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Are you transitioning to organic? The USDA Organic Certification Cost Share Programs (OCCSP) provides organic producers and handlers with financial assistance to reduce the cost of organic certification. The programs reimburse producers and handlers for a portion of their paid certification costs. Once certified, organic producers and handlers are eligible to receive reimbursement for up to 75% of certification costs each year up to a maximum of $750 per certification scope: crops, livestock, wild crops and handling.  

The NY State Department of Agriculture & Markets is still handling applications this year along with local FSA offices.  
For more information on cost share visit here or contact:
Anne St. Cyr
NY State Department of Agriculture & Markets 
10B Airline Drive Albany, NY 12235 
P: (518) 485-9974 F: (518) 457-2716 

What wild bees need

A new national assessment estimates that wild bees declined in 23 percent of the contiguous United States between 2008 and 2013. The team of Project ICPresearchers, led by Insu Koh at the University of Vermont, found that the decline was generally associated with conversion of natural habitats to row crops. Areas of intense agriculture (e.g., the Midwest Corn Belt and the Central Valley of California) have among the lowest levels of predicted wild bee abundance.

The study, published in the December issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that 39 percent of the U.S. croplands that depend on pollinators—from apple orchards to pumpkin patches—face a mismatch between rising demand for pollination and a falling supply of wild bees. As the acreage of pollinator-dependent crops expands, the concurrent loss of natural habitat leads to lower abundance of the wild bees needed to pollinate these crops. To maintain stability in pollinators, crop pollination, and yields of these crops, the authors suggest that farmers may need to maintain or enhance habitats for wild bees on and around their farms or invest more heavily in managed pollinators.

Read more in this ICP blog.

June 23-25th, 2017 at 10:00am to 4:00pm at Wellspring Forest Farm & School, 6164 Deer Run Ln, Trumansburg, NY 14886

Discover the possibilities of growing a range of food and medicine in marginal woodlands, hedgerows, and wet places. Explore growing edible mushrooms, elderberry, perennial vegetables, berries, and nuts in temperate woodlands on both a homestead and farm scale.

This course is facilitated by Steve Gabriel of Wellspring Forest Farm, along with Sean Dembrosky of Edible Acres. Both have over a decade experience in managing productive small scale agroforestry systems and share their land projects with participants as a living classroom.

Topics covered include:

  • nursery techniques
  • low-tech tree propagation
  • mushroom cultivation
  • biochar production
  • integrating animals in the woods

This course is designed for woodland owners, farmers, extension professionals, permaculturists, and homesteaders who want to gain a better understanding of the intricacies of forest management and build their skills in the management of productive woodlands.


Register or find more information here.

By Kathy Voth

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It’s that time of year when I remind you that you can teach your ruminant livestock to eat your weeds so that you have as much as 43% more forage, and you don’t have to worry about herbicide.

Training a group of 50 animals to eat weeds takes just 8 hours spread over 7 days at a cost of about $250. Trained animals teach their offspring and herd mates, they remember the new foods for the rest of their lives, and they even add more weeds to their diet all on their own. The best part? Weeds are almost always equal to or better than alfalfa in nutritional value. That’s why one herd I followed for 6 years began walking over the grass in their pastures to choose the weeds instead.

I’ve been training animals and telling farmers and ranchers how to do this since 2004. It turns out that the hardest part of the process is getting farmers and ranchers to try it. So today, I’m going to turn it over to Joe Morris of San Juan Bautista, California to talk about how it worked for him.

It Was Easy! You Can Do It!

That’s what Joe said about teaching cows to eat weeds a few years ago. Joe attended one of my presentations in 2007.  He took good notes and later that spring he taught his cows to eat milk thistle.  In this 2:40 video he describes his training experience.

Joe noticed that his trainees didn’t stop at eating just the target weed. “The bonus was that they ate not only the milk thistle in the pasture, but they also ate Italian thistle in the pasture, and black mustard.  And they ate it with gusto,” he said.

Not everyone takes notes as well as Joe did. So I’ve tried to make it easier for you to get started. Head over to this page with links to all the articles that I’ve written on this for On Pasture, and info on how you can get help from me for next to nothing. There are even links to my youtube channel so that you can watch videos of cows learning. They’re short, sweet and guaranteed to be entertaining.

Here’s What Your Cows Can Eat

If you don’t see your plant on this list, drop me an email and I’ll check it out for you. If you decide to train, and you’re not sure that things are going right or you have questions, drop me an email. I’ve trained over 1,000 cows, 38 bison, several flocks of sheep and some goats how to eat weeds so I can solve most of your training problems by just talking to you about what’s going on.

Really, I’m serious! Get in touch with me. What good is a great invention if no one ever takes advantage of it? I want you to be successful and I want your cows to be successful.

 Go forth and eat weeds!
* Wondering about that 43% more forage? Economist John Morley looked at the common infestation rate he determined that having weed-eating cows could increase acreage available for grazing by as much as 43%.  Read more here.

Looking to start raising and hatching chicks? Join Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County (CCEUC) educators and local professionals for a class on hatching chickens. Find more information and register here.

Are you an agricultural producer interested in implementing practices to treat the runoff from barnyards and bunk silos, implementing milkhouse waste systems, or helping store and manage manure? Interested in protecting the Susquehanna River? You can access funding through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

The Upper Susquehanna Coalition administered by the Tioga County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), has partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement barnyard management practices in the Upper Susquehanna watershed through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) utilizing funding from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Practices funded through this program will reduce sediment and nutrient runoff into the waters of the Susquehanna River.

Funding is available to agricultural producers to implement practices to treat the runoff from barnyards and bunk silos, implement milkhouse waste systems, and to help store and manage manure. Local Partners and NRCS offices will work together to provide assistance to producers in the project area in planning and implementing conservation practices.

The RCPP-EQIP Upper Susquehanna program is offered in the Upper Susquehanna watershed area of the following counties: Allegany, Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Herkimer, Livingston, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Otsego, Schoharie, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates.

This RCPP partnership announces July 21, 2017 as the application cutoff date for the first round of funding. Applicants must provide a copy of their Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan by August 18, 2017 for consideration in this round of funding. All applications are competitive and are ranked based on locally identified resource priorities and the overall benefit to the environment.

Interested landowners should contact their local NRCS office for additional information and to obtain an application. You can locate your local NRCS office by using the web site:

If you are interested in applying for an NRCS conservation program please visit our web site for more information:

As part of application process, all landowners will need to complete USDA eligibility requirements. To find information on EQIP Eligibility please visit: 4p2_027069 

If you’re interested in pursuing a livestock enterprise, a good fence is an essential tool to manage animals on the land.

Join John Slifka (Army) of Three Sisters Farm at (Rome) as he teams up with Sons of the American Legion member, grass farmer, conservation professional and former fence contractor, Troy Bishopp, to show others the art of building long-lasting fences the first time.

This hands-on event will show veteran farmers how to use a hydraulic post driver, build braces correctly, install high tensile wire fence components, where to get resources, learn tricks of the trade and pricing your own job using materials that will last.  In addition, fence chargers, portable fencing and pasture management strategies will be discussed in this jam-packed, practical day that is sure to provide confidence to pursue your farming goals.

RSVP by June 26, Melissa Oles,


Three Sisters Farm
7594 Lower Streiff Road
Rome, NY 13440


By Alex McKiernan

I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of direct-market farmers started as interns or apprentices on someone else’s farm. When you think about mainstream production agriculture, I think you’ll find the same thing, except that those folks likely “apprenticed” with their parent, grandparent, or other relative. For farmers, apprentices and interns are inexpensive labor, and possibly the only way to afford getting crops in and out of the field, at least early on in the business. And most farmers enjoy watching people fall in love with the land and soil, and teaching someone is the best way to make this happen. For the aspiring farmer, there really isn’t any other way to learn this trade. You don’t easily read yourself into a farming career, and even with an increase in school programs based around small-scale farming, I would argue that learning to apply your knowledge is the key to farming successfully – this life is far more art than science, and experience is the key.

The CSA Solutions Hub gets a lot of questions about apprentices, interns and farm labor and in this article I’ll discuss some general employment considerations and specifically how we at Robinette Farms in Martell, Nebraska have approached this key question. My wife, Chloe Diegel, apprenticed for a few years; I essentially apprenticed with Chloe in the first years of our farm, and we have had apprentices on our farm for 5 years, so much of this comes from our experience on only a handful of farms. I have, however, seen apprentices come away with great experiences on a wide variety of farms and the common thread is not money, housing, location or education, it’s a strong mentor-mentee relationship between farmer and apprentice, which can exist on any farm. Our farm has tended toward a slightly more structured learning environment that is a reflection of our personalities, and I encourage you to find a way to employ people that fits your personality, builds relationships and grows more farmers!

Is This a Job?

Education is implied in the words “intern” and “apprentice,” and should hopefully be part of the compensation for all those hours weeding salad greens. If you don’t want to teach; if you don’t want to deal with young people’s lives and drama; if you don’t want to mentor anybody: hire hourly employees. But also don’t assume that “education” means classwork: learning can, and should, happen anywhere and anytime. When it comes to “teaching” writ large, there is a level of knowledge you need to possess to help educate someone, so if you haven’t farmed much and you plan to have apprentices or interns, proceed with caution! This could be a great learning opportunity for everyone, but if they’re expecting to learn and you have just as much to figure out, the relationship could easily turn south. As you likely know, a huge part of their education is simply learning if this lifestyle is enjoyable and satisfying for them. They won’t get rich apprenticing, and they likely won’t get rich farming, either, so they better love the work in front of them!

Throughout this article you’ll see both “intern” and “apprentice,” and I’d like to be clear about the distinction that I’m making. I feel internships are more about exposure to an industry, whereas apprenticeships are more about immersion. Outside the farming world, internships are typically connected to a credit-based school program, and apprenticeships are longer term, stand-alone experiential training opportunities. We have tried creating summer internships in association with a local university that combine credited classwork with hands-on farming (which we hope creates more interest in our apprenticeship program), but overall, I believe small farming is better served by the apprenticeship model. That’s the model we use on our farm, and that’s much of what I’ll discuss here.

Legal Issues: Do Your Homework!

First off, the requisite qualifying statement: I am not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice. Employment law is complex and varies from state to state, and federal laws also affect what you can legally do on your farm. Agricultural exemptions exist for both federal and state laws when it comes to minimum wage, overtime and workers compensation, but this varies considerably.

Suffice it to say that in most states, and depending on the size of your operation, an apprenticeship or internship can be created that is legal, but you’re going to have to do that digging on your own! Consult with a lawyer, visit the U.S. and your state’s department of labor websites, or reach out to local, state and national farming organizations to find the resources you need. Here in Nebraska, where agriculture generates over half of all state revenue, our small farm is exempt from state and federal minimum wage laws. We pay apprentices $600/month, and provide free housing, produce and eggs. We are also exempt from providing workers compensation, but we choose to do so because this work is hard, sometimes dangerous, and many of our apprentices can’t afford health insurance.

Hiring – If You Want Professionalism, Act Like a Professional

Hiring starts close to home: start by assessing your personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your farm. What do you have to offer? – money, knowledge, beautiful scenery, culture? What do you most need help with? – manual labor, customer service, equipment knowledge, building skills? Once you better understand these things, marketing your farm to potential apprentices is a lot easier. Here in Nebraska, we don’t attract young, idealistic folks in the same way that the Coasts, Colorado or the Pacific Northwest easily do, and so we’ve tried hard to make our Apprenticeship Program appealing based on the comprehensive nature of the learning experience. Even though we’ve interviewed folks from all over the country, almost all of our apprentices have come from the Midwest and Plains.

Begin advertising your opportunities in late fall both locally and nationally. ATTRA’s Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships page is a great start. There are other web pages to list with, but also consider reaching out to local schools and universities and see what options they might have. Perhaps you could speak to an organic agriculture class or visit with clubs.

Any listing should include a job description or link that details work, expectations, compensation, etc. Require written applications, resumes and references. Our application is really just a series of softball questions that help us get to know applicants and prepare us for interviews. If you haven’t conducted an interview before – practice this! Depending on your location, snagging apprentices can be competitive so you want to come across as competent. In the interview be honest about the difficulty of the job so you can understand how they might handle 12 hour days in July, living with their co-workers, and being away from home. Try to get a sense of their personality and how it might mesh with yours and other apprentices’. If possible, schedule a farm visit so they can better envision the work they might do and perhaps where they’ll be living. Meeting in person tells you so much about how you’ll get along and that means everything when you work together all the time!

Building Community – It Takes a Village to Raise a Farmer

You know how hard it can be working on farm, so do what you can to create a positive working and learning environment. The last thing anyone wants is for an apprentice to burn out in July, bail, and leave everyone else with more work and sour tastes in their mouths. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to prevent this, but here are some things to try.

Hire multiple apprentices whenever possible. Young, idealistic people are your most likely demographic and guess what – they’re social! Long hours weeding and harvesting pass much faster when you have people to talk with, and these are often the best teaching opportunities as well. If you can only hire one person, do everything you can to incorporate them into a social scene, which may mean your social scene. If your solo apprentice is energetic and outgoing, long hours alone may be the worst thing for them, another reason to consider their personality when hiring.

Housing and food are part of many apprenticeships, but this can certainly strain a budget. In just 5 years of having apprentices, we’ve spent nearly $7,000 making their housing more livable. We’ve also been amazed at just how many $5 per dozen eggs an apprentice will eat when their budget is stretched thin! If you budget properly and reasonably, these issues hopefully won’t strain your relationship, but be aware that they definitely can.

The CSA Solutions Hubs provides information on CSA Marketing, advice videos from CSA Experts, and opportunities for web chats with farmer experts. Click to check it out.

Work to connect your apprentices with as many farming and agriculture resources as possible. We tell all of our apprentices “If you don’t like working at our farm, don’t write off farming altogether!” and you can back this up by sharing your farming contacts, library, and magazine subscriptions. You can arrange tours with other farms in your area, and participate in any local training coalitions like CRAFT.

Finally, make sure you find ways to have fun together! Go to dinner or grab a beer now and then. Bring treats to the field and try to take breaks. Apprenticeships can be intense and difficult for everyone, so it’s important to bring it down a notch when you can.

In Part 2, Alex will share two more challenges of working with interns and apprentices: patience and remembering who’s boss. Stay tuned!

Alex McKiernan farms in Martell, Nebraska where he and his wife, Chloe Diegel, are in their 7th year of running Robinette Farms. Alex is a jack of all trades and a master of none. He counts himself among the lucky.

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By Jennifer Savran Kelly

Big on flavor, aroma and size, Cornell’s newest grape lacks one defining feature: a name. Grape breeder Bruce Reisch ’76 spent years developing the grape, and now he’s offering the public the chance to name it.

Currently dubbed NY98.0228.02, the grape is a seedless, flavorful berry with the attractive blue coloring of a Concord at nearly double the size. Reisch, professor of grapevine breeding and genetics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the new variety is well adapted to the Northeast, with good cold-tolerance for most of the Eastern states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey.

“This grape is the first truly seedless Concord-type and has naturally large, attractive berries,” said Reisch. The Concord has long been an American favorite, known best for its use in grape juice, jellies and jams.
“Our new grapes weigh 5 or 6 grams per berry, almost twice the weight of a traditional Concord,” said Reisch. “It’s pretty rare to find a grape that size, especially with such full flavor.”

Reisch hopes the contest will inspire a name as inviting as the grape. Submissions can be made online or by emailing until July 31. Reisch and his collaborators at Double A Vineyards will decide on their favorites, then present the choices to the public for a final vote in September.

In 2012, a contest to name two new wine grapes resulted in more than 1,100 suggestions from around the world. Of the contenders, Reisch and his team chose Arandell and Aromella, names that combine the “ell” in Cornell with qualities of the grapes themselves. A wine enthusiast as a student at Cornell, Reisch belonged to a wine-tasting group hosted in his college dorm. After studying plant breeding and genetics as a graduate student, he said he was thrilled to find a grape breeding opportunity at his alma mater. Since joining the faculty in 1980, Reisch has led the team that released 14 of Cornell’s 58 grape varieties.

Reisch’s team planted the seed giving rise to NY98.0228.02 in 1999 at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York. The vine first fruited around 2001 and has been field-tested since then. “I expect it will be very popular with home gardeners who are looking for an easy-to-grow grape that produces large, tasty, attractive fruit,” Reisch said.
And because it is best eaten fresh, it will most likely be found in local markets, farmers’ markets and u-pick farms.

The Cornell grape breeding program has released 58 cultivars since 1888. Cayuga White, released in 1972 as the program’s first wine grape, now accounts for more than $20 million of wine production annually in New York. The new grape is the first table grape to be released by Cornell since 1996.

“We have great potential to continue improving grapes,” Reisch said. “With many species that have yet to be tapped for breeding, we’re in a position to develop new cultivars that are not only larger and tastier but also healthier for the planet. Hardier, more disease-resistant and cold-tolerant grapes are easier to grow under environmentally friendly conditions.”

NY98.0228.02 will be exclusively licensed to Double A Vineyards in Fredonia, New York, for 10 years in the U.S., then it will be nonexclusively available for licensing.

For information on licensing Cornell grape varieties, email Jessica Lyga of the Cornell Center for Technology Licensing at or call 607-255-0270.

Established in 2011, the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund provides direct assistance to veterans who are in the early stages of their farming operations. With awards rangin from $1,000 to $5,000, purchases are made to third-parties on behalf of the veteran for critical items such as breeding livestock, used tractors, greenhouses, irrigation systems and more. This year’s awards range from supplies to build a barn for Army veteran Michael Reynolds in Georgia to an egg washer for Air Force veteran Nathan Layton in Pennsylvania.


“As the nation’s largest nonprofit assisting veterans embarking on careers in agriculture, it’s always a great pleasure to provide this much-needed assistance to our veterans,” said Rachel Petitt, who manages the Fellowship Fund. “A Fellowship award can have a huge impact on a farmer veteran by not only providing them with much needed equipment, but also by letting them know we’re here to help them grow their farm business.”

Demand for the Fellowship was extremely competitive this year with a record 270 farmer veterans completing applications. Awardees were selected by a voluntary team of seasoned farm advisors and lenders. Criteria included: farm training/experience; personal investment in their farm business; a clear need for assistance; and their vision and goals for the future of their farm business.
By applying for a Fellowship, applicants are automatically entered in the Geared to Give program—a partnership between Kubota Tractor Corporation and FVC. Four veterans will each be selected to receive a Kubota L-Series compact tractor this Fall. Since it was established in 2015, the program has awarded seven Kubota tractors to FVC members.

Though the Fellowship had to turn away a large number of farmer veterans this year, more awards could be distributed throughout the year as additional funding becomes available. “We can’t make any guarantees, but we’re always trying to award as many farmer veterans as possible,” said Petitt.

Funding for this year’s awards is provided by long-time supporters Bob Woodruff Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, Kubota Tractor Corporation and Prairie Grove Farms—all multiple-year supporters of the Fellowship Fund.

To learn more about the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, please visit

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