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. 

How Will Mandatory Overtime Pay Impact Agriculture?

Jay Matteson

Agriculture tends to be a labor-intensive industry. Dairy farms depend upon labor for everything from milking cows to planting and harvesting crops.  Apple Orchards have only a few weeks to harvest apples in the fall.  Vegetable farms need help all season long planting, weeding, harvesting and processing their produce. New York agriculture is second only to California in the cost of farm labor as a percentage of the value of receipts for products sold.   Farm labor is 13.2 percent of the value of farm receipts in New York state. The national average is 9.5 percent

    High risk is part of farming especially when you consider the dependency on natural cycles and Mother Nature.  A cold wet summer or hot dry growing season can equally spell disaster. Diseases and illness can severely impact crops and livestock.  A disease or crop pest can sweep in on the wind unexpectedly and wipe out crops. Livestock herds may be impacted by illness, requiring money and labor to help nurse a herd back to health.

    Most important, when thinking about the impact of labor on agriculture, is the seasonal vulnerability of the farm.  Short windows exist to plant and harvest crops. These periods are intense and workers hired to perform planting and harvest know coming in to the position, they’ll work many hours to get the job done.  This is part of farming and is expected.

    Mix all of this, with slim margins and, for dairy farms, no control on the price they are paid for their product, and you have an industry that is very susceptible to negative impacts from government imposed arbitrary mandates. In New York state minimum wage increases and now a proposed mandate for overtime pay for farm workers could place many farms, or their workers, in jeopardy.

    The New York State Senate and Assembly have introduced legislation to mandate farms pay their employees overtime if they work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. According to a report from Farm Credit East, “The Economic Impact of Mandatory Overtime Pay for New York State Agriculture” (February 2019), estimated farm labor costs would increase 17.2 percent. This is in addition to the impacts of increasing minimum wage.

    Combined together, mandatory overtime pay and scheduled minimum wage increases will cost our farms in New York state $299 million, the Farm Credit East report indicates, as well as driving down net farm income by 23.4 percent.   That is hard to fathom.  New York state is imposing mandates that will drive down net farm income by almost 25 percent, according to Farm Credit East, a respected and well-established financial institution. It is also notable that payroll taxes and workers compensation costs, paid to New York state, will increase.

                It is not hard to anticipate how farms will adjust to these government mandated expenses. In talking with farm owners, there are three common replies. One common response is that they will reduce full time employees to part time workers. Part-time workers do not receive all the benefits paid to full-time employees and the farm will have several part-time workers coming in shifts to do the work of a full-time worker. This allows the farm the ability to avoid mandatory overtime pay.  Another response is to cut benefits paid to workers to make up the difference in overtime pay. A third common response is to shift to less labor-intensive crops and reduce the farm workforce.  In any of these scenarios, it is a lose-lose-lose situation.  The farmworkers will lose, the farm will lose, and New York State will lose. It is that simple. A question for you, how much more are you willing to pay for your food?

June Festival Offers Ag Education Opportunities

ALYSSA COUSE

Now more than ever children need to be educated about agriculture.  Mainly due to the fact that if they aren’t taught about it, they may never understand it or be able to experience it.  Most kids are three to four generations separated from farming, which makes having hands on experience and knowledge of the food system much harder to grasp.  The message that food originates from farms and doesn’t magically appear on the grocery store shelves is becoming more crucial to relay to our future consumers.  A few examples of efforts being made locally to help increase agriculture and food awareness include farm tours, Agriculture Literacy week, and participating in community events, such as career fairs and festivals. 

    An upcoming event is the 2018 Dairyland Festival and Parade.  This is an annual event held in June, because June is dairy month! So, you may be wondering why we dedicate a whole day to dairy.  New York is the third highest milk producing state, only preceded by California and Wisconsin.  There are over 160 dairy farms in Jefferson County, alone as well as several dairy processing plants.  Dairy farming is evidently a staple of north country agriculture and the economy. Many have tried to imitate this natural product with different substitutes, but none have come close to wholesome, nutrient-packed milk.  Cow’s milk has nine essential nutrients and according to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference on the American Dairy Association website, they are called essential for a reason.  These nutrients are potassium, protein, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, and Vitamin A.  In just one eight-ounce glass of milk, regardless of flavor, there is as much potassium as one banana, as much protein as 1 ½ medium eggs, as much riboflavin as 1/3 cup of almonds, 20 cherry tomatoes worth of Niacin, the same amount of calcium as 10 cups of raw spinach, one cup of kidney beans worth of Phosphorus, as much Vitamin B-12 as 4 ounces of cooked turkey, ¾ ounce of cooked salmon worth of vitamin D, and as much Vitamin A as ¾ cup of broccoli.  Thus milk is one of the most affordable, nutrient-dense sources of nutrition.  Chocolate milk has even been proven to be one of the best recovery beverages an athlete could ask for.

     This year’s Dairyland event will be held at the Dulles State Office Building on Friday, June 1st.  This is also World Milk Day, thus the theme “As the World Churns: Celebrating World Milk Day.”  From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the doors are open to elementary school students, teachers, parents, and the public to go through and learn from farmers, agencies, and organizations involved in agriculture in Jefferson County.  Visitors will get to sample different dairy products, participate in games/activities, and get hands-on with animals, plants, and food!  A few examples include the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s infamous wooden milking cow, making cheese curd and butter, garden in a glove, Dairy princess and her court, and a Critter Corner full of animals to visit.  Since the theme of this April’s magazine is motorsports, I’ll mention that there will be equipment and farm safety demonstrations at Dairyland Festival as well!  Tractors, ATVs, skid steers, and trucks are vital for efficient operation of most modern dairy farms.

    The fun continues later that evening at the Dairyland Parade.  Downbeat Percussion, the official drumline of the Buffalo Bills, will kick things off with a performance starting at 6 p.m. in the Dulles State Office Building courtyard.  The “As the World Churns: Celebrating World Milk Day” Parade will start its route at 7 p.m. from Watertown High School to the State Office Building.  If you are into motors, this parade is for you! Farm equipment of all shapes, sizes, and colors will be comingled among the floats and marching bands. (to join the parade, visit http://www.comefarmwithus.com/dairyland-festival-and-parade/ ). Afterword, the Jefferson County Dairy Princess Court will be serving a free giant ice cream sundae to participants and attendees.

If you are interested in reading more about dairy products, check out: 

https://www.americandairy.com/

https://www.midwestdairy.com/nutrition-and-health/dairy-nutrition/

https://www.choosemyplate.gov/dairy-nutrients-health

If you are interested in EXPERIENCING more…. see you at the Dairyland Festival and Parade, June 1, 2018!

alyssa couse is an agricultural outreach educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Born and raised in the north country, she feels at home working with Jefferson County residents, both two-legged and four-legged. Contact her at amc557@cornell.edu.

Agriculture Through the Ages: The changing, youthful face of north country agriculture

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
The Porter family still owns an operates Porterdale Farms in Jefferson County, from left, Stephen, and wife, Angela, with children Landon, 11, Collin, 8, Kennedy, 6, and Katelyn, 5, David Porter, and Lisa, and husband Greg.

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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.