Cornell holds COVID-19 video conference for dairy farmers Friday

Cornell Cooperative Extension is holding a seminar by video conference Friday morning for dairy farmers about how to manage their businesses with COVID-19 in mind. 

The conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. with ZOOM video conferencing technology, and can be accessed at by this link

Richard Stup, an agricultural workforce development specialist at Cornell, and one of two people presenting in the conference, said dairy farms aren’t under any unique restrictions due to the pandemic but they need to know how to protect the health of workers and their animals. Dairy farms are considered an essential business as a food producer, allowing them to continue to employ 100 percent of their workers, but they could be in a difficult situation if workers become ill. 

“Unlike other businesses, these are live animals that have to be cared for,” Stup said. “Unlike other businesses, you can’t shut off the lights and walk away.”  

The seminar will include farm-specific information on sanitation methods to prevent spread of the virus, as well as questions guiding farms to create a back-up plan if supplies or workers are affected.  

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Farm preparedness workshops cover social media, certification and sneaky activists

Dairy cattle
Dairy cattle

Farm preparedness in the 2020s is a lot more sophisticated than locking the barn door before the horse gets out.

The “Modern On-Farm Preparedness” series of workshops and webinars offered by the Cornell Cooperative Extension and other dairy-related agencies starts Jan. 23.

Topics range from the animal-rights activists who get jobs on farms just so they can film operations and post the video online, to participating in a national best practices certification program, to dealing with nasty social media comments on a farm’s social media account. Other classic types of preparedness, including facing fires and weather emergencies, preventing and attending to injuries, and guarding against disease outbreaks, are also covered.

Four of the six sessions are webinars that can be viewed at the respective cooperative extension office offering the program, or using a mobile device or home computer. Admission is $10 per session or $50 for all six. The programs run through Feb. 27 and are held on Thursday afternoons.

The full schedule is available online. Meeting sites are on farms or at Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming County. For additional information, contact a local extension office or visit online.

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Wine panel: Climate change is here but improving soils could help

Wineries in the Finger Lakes have been experiencing evidence of climate change for some time, but there may be things owners can do to mitigate its effects.

That came out of a panel discussion last week at Ravines Wine Cellars in Geneva. “The Future of Nature: Wine” was one in a series of forward-looking panels the Nature Conservancy of Central and Western New York has conducted recently.

The panel covered not only signs of climate damage in farming, but some of the measures wine producers can take to improve resilience in the face of changing conditions.  Chief among them is the way vineyards manage their soil.

“Some of our farming practices have been bad for the soil,” said Paul Brock, co-owner of Silver Thread Vineyard and assistant professor of viticulture and wine technology at Finger Lakes Community College.  While years ago vineyard managers used to plow between the rows to manage weeds, many farmers now agree that keeping vegetation growing between the vines is the best way for the soil to remain viable and stable.

“We like to grow weeds under our vines,” said Suzanne Hunt, president of Hunt Green LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, and manager of sustainability and brand management for Hunt Country Vineyards on Keuka Lake. She also noted that mulch helps, too.

Healthy soil is a living matrix of mineral substrate and organic material, Hunt said. When it’s healthy, it can absorb more water during wet times.

Brock said he witnessed a neighbor’s valuable topsoil wash away from his vineyard because there was no under-vine cover crop. He said there’s no easy way for the farmer to recover from a loss like that.

“You figure out what runoff is when you have 11 inches of rain in five hours, with nine of them in three hours,” Brock said.

Global warming might suggest that different types of grapes would begin to thrive in the cold-climate Finger Lakes region. But it’s not that simple, the panelists said, as the climate is becoming more unpredictable and with wider swings in temperature and precipitation.

“Warming is not helpful if it comes along with epic droughts, epic winds, epic temperatures,” Hunt said.

David Wolfe, professor of integrative plant science at Cornell University, said new weather patterns caused by global warming are causing some summers to be drier while falls and winters are getting wetter. “We have a longer frost-free period, but we see sour rot in the fall,” he said.  Early warming in the spring can also cause premature blooms that freeze when temperatures drop again, he said.

Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture extension specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, noted that now it’s not unusual to see temperatures spike to the 70s in February. “Vines really don’t like that,” he said. When cold follows, buds, parts of vines and whole vines can be damaged. “It’s things like that that worry me more about climate change,” he said.

Jo-Anne Humphreys, water quality specialist for the Nature Conservancy, said incentives for growing cover crops should be considered, along with sharing of best practices among farmers. It’s also important for farmers to know “how long is the payoff for new measures?” she said.

Hunt agreed, saying, “You have to support farmers that are taking the risks.”

Farmers are the first line of defense on the environment, panelists agreed, and can help out by protecting vulnerable areas on their property, such as edges of streams and swampy areas, which are buffer zones.

Unlike some other types of farming, rotating crops is difficult with grape vines that need to mature over the course of several years before they become productive. But Brock suggested more variety within grapes may help the environment. He noted, for instance, the hybrid variety of Cayuga White, which requires only about half the pesticide use needed for Riesling grapes.

“The challenge is we have to figure out how to encourage farmers to make these changes,” Walter-Peterson said. “When a grower has minimal profit margins… minimal time, minimal labor, system changes are overwhelming.”

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Wyoming County puts buy-local listing online

A new online guide helps Wyoming County farms and producers reach out to consumers on the go.

The “Buy Wyoming County Grown” website makes available a listing of producers offering apples to zucchini, and bedding plants to Christmas trees. Until now, a countywide listing helping consumers and tourists buy local was available only in print.


“The number of local farms and producers that sell directly to consumers continues to grow in abundance and variety, and we are pleased to be supportive of those efforts,” said Scott Gardner, Chamber President and CEO. “We invite everyone to travel through our scenic countryside, and see where our bountiful harvest grows and then take something home to enjoy.”

“You might even want to stop and enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants whose menu features food produced in the local community,” suggested Joan Petzen, agriculture program leader with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The initiative was a joint project of the chamber and cooperative extension.

The site includes more than 100 growers and producers, including farm stands, cheese-makers, maple syrup producers and others.  Those who are looking for an agricultural or tourism experience – a farm tour, horseback riding or a visit to a wild game reserve – or refreshment in the form of craft brews or hard cider will also find listings on the site.

Unlike paper directories, the site can be added to almost continuously. Businesses that wish to be added can call the cooperative extension at (585) 786-2251.

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Leadership program seeks to foster growth in agriculture industry

When it comes to agriculture, the industry is no Silicon Valley.

Surveys conducted just a few years ago found that the average American farmer was 58 while the average American computer programmer was 31.

LEAD New York students near Lake Taal in the Philippines.
LEAD New York students near Lake Taal in the Philippines.

The food and agriculture workforce has only gotten older since 30 years ago, when farmers averaged 50 years old. But the LEAD New York program has been trying to chip away at it for all of those years. The Cornell University-based program, now 36 years old, is recruiting its next class of young people to become tomorrow’s leaders in food and agriculture. Workshops are held at various locations across the state; the next class will meet in Rochester in November and Batavia in December.

Applications for the two-year program are available online now, and the deadline for submitting them is March. 1. Tuition for the program, which has a series of three-day workshops around the state in the first year and travels farther afield in the second year, is $5,900. (This year’s class is going to Kenya next month.) Larry Van De Valk, executive director of the organization, notes that many employers pay for some of all of the tuition for their employee, and there is some scholarship money for those who aren’t coming to LEAD New York through a current job.

Graduates speak highly of the program, particularly the network of peers they take with them when they’re finished. One recent graduate is Sam Filler, executive director of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, who has been promoting it in recent newsletters for the foundation.

“I highly recommend the program to anyone who wants to develop their personal leadership skills and also desires to help advance the growth of our agricultural sector,” Filler wrote in the Jan. 9 issue of “The Press Deck” newsletter. “The program connects its participants to the greater agriculture community outside their specific industry, which creates valuable bonds that strengthens New York’s agriculture community.

Van De Valk said just about every state and regional organization concerned with food and agriculture in New York has LEAD New York graduates in its leadership structure. And many alumni help provide seminars for current students.

The program’s mission is “to inspire and develop leaders for the food and agriculture industries,” said Van De Valk. The “develop” part of the mission is about specific skills participants gain after two years of classes, workshops, tours and travel with LEAD, he said. The “inspire” part is helping students learn to say “yes’ to leadership opportunities.

“We emphasize our program is really about developing servant leaders that are going to go out to develop (the industry.) This is not an MBA program that is trying to go out and make your business more profitable,” Van De Valk said. LEAD graduates are encouraged to not only serve on trade-related boards, he said, but on their communities’ school boards, town boards, fire departments and others.

“Our program is really about developing servant leaders,” Van De Valk said.

Anthony Colangelo enrolled in the current program which ends in April, thinking he would be spending quite a bit of time listening to lectures in hotel conference rooms.

“It wasn’t like that at all. Especially early on, it was hugely focused on …psychological business theory and how to build teams,” Colangelo said. He started out working for restaurants and bars in New York City and then went onto a career in finance on Wall Street before moving to the Rochester area.

LEAD New York’s current class at Foodlink's food warehouse in Rochester.
LEAD New York’s current class at Foodlink’s food warehouse in Rochester.

“When I found opportunities in agriculture, I had no idea what agriculture was all about. I was blown away by how much of a need there was for young people to get involved in agriculture,” Colangelo said.

Colangelo got a job working with Dehm Associates, a management consulting firm in Geneseo that helps dairy farms analyze and improve their finances. The firm’s founder, Bruce Dehm, was a graduate of the LEAD program, too, and recommended it to Colangelo.

“What we (at Dehm Associates) really specialize in is providing them with the tools to better communicate with other people, other stakeholders about their business,” Colangelo said. “That’s part of the skill-set that’s being taught in programs like LEAD New York.” Learning to listen to other perspectives was another skill-set he appreciated.

Van De Valk said the network of peers students gain through the two years is one of the program’s biggest assets. In fact, he believes networking is what helped a group of early LEAD New York graduates step up to form a produce harvest cooperative to take the place of one that folded when Birds Eye sold off its vegetable processing plants in the area about a decade ago.

Thomas Facer, president of Farm Fresh First, said four of the six Farm Fresh First founders and nine of its current board members are graduates of LEAD New York.

Like many students, Facer was working in the industry – for a processing company – when he was enrolled at age 28 in LEAD’s first class more than 30 years ago. “The biggest benefit for me personally was the opportunity to know the 30 members of the group much better,” Facer said, in social gatherings and on field trips. “It turns out a bunch of us went into business together.”

His company, headquartered in Oakfield, Genesee County, manages harvest and delivery of vegetables to the old Birds Eye processing plants in Western New York that are now owned by Bonduelle as well as for other processors. But now Farm Fresh First also procures cherries from central New York, apples from North Carolina, New York, Michigan and Washington state, and popcorn from Illinois and Nebraska.

Because the LEAD program is so time-consuming and involves a considerable amount of travel, applications must be accompanied by a letter of recommendation from both the applicant’s employer and from his or her family. Applicants come from all over the state.

Organizations and businesses such as the New York State Agricultural Society, which helped found the program, and Farm Credit East, an agricultural lender, have regularly sent employees for the training just about every year, Van De Walk, said.

“We think that’s one of the strengths of our program. We are able to pull together a diverse group of people who can teach each other. They learn from each other. Typically a third are farmers, one-third are from for-profit ag businesses, and a third are from government (and) non-profits.”  But some perspectives are still missing, he said. “We would like to see more from urban food perspectives.”

“There’s a real Renaissance right now in terms of downtown scenes and food businesses,” Van De Valk said. “There’s businesses in Rochester that haven’t sent participants much, whether packaging or food distribution businesses.”

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Workshop aims to help people reach out to stressed farmers

The conversation at the feed counter lamenting that the latest soybean crop won’t be any good when it’s harvested might actually be a cry for help.

Wyoming County officials are offering a workshop Jan. 17 to help train colleagues, friends and loved ones of farmers to recognize and offer help to those feeling overwhelmed by emotional and mental stress by farming in today’s difficult economic climate.

The day-long Mental Health First Aid Training on how to start a conversation about mental health will take place at the Agriculture and Business Center, 36 Center Street, Warsaw. The fee for the workshop, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and includes lunch, is $25.

The program is sponsored by New York FarmNet, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Northwest New York Dairy Livestock and Field Crops Team, and the Wyoming County Mental Health Department.

Interested participants can register online, or by contacting Lisa Aures at Cornell Cooperative Extension by emailing [email protected] or calling (585) 786-2251, ext. 123.  Questions about the training can be answered by calling the Wyoming County Mental Health Department at (585) 786-8871.

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Federal grant will restart 4-H program in Rochester for urban youth and parents

A federal agriculture grant of $640,000 will help re-establish an urban youth 4-H program run by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County.

The grant from the Children, Youth and Families at Risk Sustainable Community Project of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will go to the Monroe County extension, Cornell University, and CCE of Broome County.

The grant will support continuing in Broome County and restarting in Monroe County the 4-H Urban Neighborhoods Improved Through Youth program. 4-H UNITY works with youth and their parents in poor areas to learn leadership and skills to create community change. Parent and child teams work together on community improvement projects.

June P. Mead, with the CCE of Broome County, said, “We are proud to have a track record of transforming young lives. One hundred percent of the youth who have completed our previous CYFAR projects graduated successfully from high school and have gone on to college with full or partial scholarships. That’s real success for high-need, at-risk youth,”

Andrea Lista, executive director of the CCE of Monroe County, said Monroe County’s share of the grant will pay for additional hours of educators now on staff and potentially the hiring of another educator.

“The grant of course provides staffing and training, but also opportunities to give students experiences,” Lista said. One event youth will attend in the spring is the annual, three-day State Teen Action Representatives Retreat in Syracuse, she said.

Lista said the program will begin with 15-20 youth this year and expand to additional youth and their parents in the following year. The grant offers support for five years.

Monroe County’s 4-H programs also include the traditional clubs and after-school programs, in rural, urban and suburban settings, Lista said. She is looking for partner organizations to help work with the 4-H UNITY component, and especially a partner with a venue in the city accessible to youth without transportation. Interested people or organizations can contact Lista at 585-753-2559.

“We’re happy to explore opportunities for this year or for future years,” Lista said. “We have a lot of really fantastic youth programming we’d like to offer the community.”

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Apples are here, a little early

Despite the ups and downs of this year’s growing season, the local apple harvest has turned out to be pretty typical after all.

Even with the heavy downpours of spring, some overly dry patches in the summer and an autumn that has varied wildly in temperature and moisture from day to day, “We’re pretty much on par with the last five-year average,” said Cynthia Haskins, president of the New York Apple Association.

“We did have some farmers who experienced some challenges,” Haskins said. “For the most part, we have an abundant supply of all apples and all varieties.” At 28.5 million cases (boxes containing a bushel of apples each), the crop is a little higher than average, Haskins said.

The harvest began in the Hudson Valley region a week to 10 days earlier than usual, and some later varieties are coming in early and all at once, said Craig Kahlke, a specialist in fruit quality management with the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Lake Ontario Fruit Program.

That has made it really important for growers to pick the apples at the right time, Kahlke said.

“Apples go from under-mature to overripe rather quickly,” he said.

Normally, no matter what happens early in the season, which begins in August and runs through late October, the late varieties follow the calendar rather than weather patterns, Kahlke said. Not so this year. Even the late varieties have been arriving early.

“This is an indication to us that a lot of these trees are really stressed,” Kahlke said. “That’s kind of a – maybe not a red flag, but a kind of caution… .”

A wet fall could affect the quality of fruit, but the apples seem to be bearing up OK, Kahlke said.

“A good chunk of apples go to the fresh-cut, or fresh-slice, industry,” he said. Rain-swollen apples are sometimes softer than usual and don’t hold up as well in storage. School lunch programs, McDonald’s Happy Meals and supermarkets all feature pre-sliced apples now, a more lucrative market for growers than selling apples for juice.

“But we’re confident that we can store the apples,” Kahlke said.

Apples at the G&S Orchards in Walworth, Wayne County. Photo by Diana Louise Carter
Apples at G&S Orchards in Walworth, Wayne County. Photo by Diana Louise Carter

Unlike the No. 1 apple state — Washington — No. 2 New York runs out of stored apples each year. So now’s the best time for a really crisp eating apple.

Haskins said consumers can go to the New York Apple Country website to find places to pick apples or just buy them.

One trend in apple growing this year that’s destined to continue is planting varieties specifically for the hard cider industry, which favors the kind of bitter, sharp-tasting apples that aren’t grown for eating out of hand. Cider makers are starting to grow or work with growers to produce old-fashioned varieties specifically for cider.

A 2014 law making it easier for cideries to get started has prompted a 275-percent increase in cideries in New York, according to Jenn Smith, executive director of the New York Cider Association. There are now 80 of them licensed across the state.

She wrote in an email: “Each year we are seeing more cider apples in the crop. But demand is still outpacing supply!”

That’s good news for New York apple growers and growers in surrounding states.