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An introduction on how to use color and number code ear tags for sheep.

By Ulf Kintzel

All daughters of White Dorper ram #88 “Paul” have spearmint-colored ear tags. His daughter in the picture was born in 2017 as the 7000 number will tell me.
Ulf Kintzel / White Clover Sheep Farm

The USDA decided years ago to combat Scrapie, a disease similar to Mad Cow Disease that affects sheep and goats. In its effort to do so, it became law in the United States that you must get a premise ID number for your sheep farm and tag your sheep with scrapie-approved ear tags. The tags have consecutive numbers when these sheep are older than 18 months and leave the farm, or for lambs and sheep of any age when they go across state borders. The idea behind the program is to trace animals that are tested and are determined to be affected with Scrapie back to its owners. The link at the end of the article describes this mandatory program, which includes a factsheet.

I used to not tag my sheep. However, if life gives you lemons, I figured I might as well make lemonade. So, I got creative with these ear tags, the available colors, and the numbers to trace animals and bloodlines. Since the inception of these mandatory scrapie tags, I started selling a lot of breeding stock. Because returning customers need new bloodlines on their way forward, using ear tags became a necessity. While a burden to many, using ear tags became a blessing in disguise for me. I developed a tagging system with color codes and number codes. I never felt compelled to share this system because it is indeed a bit cumbersome. However, it has become more frequent that I am asked how I keep track of the bloodlines of my ewe lambs, who sired them, and how to avoid inbreeding.

If you are one of those farmers who has impeccable bookkeeping skills and keeps track of every ewe and its lineage, and can access that information easily, my article will be of little to no value to you. If you have just a few animals that may even have names, my system will be unnecessary. But for all those who have a somewhat larger flock and are a little lazier like me when it comes to paperwork and documentation, here is the description of my system.

Several companies are listed as suppliers of these scrapie-approved ear tags such as Allflex, Alliance ID, National Band & Tag Company, Premier One Supplies, and Shearwell Data. Currently, I am using custom-printed Q-tags 1.5 sold by Premier One Supplies. Two different taggers work for these tags. I am using the universal ear tag applicator from Allflex, which works for many different tags.

I tag all my lambs during the first day of their lives when the ewes are for 24 hours in the jug with their new-born lambs for bonding purpose. The starting point for my tagging system is that all male lambs get tagged in the left ear while all female lambs get tagged in the right ear. I use my chute often when I treat animals, such as deworming and vaccinating. However, I use the chute far more often to sort out lambs that get sold as market lambs or breeding stock. As the sheep and lambs come up in the chute, I can determine in a split second what is male and what is female. That is helpful.

The tags I use for the ewe lambs are color-coded. For each ram I use for breeding, there is a color. For instance, all ewe lambs sired by ram number 174 “Nelson” are yellow, all ewe lambs sired by ram #88 “Paul” are spearmint-colored, all lambs sired by ram #41 “Outback” are salmon-colored and so forth. There are plenty of color choices available. I am confident that by the time I have used all colors I can start again from the beginning.

The numbers on tags of certain colors are much better to read than other colors when looking at a distance. For instance, the numbers on spearmint and yellow-colored tags are great to read from a distance, green and purple not so much. Also, some colors are somewhat similar and may become more similar when they start fading in the sun and will become indistinguishable. I recommend picking colors that are very different from each other. Blue is not available for scrapie tags because it is being reserved by the government.

As mentioned before, all ewe lambs get tagged in the right ear, the color of the tag indicates who the sire of each ewe lamb is. A select number of ram lambs that are born in any given year will be left intact and receive an ear tag with the color that indicates who the sire is in the left ear. The male lambs that will be market lambs will be castrated during tagging and will receive a white ear tag, also in the left ear. This may again sound cumbersome and one might think I would easily lose track over the colors and left versus right ear. However, my kids often help tagging and while they often cannot remember at all what I told them in the morning they should do that day, they do have an amazing ability to shout out all at once when I am about to tag a lamb the wrong way. They remember that, go figure.

The yellow color of the ear tag indicates this is a daughter of White Dorper Ram #174 “Nelson.” The 7000 number indicates she was born in 2017.
Ulf Kintzel / White Clover Sheep Farm

The second “code” are the numbers. Numbers on scrapie-approved tags must have at least four digits. The lowest number is therefore 1,000. I decided that the first number indicates the year of birth. For instance, last year’s lamb crop has tags with numbers in 8,000 (2018) and this year’s lambs will have numbers in 9,000 (2019). The numbers that have been used stay on record with the company where you ordered your tags to avoid that any given number is being used twice when you order new tags. The consecutive numbers are both on the male and female side of the tag. The ID or premise number is also on the female side. When tagging, the male side of the tag should be on the upper side of the ear and the female side on the inner side. That is the correct way of tagging. Now the larger number is clearly visible on the upper and more visible side of the ear. The male part of the tag is inside the ear and is less likely to get caught on feeders and in brush and is therefore less likely to get ripped out of the ear.

Why do I have such a cumbersome system? First, I can avoid inbreeding. Furthermore, this management system allows me to sell ewe lambs as breeding stock with unrelated ram lambs to breed them. It also allows the customer to come back in future years to purchase additional ram lambs that are not related to any ewe or ram lamb they previously purchased. It also allows me to significantly extend the use of my breeding rams, which were quite expensive and came from far away, from the state of Oregon. The purchase price and distance would be both cost-prohibitive to rotate rams more often. My system does require splitting the flock during breeding season into several group and keeping track of what ewe was bred by what ram. This will require using breeding harnesses, equipped with differently colored crayons or it will require marking the ewes of each group with a dot of spray paint on the wither. This will be addressed in my subsequent article in the next Quarterly. All of this is cumbersome, no doubt. However, it costs little to nothing. It does require some management skills and some additional work. The financial benefits become apparent in future years.

What do I do with all the left-over tags? I use them up in a following year for the ewe and ram lambs I intend to sell. When I do, I still apply my color code. It’s just that not every customer will be able to take advantage of my numbering system since the year of birth will be off. On occasion, a ewe will lose its ear tag. I use leftover ear tags for those as well. Often, I still know who the ewe’s sire was when I re-tag her and can use the corresponding color.

For more information about the mandatory Scarpie ear tag program, including a factsheet, visit

 Ulf owns and operates White Clover Sheep Farm and breeds and raises grass-fed White Dorper sheep and Kiko goats without any grain feeding and offers breeding stock suitable for grazing. He is a native of Germany and lives in the US since 1995. He farms in the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York. His website address is He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone during “calling hour” specified on his answering machine at 585-554-3313.

Smart woodlot stewardship makes sense — and a whole lot of dollars — for you and your family.

By Paul J. Hetzler

A red oak.
Theresa Lahnen / Cornell Forest Connect

What do you call a livestock farmer who spends decades improving the genetics of their herd, then abruptly sells all the best animals to start a new herd from scraggly, unproven stock? Crazy, perhaps, or foolish at the very least. (Or maybe someone with a gambling debt…)

Under normal circumstances, no farmer culls their best animals to start over with random ones. Yet it’s common for a woodlot owner to sell all the large, well-formed trees during a timber sale and leave nothing but small and defective trees to regenerate the next forest.

Genetic variation in trees works just like it does in other organisms. If you take a thousand seedlings, some are going to have a slight genetic advantage. Maybe they are more efficient at photosynthesis, or they’re less apt to develop weak (narrow) branch attachments prone to breakage. When an unusually straight, fast-growing tree rises head and shoulders above its peers, it’s generally more than mere chance — that tree probably has something the others don’t, and that’s the one you want seeding the next forest.

The multigenerational process of choosing superior genetics in trees is called “silviculture.” Ideally a forester marks defective trees to cull for firewood, and marks some mature trees for harvest. She or he intentionally leaves some of the very best trees for seed.

This kind of timber production is sustainable in both an ecological and economic sense. Not only does the overall gene pool improve, but periodic selective harvesting creates openings in the forest canopy, increasing habitat diversity as it releases understory trees.

Many forest owners have heard of silviculture but continue to practice what some foresters call “silver-culture,” maximizing short-term gain at the expense of long-term forest health. Harvesting all trees above a certain size, known as a diameter-limit cut, has been called “selective harvesting” by unscrupulous loggers (and even the occasional forester).

Land owners can protect themselves from such deception by hiring a consulting forester to inventory timber, mark trees and oversee a harvest. For information on locating a consulting forester, contact your New York State Department of Environmental Conservation office.

The thing is, a diameter-limit cut may be worse than clear cutting. Like a clear-cut, it causes much residual damage and soil disturbance. Coupled with greatly increased light penetration, this can lead to unwanted vegetation taking hold, either an invasive like swallow-wort or a native like hay-scented fern. Such plants are called “interfering vegetation” because they inhibit seedling germination and survival, often delaying the start of forest regeneration for many years.

Nearly all forests are roughly even-aged, meaning tree size differences have more to do with genetics than with age. While clear-cuts take the bad with the good, diameter-limit cuts take only the best, leaving the runts to re-seed the forest. Going back to the livestock producer, this is like a farmer knowingly getting a sire whose offspring produce less milk, not more.

A prevailing opinion in our culture right now seems to be that doing the right thing for the environment will hurt financially. Although that may seem true in some instances, it is definitely not the case in forestry.

Dr. Ralph Nyland, Professor of Forestry at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, stresses that forestry is a very long-term endeavor. He believes we have to start thinking much farther into the future. Dr. Nyland illustrates why good forestry make the most sense — and dollars — in the following example:

Assume you and your neighbor have identical woodlots with salable timber (everything 16” in diameter and larger) worth $20,000. Your neighbor goes for a diameter-limit cut and gets that entire amount. But you mark a select cut, harvesting $10,000 worth of timber and leaving trees of equivalent value standing. It sounds like your neighbor made out better, doesn’t it? Just wait.

The next time you can harvest is fifteen years later. By that time, your timber is worth $34,000. You harvest half, leaving trees valued at $17,000. Your neighbor won’t yet have enough salable timber for a harvest at this time.

Thirty years after the first cut, your neighbor again has salable timber valued at $20,000. Their total income plus residual value after 30 years is $40,000. Your timber, though, will now be worth $77,000, which means that your total income plus residual value after 30 years is $104,000. Now we have two winners, both you and your woodlot.

OK, what do you call a poultry farmer who kills the goose that lays one golden egg each day just to get his hands on two or three gilded ova all at once? Well, for starters you’d call them fictional, but also dumb as a rock. Don’t manage your woodlot like that.

Silviculture will give you a healthy woodlot and a healthy bank account. “Silver-culture” will give you bad metaphors, a lower income, and a lot of poor-quality trees to pass onto the next generation.


Paul Hetzler is the Natural Resources and Horticulture Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, and has been an ISA Certified Arborist since 1996.

Resource Spotlight:

CCE Harvest New York urban agricultural specialists travel from their Brooklyn office by bus, subway and ferry providing educational programming and on-site technical assistance in all five boroughs for commercial vegetable growers and non-profits operating commercial urban gardens.

By R.J. Anderson

In the shadow of New York City’s Hell Gate Bridge, Cornell Cooperative Extension urban agriculture specialists Yolanda Gonzalez, left, and Sam Anderson, center scout for harlequin bugs and consult with farmers at Randall’s Island Urban Farm in New York City.
R.J. Anderson / Cornell Cooperative Extension

From the rooftops of New York City to the weathered sidewalks of inner-city Buffalo, urban farms are sprouting vegetables, fueling businesses and helping grow vibrant communities across the Empire State. Working these small plots are farmers young and old from backgrounds as diverse as their agricultural needs and challenges. Helping these farmers make the most of confined spaces and unique environments are urban agriculture specialists from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE).

In New York City, CCE Harvest New York urban agricultural specialists Sam Anderson and Yolanda Gonzalez travel from their Brooklyn office by bus, subway and ferry providing educational programming and on-site technical assistance in all five boroughs for commercial vegetable growers and non-profits operating commercial urban gardens.

“One thing I love about working in agriculture in this city is that there’s such variety,” said Anderson. “One day we’re visiting an outdoor aquaponics setup where there’s goldfish on one side and okra growing in floating rafts on the other. Then the next day we’re visiting a rooftop farm with a view over the Hudson River and the next we’re in the Rockaways, on a farm half a block from the beach.

“However, a lot of people in the city are coming into agriculture from a gardening background or from an activist background or from an interest in food or social justice,” he continued. “Not many are coming into it with a commercial vegetable-growing background. So we try to provide the most recent plant science research, food safety best practices and help them improve profitability by better utilizing their limited growing space.”

That includes hosting workshops to help current and prospective urban farmers understand and adopt general food safety best practices and clarify confusion around food safety rules. This includes differences between buyer-imposed programs like GAP certification (Good Agricultural Practices), and government-enforced food safety regulations such as FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Harvest New York also provides one-on-one technical assistance to both soil-based and controlled environment agriculture producers on GAP certification requirements and food safety plans.

“We’ve found that most of these producers do not have a previously written food safety plan,” said Gonzalez. “Through our consults with local larger-scale urban farms on food safety certifications options, we’ve been able to to open more doors for selling produce directly to distributors and retail outlets, such as the new Wegmans supermarket slated to open in Brooklyn.”

Four hundred miles away in Buffalo, Cornell Vegetable Program specialist Judson Reid has spent nearly four years working with the Green Shoots for New Americans Refugee Agricultural Program, providing technical assistance at its Brewster Street teaching farm. Featuring raised beds and a high tunnel, the tiny organic farm is situated in an inner-city neighborhood with low access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

On the farm, newly resettled refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar grow produce that is sold locally through a CSA, at Farmer’s Markets and in local restaurants, and shared with families in the neighborhood.

“Cornell Cooperative Extension plays a very important part in providing technical assistance to what we do here,” said Jenna Walczak, the program’s farm manager. “A lot of our participants have agriculture experience in their home countries, but it’s a little different here in regard to climate and some of the technical aspects. Experts like Jud help us decide when, where and what to plant it and help us trouble shoot plant disease issues.”

“I love seeing the production techniques that I’ve worked with in rural settings employed in an urban setting,” said Reid. “For example, over the past five years I’ve been studying how to optimize high tunnels to extending the growing season and maximize profitability. On the Brewster Street farm, I’m able to apply those principles by showing the farm how to grow tomatoes using vertical trellises and utilize advanced integrated pest management and soil fertility techniques.”

Reid and educators from CCE’s Erie County association also help participants learn basic agribusiness skills. “We hope as they learn to manage a budget in terms of what are the inputs to grow the crop, how do we need to price it, and how much yield do we need to achieve in order to be profitable and move the project forward,” said Reid.

Reid believes CCE’s role in urban agriculture allows the organization to achieve its mission by putting research-based knowledge in the hands of people – in this case who want to grow their own food to eat, or grow food as a business – and do so in a way that is environmentally and economically sound. Reid added: “And we often find that urban agriculture gives people an opportunity to develop a sense of belonging, a sense of contribution to the greater community.”

R.J. Anderson is a communications specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Dennis Family Farm in Manlius, NY was presented with the “Conservation Farm of the Year” award from the Onondaga County Soil & Water Conservation District.

By Mark Burger

Family and friends gather at the award presentation.
Photo Courtesy of Roland Ivers, District Volunteer

Craig Dennis and his father Carl own and operate a 100-cow dairy and cash crop farm in the outer eastern hills of Onondaga County. The farm is situated in the Limestone Creek watershed that empties into Oneida Lake.

Craig and Carl have initiated many of their own conservation practices, along with working with the District to protect water quality. The farm also participates in the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District and the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets “Agricultural Environmental Management” program.

The farm works with the District to implement Best Management Practices that meet the requirements for water quality in their watershed. Their plan had a number of different facets to support the farm’s conservation efforts.

This included soil and manure samples are taken to help with nutrient analysis and fertilizer recommendations. A milkhouse waste water treatment system was installed with a settling tank, grease trap, and grass filter treatment area. A concrete barnyard with manure collection and screen was constructed to collect polluted runoff and direct the runoff to a grass filter treatment area. Clean water exclusion using driplines safely collect clean storm water and directs it underground to water courses. A rotational grazing system across 33 acres with an alternative water supply was developed, along with 4,400 linear feet of exclusion fence to create a 25 ft buffer from the top of the bank to keep the cows from drinking in or defecating in the tributary that runs to Limestone Creek.

Local funds through the Onondaga County Agricultural Council and NYS funds through the Environmental Protection Fund, along with substantial farmer cash and in-kind contributions, have made these conservation projects possible. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offers its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which the Dennis farm qualified for, along with the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Commodity and crop protection programs.

The Dennis family’s commitment to help the environment, their community and their neighbors led to the Dennis Family Farm’s award for “Conservation Farm of the Year” from the Onondaga County Soil & Water Conservation District.

Mark Burger is the Executive Director of the Onondaga County Soil & Water Conservation District.

Soil & Water Conservation Districts are special purpose districts created to develop and carry out a program of soil, water, and related natural resource conservation, by providing technical assistance and programs to residents, landowners with a focus on agriculture. Visit the Onondaga County’s SWCD website for more information:

Put those glowing seed catalog descriptions to the test and find varieties that are the best fit for your own farming environment.

By Kristen Loria

Evaluating basil quality and Downy Mildew resistance. Courtesy of Mazourek Lab

A variety trial entails growing different varieties of a crop alongside each other in order to directly compare their performance across any number of characteristics. It can be highly controlled and scientific or very informal. Conducting a variety trial on your farm is a simple idea that can produce long-lasting benefits to your farm enterprise.

Why do a variety trial?

Each year new varieties crop up in your favorite seed catalogs — maybe your old standby variety is no longer offered, or you have been dissatisfied with it and are looking for alternatives. Perhaps your farmer’s market customers or chefs are asking for a crop or crop type you haven’t grown before. Catalog descriptions can give relevant information — for example, disease resistance attributes, days to maturity and beautiful photos, but they don’t tell the whole story. Much of these catalog descriptions might not reflect the conditions on your own farm, and here lies the main reason that it might be worth your while to conduct a variety trial on your farm: identifying what varieties perform best in your specific farming system and environment.

In addition, you might be looking for specific quality traits that are hard to glean from the catalog. For example, rainbow carrots might be really popular at your market stand, but you haven’t been satisfied with the variety you have been growing. Perhaps you want to find out what varieties have the best flavor, or which store the best for your winter sales. Or perhaps you want a variety with strong tops that won’t snap off when you are bunching them. Any of these traits could be the basis for a great on-farm trial, and you know best what traits are most important for your own farm.

Third, as our weather becomes more extreme and unpredictable, you might want to evaluate what varieties you will be able to count on when the weather gets weird. Although you can’t control the weather during your variety trial, testing out which varieties perform best in stress from drought, flooding, cold snaps — whatever the season throws at you — could help your cropping systems be more resilient in future years.

How to do a variety trial?

First, you need to select what crop(s) you want to trial. Crop planning can be a time of lofty goals for the season ahead, but it’s important to be realistic about your capacity and prioritize what to focus your efforts on. So, a good approach is to think about the biggest crop challenges or frustrations you have had in past seasons and focus your trial efforts where they will have the biggest pay off for you.

Once you have picked the crops you will trial, you also want to figure out exactly what your goals are for the trial, and what you want to evaluate. Do you want to find a slicing tomato that won’t crack when grown in the field, or a cilantro variety that won’t bolt as fast in hot weather? Think about what you will need to do and when, all the way from seed to harvest in order to get the information from the trial that you need.

Picking your varieties

  1. “Check” varieties

These are varieties that you already know are likely to perform a certain way — including the common “workhorse” varieties that you or other growers in your region count on. If your trial is focused on resistance to disease, that means including varieties that are likely susceptible as well as those that are resistant. This allows you to better draw contrasts between your varieties.

  1. Open pollinated vs. Hybrid

In many vegetable crops, older traditional varieties tend to be open pollinated (OP), while new varieties are either hybrids or open pollinated. If you are considering turning this into a breeding project down the line, selecting open-pollinated versus hybrid varieties will affect your choice of potential breeding material. More on that in future issues!

Designing your trial

Sweet pepper variety trial at Cornell University. Courtesy of Mazourek Lab

In general, when conducting a variety trial, you want each variety to get the same exact “treatment” so that all differences you observe are due to the variety itself. A few common strategies can help you do this, and get the most out of your trial that you can.

  1. Replication and Randomization

It’s a good idea to do at least one replication to get a sense for how many differences between the reps you observe. Randomizing the order of variety plots within a rep is another way to minimize environmental effects. Also try to orient plots to minimize the effect of variation in your field (wet pockets, rocky spots).

  1. Border rows

A well-known source of variation in a crop field is “edge effect,” when environmental conditions are substantially different for the outermost rows, which can fudge your trial results. A good way to avoid this is to plant border rows surrounding your trial that you don’t plan to evaluate.

  1. Make a map

To make sure you don’t lose track of what’s what, it’s a good idea to overdo it when it comes to documenting your trial layout. You should label your plots in the field itself (most trials are “blind” to minimize bias, which means assigning numbers to each variety rather than writing names on the stakes).

Evaluating your trial

Example of a downy mildew resistance trial in cucumbers. Sometimes the results are obvious! Courtesy of Mazourek Lab

The most important thing in evaluating an on-farm trial is to make sure you have a reliable method to get the information you want, while being realistic about your ability to spend time on the trial.

  1. Keep good records

Keeping good records of the trial such as seed source, seeding or planting date, days to emergence, maturity and/or harvest etc. will are useful no matter what trait you are evaluating. If you just want to evaluate yield, you can record yields whether they are weekly fruit harvests or a bulk root harvest. If you are looking for disease resistance, you probably want to use a scale for rating disease severity, and also collect yield data.

  1. You’re the boss

There’s no need to go overboard and take data you don’t really need. Write down some notes, flag plots that you like at different stages of growth, whatever you think will be useful to your future self.

Stay tuned: More on Selection and On-Farm Plant Breeding in the next issue.

Kristen Loria is a Masters’ candidate in the Plant Breeding and Genetics section at Cornell University. Her own research focuses on trialing and breeding vegetable varieties for organic production systems, under the USDA NIFA-funded Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (Grant #: 2018-51300-28430).   She is excited to be a SFQ contributor and to help grow and support a more independent, adaptive seed system for small farms. Please reach out by email:

References and More Resources:

The Grower’s Guide to Conducting On-Farm Variety Trials. Organic Seed Alliance. 2018.

Trials and Selection Webinar. Organic Seed Alliance. 2017.

Variety Trial Planning Worksheet. Organic Seed Alliance.

Trial Evaluation Worksheet. Organic Seed Alliance.

 Resource Spotlight:

The Organic Seed Alliance advances ethical seed solutions to meet food and farming needs in a changing world.  Through their research farm and extensive outreach and collaborative work, they educate growers, conduct plant breeding projects and advocate for stronger regional seed systems. Their website is a wealth of resources for all things related to conducting variety trials, on-farm plant breeding and growing seed crops, so be sure to take a look if you are looking for further information and inspiration.

Recently the Cornell Small Farms Program welcomed Leah Penniman to campus to lead a seminar describing her work, as well as her newly published book, “Farming While Black.”

Farmer, educator, food justice activist, and now writer, Leah does it all. Well known in the NY farming community, as the co-founding of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY, Leah has been an asset to this area for nearly 10 years.

Established in 2011, Soul Fire Farm has a powerful mission to end racism in the food system and reclaim ancestral connection to the earth. Soul Fire Farm has acted as a hub for learning with programs like farm training for Black and Latinx people, sliding cost CSA, and youth food justice leadership. Soul Fire Farm works in collaboration with a large scale movement to take back Afro-Indigenous land stewardship knowledge and promote equality within the food system.

“Farming While Black, extends that work by offering the first comprehensive manual for African-heritage people ready to reclaim our rightful place of dignified agency in the food system,” Leah said of her new book.

Leah talked about her book and the intersectionality between race and food issues. Following her lecture, there was a panel discussion addressing questions about racial inequality in the food system as well as more general food justice topics. The panel is composed of Cornell Small Farms Program director Anu Rangarajan, Development Sociology Professor Scott Peters, Natural Resources Professor Shorna Allred, and local farmer and advocate Raphael Aponte.

This seminar was jointly sponsored by the Cornell Small Farms ProgramMinorities in Agriculture Natural Resources, and Related ScienceSchool of Integrative Plant ScienceCenter for Conservation Social Sciences, and Cornell Community Food Systems Minor.

The Cornell Small Farms Program’s “Labor Ready Farmer” project works to ensure that new farmers and advancing employees in our region can access high-quality information, supportive networks and proven tactics essential to effective management of labor. These efforts support new farmers scaling up and Latino agricultural employees to move up the ladder of management on existing farms.

Now open for registration are two hands-on “Farm Management Master Classes.” These two-day intensive workshops will give farm owners and managers the skills they need to effectively hire, train and supervise farm employees. Managing people is a skill that can be learned, much like operating equipment, or growing crops.

An Eastern NY workshop will be held March 5 and 6 in Hyde Park, NY. A Western NY workshop will be held March 13 and 14 in Rochester, NY.

The master class costs $50, which includes lunch both days, and spots are limited. Free registration for Ready Labor Farmer Technical Assistance Grant recipients. If you are working on management improvements on your farm and are interested in this grant program, visit the Smart Farming Teams section of the Labor Ready project page.

The “Effective Management of Farm Employees Master Class” is led by Richard Stup, director of the Cornell University Ag Workforce Development Program.Richard focuses on human resource management, enhancing employee engagement, regulatory compliance, and leadership development at the farm level.

Included in the two-day workshops’ agendas:

Moving From Individual Performer to Supervisor – “People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.” The skills that make someone a top performer on the farm do not necessarily translate to being a great manager of people but supervisors are often selected from the pool of high performers in an organization to reward them for their contribution to the organization, without consideration of their people management skills or aptitude. This session will help you identify the skills needed to be a great supervisor of people, and how you can develop and apply those skills on your farm.

Overview of Labor Laws Affecting Farm Managers – Every farm manager should have a basic understanding of farm labor laws and regulations. This brief session will cover the key programs and identify resources to help you stay in compliance.

Onboarding New Employees – Onboarding is a relatively new term that describes the process of bringing new employees into the business. The goal of onboarding is to have safe, productive, and engaged farm employees, from day one. Learn to create an employee onboarding program for your farm with clearly assigned responsibilities, designed training experiences, full regulatory compliance, and basic evaluation. You will also learn about the onboarding program being developed by a team of ag industry professionals and how your farm can participate.

Performance Management – This is where the rubber hits the road in management. One of the hardest challenges of management is effectively communicating performance expectations to employees and ensuring that those expectations are carried out. This session will cover effective communication, developing training and assessment programs that get your employees off to a good start and providing timely and supportive feedback to get the best out of your staff. Tools we will discuss include using standard operating procedures, other communication strategies, training resources and feedback and incentives.

Learn more about the workshop and register on the event pages: Eastern NY workshop and Western NY workshop.

Are you working with refugees in agriculture? This past year, the Cornell Small Farms Program developed new resources for refugee farmers and the agricultural service providers who support refugee communities.

A key barrier refugee beginning farmers encounter when seeking resources is language. In Central NY, one of the largest refugee farming communities speaks “Karen,” a language spoken in Burma and Thailand. The project partnered with several native Karen speakers to dub a video about growing transplants. In the video, Liz Martin and Matthew Glenn, owners of Muddy Fingers Farm in Hector, NY, describe how to make a simple potting mix, hand sow flats and create soil blocks.

To encourage networking and resource sharing, the Project also developed a directory of farm service provider organizations in New York State who work with refugee populations. Descriptions of each organization and services offered are embedded in the map.

To learn more about this project, titled “Advancing Agricultural Support and Training for Refugee Farmers in Central New York”, and funded by the USDA 2501 Grant program, please visit our project page.

This “How To” was prepared by Peter Smallidge, NYS Extension Forester and Director, Arnot Teaching and Research Forest, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Ithaca, NY 14853. Support for ForestConnect is provided by the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and USDA NIFA.

Fall and winter are great seasons to learn about the needle-bearing trees that most people call “pines.” These trees have needles, and may also be called evergreen. Most are within the pine family (Pinaceae), but not all. These types of trees have several common features, but not all species easily fall under these labels. These species can be separated into groups and fairly easily described, but first let’s discuss some of the commonly used labels.

Evergreen is commonly used to describe these trees. This label generally applies because most of the species have green foliage throughout the year. An exception is the eastern larch, or tamarack (Larix laricina). In the context of “evergreen”, it is worth noting that although some needles are green throughout the year, all species will slough or drop some needles each year. At some point you will see brown and dying needles. This is to be expected.

Conifer is another common label for these trees. Here again this usually applies because the fruit for most of these species is a cone. However, two species in the cedar family (Cupressaceae) have a fruit that to most people looks like a berry. The fruit of eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and pasture juniper (J. communis) is technically a berry-like cone, with fleshy scales that have grown together.

These needle-bearing trees are within the pine and cedar families. All plants are classified by genus and species within a family. In NY and most of the Northeast, the genera within the pine family include: pine (Pinus spp.), spruce (Picea spp.), fir (Abies spp.), hemlock (Tsuga spp.), and larch or tamarack (Larix spp.). Similarly, the genera within the cedar family include: cedar (Thuja) and juniper (Juniperus). Each of these genera have distinguishing characteristics. All the species of these genera typically have more than one common name. Any good tree identification book will list the variety of common names. Similarly, full details of identification to the species level are left to a good book, such as referenced below.


Figure 1. Red pine has two needles per fascicle, a persistent fascicle sheath, and a bulbous bud.

The most definitive feature of pines is that the needles occur in clusters of 2, 3 or 5. A cluster of pine needles is called a fascicle. One subgroup of pines are the hard pines and include Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), jack pine (P. banksiana), black pine (P. nigra), and red pine (P. resinousa) with 2 needles per fascicle (Figure 1) and pitch pine (P. rigida) with 3 needles per fascicle. The fascicle of the hard pines is wrapped at the base with a paper-thin layer that persists for the life of the fascicle.

Figure 2. Eastern white pine, a soft pine, has a deciduous fascicle sheath which gives the tree a soft appearance.

The only soft pine in the Northeast is eastern white pine (P. strobus). The soft pines have a fascicle sheath, but it is deciduous so it sloughs off during the first growing season of the fascicle (Figure 2). Pine cones have relatively few scales when compared to other genera of Pinaceae. All of the pines are intolerant or mid-tolerant of shade, so will typically require moderate to high levels of sunlight to survive.






Figure 3. The foliage of red spruce (pictured) and all spruce are connected to the twig on a sterigmata. The sterigmata persist after needles drop and appear as peg-like projectcions

The distinguishing feature of all spruce is the presence of sterigmata. Sterigmata are post-like structures or projections on the stem to which the needles attach (Figure 3). These structures are most easily seen on sections of twigs closest to the main stem, after the needles have dropped. They are visible with the naked eye at approximately 1 mm (1/32”) long. Spruce are also identified by have a four-sided needle, and needles that occur singly on the sterigmata (not clusters as do the pines). Spruce have a greater density of scales on the cone than do pine, and cone length helps differentiate among the species. From smallest to largest cones, native spruce include: black spruce (Picea mariana), red spruce (P. rubens), and white spruce (P. glauca). From other areas and common in yards are blue (P. pungens) and Norway (P. abies). The odor of spruce is commonly described as pungent to fetid. The spruces tend to be more tolerant of shade than the pines, though they grow well in sunlight.




Figure 4. The cones of balsam fir are erect, and at maturity the scales break away and leave a central stalk. Photo #1218002 courtesy of Bill Cook, Michigan State University,


The needles of fir are similar to spruce in their singular attachment, not clustered, to the twig. One distinguishing feature of fir is that the needles are attached directly to the twig, and when they drop they leave behind a slightly raised circular pad. Another feature of the genus, and thus of New York’s one native and common fir, balsam fir, (Abies balsamea), is the 3 inch upright cone with deciduous scales (Figure 4). As the cones mature they are apparent in an upright or erect position on the branches, but when mature, the scales drop away leaving a naked cone stalk. The needles are flat, and typically two-ranked or attached on the sides of the twig as wings on a plane. The odor of firs is often that of citrus, though the odor of balsam has a less pronounced citric component that others species in the genus. Balsam fir up to a few inches in stem diameter will have resin blisters on the stem that contain a sticky and aromatic pitch. Balsam fir is tolerant of shade and often grows in the understory.



Figure 5. The two-ranked foliage of eastern hemlock includes dwarfed needles arranged on the upper side of the twig.

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is common in much of New York and occurs in all parts of the state. Hemlock will resemble balsam fir except for three distinguishing characteristics. First, the cones of hemlock are marble-sized, pendant, and the scales remain attached. Second, the foliage has a “piney” (actually “hemlocky”) odor, but not any hint of citrus. Third, the needles, especially on eastern hemlock, are two-ranked, but also include miniature-sized needles that are attached sporadically on the upper side of the twig (Figure 5). The central leader often droops, and a purplish zone separates the layers of bark. Much notoriety surrounds hemlock because of the introduced hemlock woolly adelgid. Hemlock, like balsam fir, is tolerant of the shade.




Figure 6. Eastern larch with foliage on spur shoots. Photo courtesy of Joseph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service,

As mentioned, eastern larch (Larix laricina) is distinctive by its deciduous foliage. Like black spruce it may be found growing in the saturated soils of bogs. The foliage may appear to be clustered on stubs, known as spur shoots (Figure 6). However, the clustered foliage is a result of a branch that does not extend; the foliage that would be otherwise arranged singly on the stem are compressed into a cluster on the spur. The cones are approximately the size of those on eastern hemlock, but are held erect. Many plantations of larch occur on former farms throughout New York, but those plantations are most commonly European larch (L. decidua) or Japanese larch (L. kaempferi), both having much larger cones than the native species.





Figure 7. Foliage of northern white cedar is glossy and succulent in appearance.

Northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis), as all members of the cedar family, are distinguished from the pine family by the modified needles. The modified needles are described as keeled, meaning the needle is flatten and folded to create an edge along the center of the needle (Figure 7). A written description that provides visualization is challenging; perhaps consider a dense strand of green waxy beads, melted and pressed flat. The cones are distinctive, and to some appear as miniature wooden roses. Northern white-cedar is common in bogs and on dry ground, and is tolerant of shade. It may grow in dense stands that provide winter cover for deer, and is browsed heavily by deer. The wood is light and the most rot resistant of the conifers. Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) is restricted to coastal areas of the state.



Figure 8. The foliage of redcedar may be scale-like as the upper-end of the left branch, or awl-like.

The junipers have two types of needle structures, one is linear and awl-like and the other is scale-like (Figure 8). Juvenile and vigorous shoots tend to have awl-like foliage. Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) will attain tree size and occurs in most counties of the eastern United States. Pasture juniper (J. communis) only occurs as a shrub, usually on infertile soils, and only has the awl-like foliage and in whorls of three. The berry-like cone of pasture juniper may be twice the size of that of eastern redcedar.





Tree identification can provide countless hours of fun, and maybe a bit of frustration. Start with a good book, practice on specimens you know, and make a collection of numbered twigs to test yourself and friends that come to visit.

Other resources

  1. Numerous publications are available via A social network is also accessible for owners at and includes an events page, blogs, questions and answers, and a place to post pictures of what you are doing in your woods.
  2. Archives of tree identification webinars are available at Search for “identification.”
  3. A free online book “Know Your Trees” published by Cornell Cooperative Extension is at or an update version may be purchased at
  4. Donald J. Leopold. Trees of New York State: Native and Naturalized.  2003. Syracuse University Press. 322 pages.

Honey bees pollinate flowering plants at Cornell Orchards.
Jason Koski / Cornell University

New research has found that orchards in natural habitats draw bee diversity which improves apple production.

The Cornell University-led study, published recently in the journal Science, shows that apple orchards surrounded by agricultural lands are visited by a less diverse collection of bee species than orchards surrounded by natural habitats. When fewer, more closely-related species of bees pollinate an orchard, apple production suffers.

“Orchards that have bee communities that are more closely related to each other did worse in terms of their fruit production, and the communities that are more broad across the phylogeny did much better,” Heather Grab, Cornell University Ph.D. ’17, the paper’s first author, said in a press release.

The researchers examined 10 years of data from 27 apple orchards in New York state. They noted the types of landscapes that surround these orchards, measured apple production and surveyed the species of bees that visited each orchard.

Read more about the research on the Cornell Chronicle.

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