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In episode two of this season’s Cornell Cooperative Extension’s podcast, “Extension Out Loud,” tree fruit specialists weigh in on the 2018 apple harvest and share observations from orchards around New York state. R.J. Anderson / Cornell Cooperative Extension

New York farmers experienced a wet, then dry, then wet 2018 growing season that brought a number of challenges. How did those conditions affect the quantity, look and taste of apples, grapes, vegetables and other locally sourced products on grocery shelves and dinner tables?

Answering that and other questions is the focus of the “Extension Out Loud” podcast from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE). Featuring the voices of CCE agriculture specialists across the state, the Harvest Highlights season of the podcast examines output, quality and consumer impacts from this year’s vegetable, tree fruit, grapes and field crops harvests.

Exploring the role and impact of Cornell and its land-grant engagement across New York state, the podcast previously explored potential impacts of the upcoming Farm Bill legislation on food systems, nutrition education, the environment and the livelihoods of New York farmers.

Read more about the “Extension Out Loud” episodes in the Cornell Chronicle.

NNY maple tapping research provides insight for maple producers statewide. Michele Ledoux / CCE Lewis County

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has posted a research update with data to help maple and birch syrup producers respond to variable climate conditions.

“Maple, and now birch, syrup producers are on the front lines of dealing with the effects of climate change and the variations that have increased the unpredictability of when sap will flow,” says Dr. Joseph Orefice, director of the Natural Resources and Forest Program at Yale University. Orefice managed the tapping trials in Northern New York while director of the Uihlein Maple Research Forest in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The project has established baseline data for continuing efforts to determine the optimal time to begin tapping birch trees in conjunction with maple production.

“Birch syrup is a relatively new agricultural product being produced in Northern New York as a way for maple producers to diversify their revenue streams and optimize capital investments in forestland and syrup-producing equipment,” says Orefice.

The report posted under the Maple tab at www.nnyagdev.org compares sap and syrup yields based on various tapping times of maple and birch trees at the Uilhein Maple Research Forest in Lake Placid, N.Y., and at the Paul’s Smith College Forest in Paul Smiths, N.Y.

The trials conducted in January through May of 2018 including the tapping of paper and yellow birch trees immediately after finishing the tapping of maple trees, during mid-maple season, and post-maple production season.

Sap collection was impacted by taphole closure, particularly with the maple trees that were tapped early in January, and with birch trees likely due to bacterial buildup in the taphole before birch sap begins to flow.

Orefice allows that using new spouts might mitigate taphole closure in birches, as they do in maple sap production, however, temperatures are higher during March than January and bacterial buildup in birch tapholes during March will occur faster than in maple tapholes during January.

“While much more research is needed to determine ideal weather conditions to predict the start of birch sap flow, we suggest that birch syrup producers wait until around the end of maple season to tap their birch trees. This will assure that they do not have early taphole closure of birch and will also reduce complications in the saphouse related to collecting the two different types of sap,” Orefice concludes.

For maple producers, the report notes that early pre-season tapping of maple trees is competitive with tapping in mid-February.

“Waiting to tap until late February and early March risks missing early-season sap flow events and having less total season production,” Orefice summarizes. “Low sugar contents during January sap flow events were likely a result of sugar not yet being converted from starches within the tree and also not being released into the maple sap.”

For more information, see the complete Comparison of Sap Yields Per Timing of Tapping Schedules for Maple and Birch Syrup Production report on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org.

Cornell Cooperative Extension hosted its annual Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Systems In-service Conference on Nov. 13-15. The conference scheduled included four sessions in the Agricultural Community and Economic Development track organized by the Cornell Local & Regional Food Systems (LRFS) Initiative.

Over the course of the four sessions, presenters: highlighted farm to school initiatives in NYS and engaged in the audience in identifying challenges and opportunities that Cornell could help address through research and extension; discussed lessons learned in piloting a new framework for advancing community food systems development; shared research exploring how food hubs evaluate their social, economic, and environmental impacts; and explored a range of legal issues involved in farming and food systems as well as resources available to farmers to help them successfully navigate these issues.  All of the sessions had the two-fold purpose of informing efforts to support and strengthen food systems and providing opportunities for participants to learn from one another.

For more information about topics covered in each session, please see presentation PowerPoints (when used) and resources at the LRFS website.

Shannon Mason of Cowbella will speak about transitioning to Lucky Dog Food Hub

Shannon Mason of Cowbella spoke about transitioning to Lucky Dog Food Hub, Groceries & Other Wholesale Markets

About the 2014 NY Small Farms Summit

On March 24th,  the Cornell Small Farms Program hosted the 4th NY Small Farms Summit.  The full day program, Beyond Direct Marketing: Exploring New Ways to Sell, featured small farmers’ perspectives on the pros and cons of selling wholesale.

Morning presentations included vegetable farmer Darren Maum of Salvere Farm, in Marietta, NY.  Darren described his success with Farmshed, a Central NY company that has enabled him to sell a larger volume of product by handling transportation and relationship building efforts with customers, saving  valuable time and resources.  Shannon Mason of Cowbella in Jefferson, NY, described how a shift to wholesaling through Lucky Dog Local Food Hub enabled her to invest in new production and processing strategies for her value added dairy products.  Stephen Winkler of Lucki7 Livestock Co. in Rodman, NY reflected on how a transition to Wegmans, Whole Foods and a White Tablecloth Distributor has transformed his product mix and marketing strategy.

The afternoon portion of the meeting provided an opportunity for farmers spread out at 7  locations across NY to swap ideas about specific wholesale marketing opportunities ion their region, discuss benefits and challenges to adding a wholesale market(s), and develop an action plan for steps needed to enable easier access to wholesale markets.  


Choose from 7 meeting locations across NYS

Farmers met in 7 meeting locations across NYS

Beyond Direct Marketing: Agenda, Farmer Profiles & Resources

Summit Agenda
Profiles of featured farmer speakers who shared their personal knowledge and experiences with wholesale  marketing:

Cornell Small Farms Program Marketing Resources – view The Guide to Marketing Channel Assessment, download market selection workbooks, connect to online distributor sites, and much more!

Additional Marketing Resources – additional information for assessing your market channels as well as information and funding for food hubs.


Where do YOU sell?  Nation-wide Survey helps better understand Small Farm Marketing trends

Prior to Summit, we conducted a survey of NY farmers to understand their current and future possible market channels. We asked each to tell us about their farm size, years of experience, income and primary enterprises as well as their levels of satisfaction with different channels. Click the link below to view the summary of responses from across the state.

2014 NY Small Farm Statewide Survey Results


Video Clips

Welcome & Introductions (17 min) – Anu Rangarajan, Director Cornell Small Farms Program
Farmer Presentations (1 hr, 24 min) – Darren Maum and Shannon Mason share their farm stories and personal experiences with wholesale marketing.
Farmer Presentations Continued & Discussion (1 hr, 13 min)  – Stephen Winkler presents and Summit participants engage the presenters in a discussion about wholesale marketing.

Although most livestock in New York is raised on small farms, this industry contributes $893 million in sales to the rural New York economy. Demand far outstrips supply for NY meat and livestock, so there is room for growth, but there are a number of hurdles to livestock farmers’ success.

In March 2017, the Cornell Small Farms Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension hosted one its biennial NY Small Farm Summits, this time focused on the opportunities to grow the New York livestock industry.

“The NY Small Farm Summits are an opportunity to focus on a critical issue or sector that shows promise to support greater viability of our small farms. Together, farmers, educators, and researchers consider options and prioritize actions to grow the small farm sector.” – Anu Rangarajan, Director, Cornell Small Farm Program

The 2017 Summit brought together about 160 farmers and industry participants for a guided discussion meant to uncover needed research, education or infrastructure investments, debate their relative importance and then rank them as priorities for growing the NY livestock sector. To ensure that the Summit was inclusive, an additional 450 NY livestock farmers shared their priorities via an electronic survey.

More than 85% of the farmers participating in the Summit believe the New York livestock sector has potential for growth, and most farms (73%) have seen gross revenue from sales of livestock products increase over the last five years. With this optimism and growth, the farmers also noted specific research and extension investments that would address constraints to scaling up production.

Information gathered from the Summit is now available as a full report, “Securing the Future of the New York State Livestock Industry,” and as an executive summary.

“Livestock production has a huge potential for growth in New York with markets available and hungry local foods consumers. Many farmers and educators have worked to turn a mound of data into this important report. Thanks to the Cornell Small Farms program for help with this undertaking!” – Nancy Glazier, Regional Small Farms Specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension

The “Securing the Future of the New York State Livestock Industry” report and executive summary can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF from the Cornell Small Farms Program website: http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/summit/

Rich Taber and Steve Childs, a maple producer, talk after finishing the video for his video.

New York farmers are completing business plans for their woodlots, with the assistance of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County and a grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute. Woodlot owners can use forest enterprises and products to supplement their income, and thanks to this grant CCE Chenango has been able to reach more woodlot owners about these possibilities. Part of this reach has been accomplished through a video series constructed by Ashley Russell and Rich Taber called, “Profit from Your Forest.”

Over the last year, Taber and Russell have videoed nine different woodlot businesses. The videos in this series have featured the forest owners and their enterprises, including a sawmill, local maple syrup businesses, and a forest lease contract. These business owners share with their viewers the advantages of their forest enterprises, their successes, and their struggles. Two of the videos feature Steve Childs, of the Cornell Maple Program, speaking about the important characteristics of a woodlot that create a successful maple syrup operation. In these videos, Childs walks through a woodlot pointing out the positives and negatives that he recognizes, demonstrating how a viewer could do the same in their own woodlot.

Right now the series features aspects of maple and sawmill businesses, and can be viewed on Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County’s Facebook page or YouTube Channel. Over the final year of this grant, CCE Chenango plans to continue to help woodlot owners complete forest business plans. They also plan to add to this video series with mushroom and firewood business opportunities.

To find out more about this project, or to complete a forest business plan contact CCE Chenango at (607) 334-5841, or visit their Facebook page.

Attention farmers, extension educators, and service providers: The Cornell Small Farms Program encourages you to submit articles and photos to our magazine.  

The Small Farm Quarterly is a print publication of our program, published four times a year and reaching an audience of more than 31,000 in New York and the Northeast US. The Quarterly is offered as a supplement to Country Folks and is produced by Lee Publications. Past articles can be viewed on our website.

We are currently seeking articles and cover photography that highlight the technical, social, and economic aspects of farming and are geared toward a farmer audience. Topics should be appropriate for a farmer audience, and not promote a single organization or business. We focus on articles with relevant information that helps to improve the practice of farming and enhances the agricultural community in New York and the Northeast.

Of particular interest for our next issues are articles on small dairy operations, soil health, adaptation to climate change, raising pastured pigs, and urban agriculture.

Anyone is welcome to submit articles for consideration, simply follow our writer’s guidelines. The articles should be 1,000 to 1,600 words in length, with at least 2 or 3 high-resolution pictures that would accompany and support the writing.

If you are interested in submitting photography to be considered for the magazine cover, the images should be a minimum of 300 dpi at 8.5” X 11” size. We love photos of food, farm scenery, and people farming.

The deadline for submissions to the upcoming Winter Issue is November 17th.

As the growing season winds down, Haley Rylander, a masters student working with the reduced tillage project of the Cornell Small Farms Program, has been visiting with farmers who have taken an active role in her research. Haley shares some of these farmers’ experiences and gives insight about using tarps to suppress weeds and reduce tillage on small farms.

There are few foolproof methods to control weeds, especially in organic agriculture where farmers cannot use herbicides. For these farmers, tillage is one of the best ways to reduce weed pressure, but intensive tillage degrades soil structure over time and leads to loss of organic matter and moisture from the soil. The reduced-tillage project team at the Cornell Small Farms Program have been talking with farmers in the northeast who are experimenting with innovative solutions to reduce weed pressure and conserve soil health in organic systems. We’ve been doing some research trials with one of these tools: black silage tarps placed on the soil surface prior to planting.

Masters student Haley Rylanders helps Nina Saeli of Centurion Farm secure a newly tarped plot.

These tarps smother living weeds and can encourage the seed bank of other weeds to fatally germinate. Tarps also prevent leaching of nutrients and conserve moisture, while slightly heating the soil. Tarps can be used in combination with low-disturbance tillage to provide many of the same benefits as intensive tillage. The initial results of this research was recently published on eXtension.org.

To supplement our trials at Cornell University’s Thompson Research Farm, we’ve been doing some on-farm trials with local growers in Central New York to see how tarps perform in real situations on real farms. Over the last few weeks, we’ve visited some of these farms to see how things have progressed as we near the end of the season. Three of these farms are local to the Cornell campus in Ithaca, NY: Centurion Farm, Muddy Fingers Farm, and Ploughbreak Farm.

These farmers used tarps for different lengths of time and on different crops, with whatever pre- or post-treatment of the soil they chose. Some tilled lightly before the tarps were applied, some tilled after, some had mowed cover crops before hand. It was all up to the farmers, as long as they used a tarp over a number of beds and compared their weed pressure and yield to that of un-tarped beds nearby.

From talking with these farmers about their experience with the trials, we have found some common themes. One of which is that tarps hold soil moisture at an ideal level.

“A drier area stayed pretty dry, even in rainstorms, and if it was a wetter area, the moisture sort of evened out,” Aaron Munzer from Ploughbreak Farm said of the soil moisture under tarps. “So it was actually pretty perfect for tillage or planting.”

Liz Martin of Muddy Fingers Farm explains how she used tarps to suppress weeds.

Liz Martin from Muddy Fingers Farm planted beets in this year’s very dry July, and attributes her higher stands in tarped beds compared with untarped beds to better soil moisture.

One of the biggest benefits of tarps is their ability to suppress weeds. Nina Saeli from Centurion Farm said that the weed suppression alone makes the tarps worth it.

“I timed myself when I weeded, on the tarped beans, it literally took me more time to walk the beds to look for weeds than it took me to actually weed,” Nina said. “On the untarped side with the beans, it was much more difficult, and I spent a lot more time weeding … once I let that side get a little away from me, I was on my hands and knees pulling those weeds up when I was not doing that on the tarped side.”

Several of the farmers commented on the ability of tarps to control perennial weeds, though it may take many more weeks or even months longer than the three weeks required to kill most annuals. Weed suppression from tarps does not seem to be a season-long effect. However, Liz said it was fun to see how clean she could get her beds. She also noted that they had tarped over weeds “and then just left it, and then it’s neat to see how it breaks them down to nothing.”

The farmers say there is definitely a learning curve in terms of figuring out how to incorporate tarps into their cropping plans and determining which crops and timings work best on their farms. In general, prepping beds before tarping seems to have the most positive effects, as tilling after tarping brings up more weed seeds.

Tarps are no miracle solution to eliminate tillage and weeds, but growers seem excited about using them and learning more about the benefits they can provide in a small farming system. When asked their overall opinion of tarping here were some responses:

Jeffrey Saeli of Centurion Farm unwraps a tarp.

“It’s a great tool. Even if you’re considering, I recommend people give it a try.” – Liz Martin

“The results we’ve seen so far have encouraged us and we actually went out and bought two tarps.” – Nina Saeli

“I don’t think it’s a perfect solution for a 6-acre farm. I think tillage is still required… on our farm, [but] I think it’s a tool in our tool belt of options to keep weeds down and to practice some reduced tillage.” – Aaron Munzer

Today, October 12th, is National Farmers Day. While we think every day should be National Farmers Day, the day is meant to raise awareness about the farmers behind our nation’s food.

Here at the Small Farms Program, we would like to thank all of the farmers we work with. We recognize the great service you provide and admire your dedication to producing healthy food — whether its a rural field or urban lot, a woodland or a high tunnel.

Interested in learning more about the diverse farming practices and techniques of some of the small farms in our network? Our YouTube channel is full of videos to explore.

The celebration of National Farmers Day dates back to the 1800s, according to National Day Calendar. Eventually October 12 was chosen as a recurring date as, traditionally, the harvest would be finished, and farmers could join in the celebration.

If you want to join us in celebrating farmers today, share your farm stories using #CornellSmallFarms. For today’s celebrations, you can also use #NationalFarmersDay and #ThankaFarmer too.

If you’re interested in improving your farm’s soil health, reduced tillage may be the answer.

Reduced tillage practices can minimize soil disturbance by using less intensity, going shallower, and restricting the width or tilled-area. They can be applied to a bed, within a field or across the whole farm. The practices can take many forms, which are highlighted in a new handbook available at no charge from Cornell Cooperative Extension and partners.

The basis of this resource came from a popular field day event this summer at Cornell’s Willsboro Research Farm in Willsboro, NY. Presentations given during the event are included in the handbook, including a section from the Cornell Small Farms Program’s own Ryan Maher.

“The field day was a way to demonstrate reduced tillage tools and think through the barriers organic growers face in adopting alternative practices,” Ryan said. “Some of the common themes that emerged were weeds, residue interference, weeds, managing cover crops, and more about weeds.”

Ryan manages our Reduced Tillage Project, and during the field day he presented on zone tillage systems. This practice targets disturbance to the planting row and reduces tilled area by at least 50 percent when compared to conventional tillage.

A farm can successfully adopt zone tillage by making system-level changes: selecting specific crops in a rotation, planning cover crop management, and acquiring and/or modifying tools that work in moderate to high residue conditions.

“One of the biggest challenges going forward, particularly with zone tillage, is fitting these approaches to the scale of the operation and considering the rotations and the diversity of crops on organic vegetable farms,” Ryan explained. “We have found really interesting results testing different cover crop mixes and some good, practical lessons on tools, all of which I think growers can use as they look to adapt zone till to their own operation.”

Learn more about ongoing research results and the considerations for trialing zone-till practices on your farm in Ryan’s section of the handbook on zone tillage.

In the full handbook you can learn about other practices, such as: managing weeds in small-seeded crops, by Bryan Brown of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program; and weed seedbank management, by John Wallace of Cornell University Specialty Crops Systems.

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