. Ron indicates that even though U.S. production continues to be “on a tear” with cow numbers increasing and production per cow moving higher, world production is coming down.  That could be very beneficial to U.S. dairy prices paid to the farmer.  Mr. Robbins believes the last six months of 2017 will hopefully see farm gate prices finally cross the profitable threshold.  Unfortunately, it will take many months for farms to recoup the losses they’ve incurred through this low price cycle.

                Bruce Krupke indicates a similar trend, anticipating prices to gradually rise into 2017.  Mr. Krupke heavily emphasized the importance of the world market for U.S. products. “This is where our future lies” Mr. Krupke said.  World dairy prices are rising enough to bring parity with U.S. dairy prices allowing our industry to become competitive. Bruce indicated that we would benefit most if we could achieve a good dairy trade situation with our neighbor to our north. Canada is putting heavy tariffs on ultra-filtered milk products that are hurting two dairy plants in New York, one in Batavia and one in Cayuga County. Bruce indicates concern that the situation will “back up” milk supply in the state.

                I also asked both gentlemen about expectations for the impacts of the Trump administration on agriculture.  Mr. Robbins said right now there is mixed expectations about President Trump.  President Trump’s pro-business tendencies are welcomed in agriculture. The last several years of intense regulatory burden, rapidly increasing cost of business due to federal policies and heavily increasing tax burdens are expected to ease and that will be very welcome. Ron said there is a nervous anticipation within the industry at the same time.  Agriculture, including the dairy industry, is heavily impacted by foreign trade.  There is concern about the unknowns of the new president’s trade policies.  Much work is being done behind the scenes to help the administration better appreciate the importance of trade to agriculture and our farms.

                Bruce Krupke shared a very positive outlook for the business policies of President Trump.  Mr. Krupke indicated he believes that the administration will be very business friendly and that should generate a positive outlook for dairy manufacturers. Bruce hopes that the president will improve our dairy trade opportunities with Canada which will especially benefit New York’s dairy industry.

                Let’s hope that the expectations of both men are correct. Our dairy farmers need a light at the end of the tunnel.  Prices have been too low for too long.   If we can improve the business climate for our farms and manufacturers, the dairy industry can thrive.  Should our business climate improve, perhaps more dairy or food manufacturing opportunities will come along.