by R.J. Anderson
Malting barley is an essential ingredient for brewing beer. And since its very recent reintroduction to New York agriculture after several decades of prohibition and disease-induced dormancy, it has also been very challenging to grow to market grade. Those challenges, paired with the rising demands of the state’s three-year old farm brewery law, dominated discussion at the Southern Tier Farm Brewery Summit on November 10.
Hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Broome County at its headquarters, the summit brought together brewers, grain growers, and malt house owners for formal and informal conversations with educators and experts from Cornell University and Hartwick College, and officials from state regulatory agencies.
“The event served as networking hub, sounding board, and research access point for those staked to the state’s farm and craft beer industry,” said event organizer Laura Biasillo, CCE Broome County agricultural economic development specialist. “It’s so important to bring all these groups together to talk about what is occurring both in research and real-world growing scenarios so that everybody is on the same page.”
Designed to spur demand for locally grown products and create new business opportunities in and around the brewing industry, the New York farm brewery law has provided tax and fee cuts while easing some regulations for brewers, who must use New York state-grown ingredients. It also features an escalating mandate for inclusion of New York ingredients – at least 60 percent of a beer’s hops and 60 percent of its other ingredients will have to be New York-grown by 2018. Those numbers will jump to 90 percent on January 1, 2024. Currently, the threshold for New York-grown ingredients is 20 percent.
Malting barley, which provides a beer with some of its flavor and texture characteristics as well as its color, is by far the largest piece of the “other ingredients” puzzle. The rising legislation requirements, along with the current challenges of producing malting-grade barley, has many brewers growing increasingly nervous.
Due to its strict moisture and chemical demands, malting barley is a much more sensitive crop than traditional New York-grown grains such as wheat and feed barley. More susceptible to fungal diseases than other grains, malting barley also has a much smaller harvest window and must be dried with great care and precise timeliness.
Despite those challenges, and the marginal progress made thus far in production-rate success, experts at the Farm Brewery Summit emphasized that the legislation’s ingredient inclusion requirements are within reach.
“They are reasonable and we’re going to get there,” Aaron MacLeod, director of the Hartwick College Center for Craft Food and Beverage, told attendees. A chemist, MacLeod provides quality-control and validation testing for small grains and is a widely recognized expert on malting barley quality.
“Whenever you do something new, there is a learning process,” he said, “and malting barley has to meet very tight quality specifications to ensure that it will perform well in the malthouse and the brewery.”
To substantiate his point, MacLeod cited work by the Cornell Small Grains program, a team of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences researchers and CCE educators. Led by Mark Sorrells, Cornell professor of plant breeding, plant pathologist Gary Bergstrom, and extension specialists Mike Stanyard, Kevin Ganoe and Justin O’Dea, the group is immersed in trials to pinpoint a handful of malting barley varieties suited to New York’s diverse microclimates.
The team also has made significant and immediate strides by delivering current research to growers who are having more success bringing malting barley to market grade.
“At our lab, we have been testing the quality of harvest samples from around the state and are seeing that farmers who work closely with the CCE specialists for several growing seasons are more likely to ‘make the grade’ on their barley crop than those trying for the first time,” MacLeod said. “And those growers are getting more successful each year. That shows that the effort is paying off.”
Still, MacLeod emphasized, the malting barley re-introduction process will require time, patience and even more collaboration through events like the Farm Brewery Summit.
“Farm brewing requires very close relationships throughout the value chain, which is why meetings like this are so important,” he said. “Bringing the farmers, malsters, and brewers to learn together helps build common understanding. Being involved in farm brewing means you can’t have an anonymous supply chain.”
by Kyle Dornich
A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a tool that creates visual representations of data and performs spatial analyses in order to make informed decisions. It is a technology that combines hardware, software, and data. The data can represent almost anything imaginable so long as it has a geographic component. The hardware can be anything from a desktop computer or laptop to satellites, drones, and handheld GPS units. There are a few different software packages, but ESRI’s ArcGIS suite is the industry standard. The public, private, and non-profit sectors all employ GIS to do everything from manage public utilities to organize the movement and dispersion of goods and services. GIS is very functional in traditional map making, to plot things like fire hydrants along a road, or to draw boundaries, like the area of different crop fields on a farm.
The real power of GIS, though, lies in its ability to analyze multiple data layers or variables. Simple examples of this within the realm of agriculture would be; a map showing the number of farm injuries by county, or the number of crop acres lost to flood by tax map parcel. The polygons representing different ownership or municipalities can convey the change in values in different ways, the most common being a changing color ramp.
More complex spatial analyses for agriculture might compare variables like soil type, wind direction, rainfall amount, slope, aspect, topography, or elevation to assist with crop management, site suitability, and drainage planning, as well as risk prevention from flood, drought, erosion, and disease. GIS can help a farmer adapt to these different variables, monitor the health of individual crops, estimate yields from a given field, and maximize crop production. There are many sources for GIS data free of charge and also for a fee. Universities, government agencies, and private companies are all repositories of spatial data. The New York State government hosts a GIS clearinghouse with a great variety of datasets, some available to the public and some to clearinghouse members only. Some of these data include addresses, watersheds, aerial photography, municipal boundaries, district boundaries, tax map parcels, and road networks. Another GIS-based resource available for free to the public is the USDA’s CropScape, an interactive web-based mapping application which shows the type, quantity, and location of crops growing across the country. By using land-use and primary food crop statistics, along with data collected by satellites and mobile devices to identify areas in need and underlying causes of food insecurity, GIS is also instrumental in the efforts to end global hunger.
Satellites, drones, and manned aircraft are used for remote sensing, which is the gathering of information about the earth’s surface by scanning it from high altitudes. The Landsat 8, a joint effort of the USGS and NASA, is an observation satellite which orbits the earth every 16 days. It captures 9 bands of the visible light spectrum which can be used to calculate factors like plant disease, nutrient deficiencies, insect infestation, or crop moisture excess and shortage. It also captures thermal infrared radiation (TIR) which is outside the range of human vision. Depending on the surface temperature, the intensity of the wavelengths emitted by different types of vegetation and various manmade and natural landscapes differs. The recorded data is converted to visible digital imagery and can be applied to general objectives like managing water for irrigation consumption or plant disease detection.
It can also be applied to very specific objectives like evaluating the maturity of fruits. The aerial and TIR imagery captured by remote sensing are widely used layers in a GIS, and the data collected by the Landsat 8 is made available to the public for free. Higher resolution imagery is collected by low altitude aircraft which make flights over longer cycles ranging between 3 and 10 years. The Farm Service Agency, a department of the USDA, conducts a few such programs. One of the greatest benefits of remote sensing is that it is non-invasive and does not negatively impact the area which is being observed.
With the rapid developments in GPS, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and robotics technologies, many farm tasks are becoming computerized. GIS is an integral part of automated field operations, also referred to as precision agriculture or satellite farming. Using data collected from remote sensors, and also from sensors mounted directly on farm machinery, farmers have improved decision-making capabilities for planning their cultivation to maximize yields. Previous crop yields, terrain specifics, organic matter content, pH, moisture, and nutrient levels of the soil all aid in proper preparation for precise farming. Combine harvesters equipped with GPS tracking units can measure crop yields along with crop quality values like plant water content and chlorophyll levels in real time and at the exact location in the field from which they are harvested.
Variable rate technology (VRT) is the component of precision agriculture, which really enables the data to be put directly to use. It joins farm machinery, control systems, and application equipment to apply precise amounts of growing inputs at exact times or locations. Precision farming with VRT has both economic and environmental advantages. Applying seed, fertilizer, nutrients, or pesticides only where and when they are needed can have a substantial cost savings for the farmer and boost revenues. Additionally, negative environmental impacts from over application of some chemicals are alleviated, and the use of certain chemicals could potentially be eliminated entirely based on data analysis. Persistent dilemmas like nitrogen application can also be addressed, helping the farmer find the right amount between excessive and insufficient. Once a system is in place, a precision agriculture operation follows a closed loop cycle that would look something like: collect/analyze data, plan the harvest, apply the plan, and analyze the results for the following season.
GIS has thousands of applications. It is an ever-growing field, which is already heavily integrated into many sectors of the government at all levels, as well as many types of private businesses. It continues to make innovations which benefit our everyday lives.
Kyle Dornich joined NYCAMH/NEC in December 2017 as a Research Assistant. He will initially be working on two research teams, the Maine Logging Workers Health & Safety Study; and the Agricultural, Forestry & Fishing Traumatic Injury Surveillance Project.
If you have any questions or interest in NYCAMH’s services please contact us by phone at (800) 343-7527 or by email at email@example.com. NYCAMH is a department of Bassett Healthcare Network and our mission is to enhance agricultural and rural health by preventing and treating occupational injury and illness.
New Reference Promotes Indoor Yields and Profits
by Sharon Tregaskis
For organic growers facing an increasingly uncertain climate – ecologically and economically – Andrew Mefferd offers a 245-page compendium on the best practices for managing eight high-profit crops in The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook: Organic Vegetable Production Using Protected Culture. Published in February by Chelsea Green, the Handbook boasts full-color photographs of recommended practices (and those to avoid), plus appendices on hydroponics, pests and diseases, and tools and supplies, as well as an extensive index and a bibliography of additional resources. If only the encyclopedic reference were laminated, to prevent the inevitable potting soil and water stains it’s sure to acquire with regular use.
Mefferd devotes the first half of his effort to five chapters covering the basics of protected culture—the history of indoor growing, the contemporary rationale for the practice, and such details as structure types, siting, and management of both plants and economic considerations. While much of the material in this section will be familiar to growers with a few years of indoor management under their belts, the section should be required reading for commercial growers weighing whether or not to diversify their efforts by growing under glass or plastic, as well as for aspiring farmers still refining their business plans.
The second half of the book tackles crop-specific practices associated with the eight high-profit crops teased on the cover. (Spoiler alert: Mefferd tackles tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, and “leafy crops,” a category that spans lettuce, herbs, and microgreens.) In addition to such issues as optimal spacing, trellising options, and crop-specific techniques for managing the diseases and pests most likely to plague indoor cultivation, the author also tackles such intermediate skills as grafting and tactics for promoting either vegetative or generative growth.
Mefferd knows of what he speaks. He apprenticed on farms in Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Virginia, New York, and Maine, and worked for seven years in the Johnny’s Selected Seeds research department, traveling around the world to consult with researchers and farmers on best practices. He field-tested his observations on his own farm in Maine, and serves as editor and publisher of Growing for Market. “One thing I’ve discovered,” he writes, “is that the principles of protected growing are the same whether your house covers 100 square feet or 100 acres.”
Farmers weigh in on the benefits of CSA’s for farm and community
by Elizabeth Henderson
Similar to what happened in Japan after 30 years of Teikei, CSA in the US is facing something of a crisis. Across the country, CSAs that once had waiting lists are now having trouble finding enough members. So, individual CSAs and CSA networks around the country have decided act together as a CSA community. Taking a clue from the rapid growth of CSAs in new areas of the world (France, UK, all of Europe, China), we are proposing the adoption of a CSA Charter that provides a definition of what CSA is all about. Together, regional networks and independent CSAs launched the Charter on CSA Sign-up Day, February 24, 2017 as a way to attract public attention and, hopefully, inspire many new people to join CSAs. The CSAs that endorse the Charter are posting it on their website along with a logo that identifies them as charter endorsers. In doing this, the CSAs commit to upholding the values of the Charter.
Flashback: In February 1979, a tractorcade of 6,000 farmers tied up traffic in Washington, D.C. to protest farm policy that ended parity, the pricing system that had linked farm prices to the costs of other sectors of the economy. The deepening farm crisis of the 1980s accelerated the loss of family-scale farms. Developers were grabbing up farmland at the rate of many acres a day. In the face of the grim reality that small and mid-sized family-scale community-based farming could disappear completely in the US, people who wanted to farm and support farms had to invent creative alternatives; that is how Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was born.
In the words of Anthony Graham, a farmer at Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire, one of the first two CSAs in the USA:
“Ideas have a way of hovering until the time is right or the right person or group can give it form. Booker T Whatley sounds like he was a forerunner in the idea of communities supporting farms and farmers, but I don’t think he can be said to have created the CSA concept. In the mid 80’s what has now come to be known as CSA was an idea whose time had come, with roots in many places and in many people. It grew out of a sense of community and it came as an answer to a need. When the time was ripe it grew exponentially through the work of many people, not the least of whom were the farmers who recognized a great idea and ran with it.” In the South, Booker T. Whatley researched and taught farmers “How to Make $100,000 from a 25 Acre Farm.” Inspired by Swiss and German examples, Robyn Van En, Trauger Groh, Anthony Graham, and Lincoln Geiger established the first CSA farms in the US in 1986: Indian Line Farm and Temple-Wilton Community Farm. Robyn became CSA’s Johnny Appleseed, spreading the concept at Biodynamic and Organic conferences across the country. Now in 2017, there are over 7300 CSAs in the US.
At the 1993 New York State CSA Gathering in Syracuse, I shared my thoughts on the significance of CSA: “A CSA is an idea – a tremendously flexible concept for a new consumer-farmer connection, an alternative system of distribution based on community values. The economics of direct sales make this a win-win solution for farmers and consumers. The farmer gets a decent price and the consumer pays less, since there is no middleman. For the farmer, the CSA offers the possibility of a broad support group of people who genuinely care about the farm’s survival and who are willing to share the farmer’s risks. Consumers have the opportunity to connect with the earth, know and trust the people who grow their food, and support the local economy and to transform themselves into the much more meaningful and empowered stance of a person who is taking responsibility of one of the most basic needs of a human being. The big question we must answer – will this be sustainable?”
Anthony Graham writes: “When we started the Temple Wilton Community Farm with a series of community meetings in the winter of 1985/1986, one thing we were sure of was that we were not selling anything – we were far more interested in community and in the ‘culture’ in agriculture. What we were attempting to set up was a way for a community of people to support the existence of a farm through good times and bad by making pledges of financial support over the course of one year. By agreeing to support the existence of the farm our members became co-farmers….At that time we were all talking and thinking a lot about how to bring form to the ideas that were swirling around, and in one of our conversations Trauger was the one who came up with the idea that the members could also be seen as farmers and we also decided that the farmers should make pledges as members (which we still do).”
Interesting to note is that CSAs that stick to their guns are not having trouble. Temple-Wilton, which does not even have a price but asks members to contribute what they can afford and then take as much food as they need, still has a waiting list. Ruth Katz, a core member of a CSA in New York City, writes:
“We at Clinton Hill CSA have been very fortunate thus far (knock on wood!) that our membership has stayed up in the last few years. I’m aware that it can change at any time. I think one reason is that our neighborhood, for all of its gentrification, is still a bit of a food desert, with no really terrific supermarket. Honestly, the CSA is about convenience to some degree. We’ve kept up a long wait list, and that has been our most reliable tool to fill our membership each year; we’ve just almost doubled our winter share membership by offering the winter shares to the wait list. We also have started offering half shares, and that seems to be a strong and important tool to reach people who might not have room in their lives for a full share. And we have a wonderful farmer in Ted Blomgren; his expertise has grown so much in these last 15 years.”
Emilie Miyauchi of Just Food, a CSA network in NYC, writes:
“There’s been a lot of talk about how to make CSA more “consumer friendly” and flexible. While we understand this mindset, especially in trying to compete for NYC’s attention, we see this as a potentially endless pursuit. Someone else will always be there with an easier platform for food delivery, generally someone with a lot of up front capital. Our farmers and our communities can’t play by the same rules as companies or whatever comes next to replace them. The CSA model works and is equitable only when we recognize and try to meet the real needs of farmers and share-holders. We need to get better at listening to one another, expressing ourselves, and finding ways to engage and get creative when we feel our interests are in conflict.
We need to dig down deeper into what community is and what it can mean. Part of the hardest work of keeping the CSA model viable is building back community, protecting what exists, and galvanizing people around a shared sense of our entanglement with one another and the natural world. It is also time for CSA farms to address the tension between farm owners and farm workers to make CSA a model for healthy business and fair labor.”
Charter for CSAs in the USA and Canada
It is up to each CSA farm and its community to build a model that best suits them and to mutually ensure that the CSA upholds the principles of this charter.
- Farm members buy directly from the farm or group of farms. There is no middleman.
- The farm provides member families with high quality, healthy, nutrient-dense, fresh and preserved, local and low fossil-fuel food or fiber, filling the share primarily with products grown on the farm or, if purchased from other farms, clearly identified as to the origin.
- Farm members commit to the CSA, sharing the bounty and the risks of farming by signing an agreement with the CSA and paying some part in advance, even if just two weeks ahead of time for those on Food Stamps.
- The farm nurtures biodiversity through healthy production that is adapted to the rhythm of the seasons and is respectful of the natural environment and of cultural heritage, and that builds healthy soils, restores soil carbon, conserves water and minimizes pollution of soil, air and water.
- Farmers and members commit to good faith efforts for continuous development of mutual trust and understanding, and to solidarity and responsibility for one another as co-producers.
- Farm members respect the connection with the land upon which the CSA grows their food and strive to learn more and to understand the nature of growing food in their locale.
- Farmers practice safe-handling procedures to ensure that the produce is safe to eat and is at its freshest, tastiest, and most nutritious
- CSA prices reflect a fair balance between members’ needs for food that is accessible and affordable, and the farmers’ needs to cover costs of production and pay living wages for themselves and all farm workers so that they can live in a dignified manner.
- Farmers consult with members, take their preferences into account when deciding what crops to grow, and communicate regularly about the realities of the farm.
- Farm members commit to cooperate with the community of members and to fulfill their commitments to the CSA.
- Farmers commit to using locally adapted seeds and breeds to the greatest extent possible.
- The CSA seeks paths to social inclusiveness that enable the less well-off to access high quality food and commits to growing the CSA movement through increasing the number of CSAs and collaboration among them.
Elizabeth Henderson started one of the first three CSAs in New York State – Peacework Organic CSA, in its 29th year in 2017. She is lead author of Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture (Chelsea Green, 2007) and Honorary President of the international CSA network Urgenci. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Brian Caldwell and Ryan Maher
Janaki Fisher-Merritt grew up on a pioneering organic vegetable farm. Janaki’s parents, John and Jane Fisher-Merritt, started The Food Farm in northern Minnesota in 1975. They moved to their current location in 1988, became certified organic in 1990, and started the first CSA in the Duluth area in 1994. The size of the operation hovered around 6 acres until Janaki actively joined in management in the mid-2000’s. Janaki and his wife, Ann Dugan, bought the farm from his parents in 2010. The farm now produces about 13 acres of vegetables, with roughly the same amount of land in cover crops. Farming partner Dave Hanlon manages their two greenhouses and five hoophouses plus transplant production, and they hire three interns each season. About 2/3 of the produce goes to summer and winter CSA shares. The rest is sold to local co-ops and restaurants. The Food Farm also produces chickens, turkeys, and eggs.
The farm’s fields are flat. Early on there were some drainage issues, but a series of ditches solved that problem fairly well. However, fields still tend to be somewhat wet in the spring. The main obstacle to successful vegetable production is the short, cool season. The hoophouses and greenhouses help with that, and their excellent winter storage root cellar lengthens the marketing period. Outdoor crops are chosen based on their adaptation to the cool climate and short season. In fact, Janaki is saving seeds from plants that do particularly well in an effort to select them even further.
Crops are managed by the field rather than individual beds. However, since the fields are fairly small (less than 100 feet wide and 300 feet long), tractor wheel traffic is somewhat controlled. Janaki’s primary tillage tools are a 7-foot tractor-mounted Falc rototiller and Falc Toro spader. These cover the tractor’s width, and allow for passes about 72 inches on center to create planting beds. He uses a 10-foot Lely Roterra power harrow, which can run at a shallow depth of 3-4 inches, for some tillage operations like cover crop incorporation. Two tineweeders, 6 feet and 20 feet, are used for stale bedding (killing small weeds in a seedbed just before planting), cultivating, and working in broadcast small cover crop seed. He also uses up to four Yeomans Keyline shanks to subsoil his fields, and a 7-foot wide flail mower to handle cover crops. Field irrigation is accomplished with traveling guns.
Janaki is committed to good soil husbandry. After college, when he was working into farm ownership, he felt the farm needed to make cover cropping more of a priority. His parents gave Janaki wide latitude to improve farm methods, and he made time to experiment with ways of using more cover crops to improve the soil. Those efforts were very fruitful, and resulted in several novel practices now used at the Food Farm. Growing cover crops for green mulch, or “cut and carry” mulching, efficient interseeding, growing cover crops in hoophouses, using mustard as a biofumigant, and more came out of that period. We focus on a few of these practices here.
Reduced Tillage Series
Reduced tillage practices take many forms. This story is the 6th in a series featuring organic vegetable growers that have adopted reduced tillage practices on the way to greater farm sustainability. Experienced growers at diverse scales are tackling weeds, managing rotations, and integrating cover crops while minimizing soil disturbance. Look for past and future SFQ issues to learn the practices that are helping these growers build better soils. Visit the Small Farms Reduced Tillage Project webpage or contact Ryan Maher of the Cornell SFP for more information on this project, email@example.com.
Cover cropping for succession plantings
A CSA farm grows a wide variety of crops, often with multiple planting dates. Thus, the rotation is often flexible, and a given crop may be grown several different ways, depending on the part of the season during which it is planted. Broccoli is an important crop at the Food Farm. It does well in the cool conditions, and succession plantings are made from early spring through July. Janaki’s varied cover crop practices for this crop illustrate the care he takes of his soil.
Early broccoli often follows a winter-killed cover crop, such as buckwheat and crimson clover. This is tilled in with the spader and given a heavy dressing of compost. After 2-3 weeks, a tineweeder pass kills small weeds. Then Janaki uses a water wheel transplanter to set the broccoli transplants, two rows per bed, 6 feet on center. Thirty-foot-wide row covers, which are removed and replaced for cultivation, are placed over all early brassica plantings until July. After harvest, early broccoli plantings are tilled under and cover crops are planted.
Later plantings often follow the termination of yellow sweet clover/hairy vetch cover crops. The covers are flail mowed, then rototilled in after a light application of compost. Yellow sweet clover may host cutworms, so two to three weeks is allowed before tineweeding and transplanting. After the main head harvest, winter rye is broadcast over the crop. It is incorporated with a hand hoeing, which follows right away. Harvest of side shoots may continue late into the season as the cover crop grows, particularly from varieties such as Bellstar, Imperial, and Arcadia.
The last plantings, grown without row cover, receive a tineweeding two to three weeks after tillage, then are transplanted. When the broccoli plants are 6-8 inches tall, Janaki broadcasts rye and runs the tineweeder over them again to kill weeds and incorporate the cover crop seed. After harvest, the rye continues growing.
Cover crops thus grow after all broccoli plantings, even though harvest may extend late into fall. This coincides with Janaki’s goal of having green plants covering as much land as possible over winter and spring, soaking up valuable nutrients and protecting the soil.
Cut and carry mulching
Janaki uses cover crop fallow periods to take land out of production and build his soils. Some of these cover crops are utilized during following season in a unique cut and carry program. After they’ve put on significant growth in spring, wheat and vetch or rye cover crops are chopped with an old dairy forage chopper and blown directly into a self-unloading wagon. The moist “greenchop” is then unloaded from the side of the wagon alongside tomato plantings, or directly into hoophouses through their open ventilation sides.
The green mulch is then spread with forks around the crops. Janaki has not had problems with off-gassing from the fresh residues, which other farmers have found to sometimes damage tender crop plants. The timing works well for both hoophouse and field tomatoes, since the cover crops are ready to chop from May through June.
Positive aspects of the cut-and-carry system include:
- the weed-suppressing and moisture-holding values of organic mulch;
- production of mulch on the farm;
- making good use of heavy cover crop residue which can sometimes be difficult to handle if left in place;
- use of green material that is much more pleasant to work with than pokey or moldy dry straw;
- not having to store mulch hay;
- avoidance of plastic mulch;
- the ability to grow a between-row cover crop during the cash crop season;
- flexibility to use the mulch on several different crops;
- possibly the biggest benefit, though, is soil improvement. Janaki says he can see a positive difference where tomatoes have been grown after only two years.
- the need to own or have access to a chopper and forage wagon;
- hand labor to spread the mulch;
- the need to control weeds while waiting for the soil to warm up before applying organic mulch.
Janaki’s field tomato transplants are large, grown in 4” pots to get off to a fast start. Field prep includes tilling and tineweeding twice. Just before the second tineweeding, Janaki broadcasts perennial ryegrass and Dutch white clover. In fact, if he is going into a field of winter rye that was planted late in the previous fall, he will skip tillage altogether and simply broadcast these covers directly into the somewhat sparse rye. The tineweeder goes over everything, and a ryegrass/clover + rye cover crop is established without spring tillage. Then he subsoils down the rows with a Keyline plow; after adding a heavy dose of compost in the slot, he rototills with a hand tiller, and transplants are put in by hand. Thus the tomatoes and ryegrass/clover pathways are established, but the soil is bare next to the tomatoes.
The plants are hand-hoed one or two times, and then mulched with green cut-and-carry material in mid to late June. Mulching waits until the soil has warmed and the tomatoes will soon be trellised. The green mulch is unloaded along the edge of the field, and then distributed by hand into a 6-inch high layer around the plants. This happens
in a roughly 2-foot-wide swath down the crop row, but the 4 feet of ryegrass and clover between the rows continues to grow. Note that by planting the ryegrass/clover cover crop first and then mulching, the problem of a strip of weeds next to the mulch is eliminated. This weed strip often bedevils growers who mulch first, then seed their pathway cover crop. But in Janaki’s case, the ryegrass and clover grow right up to the mulch. As the season progresses, the grass/clover pathways are mowed 3-4 times. No other weeding or fertilizing is done. After harvest, the ryegrass and white clover strips are left in place and sometimes used again the following season, with a different crop in between.
Janaki notes that paying attention and observing are critical to success on any farm. Take the time to experiment. What works for one farmer may not work for another. There are always tradeoffs—for instance, the tight management required for some of these cover crop practices may save farm crew labor and be best in the long run, but may require extra effort by Janaki during peak periods.
Constant but targeted experimentation is important to the success of the Food Farm. “Experiments are inherently inefficient. Carve out enough time to really pay attention to it. Write things down. Really observe and evaluate. One year of success or failure is not enough.” He warns beginning farmers not
to go whole hog into an experimental approach. Experiment on a small part of a field: observe, tweak, repeat. “Do mostly what other successful farmers in your area are doing. Experiment on the side, not with your whole farm.”
Farmers and woodland owners have opportunities to generate income from their woodlands.
by Rich Taber
CCE Chenango has received a grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute “Increased Farm Viability and Diversification through Value Added Forest Products”. The impetus for this project was due to the fact that 66% of New York Farms (23,576) have large amounts of forest land, which add significantly to the purchase prices and tax burdens, and yet less than 2,000 farms use their forest land to generate significant income. 60% of New York’s 30 million acres (about 18 million acres) are covered with forests, and most of this land is owned by private forest landowners, with a good share of that owned by farmers. Much of this land has the potential to generate income, but is currently underutilized. The purpose of this project is to help farmers and landowners become more profitable and diversified by developing value-added forest (woodland) enterprises that complement existing farm operations and which can generate more than $10,000 per year. It is acknowledged that many forest owners own their woodlands for a diversity of values, such as hunting, hiking, bird watching, aesthetics, cross country skiing, and innumerable other activities. Sometimes these same properties can be encouraged to produce goods and services that will return income to the owners. With the right mindset and efforts, a viable woodland business can generate income, which will contribute to local economies and lower the chances of having to sell off land due to onerous ownership costs.
The value added products that are encouraged are maple sap and syrup products, firewood, saw timber and sawmilling production, and woodland cultivated mushrooms. Possibilities for other potential forest value added products will be considered as well.
To achieve the goals of this project the following activities will take place:
- Presentations will be given to farmers across the state to introduce them to farm-compatible forest enterprises that can gross more than $10,000 a year. $10,000 is the minimum gross income level that is required to be generated per year in order for farms to be eligible for property tax reductions.
- Videos will be produced on forest income-producing enterprises and posted to the internet and social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Cornell Cooperative Extension Websites.
- The project is developing a Forest Value Added Business Plan Template, and will provide one-on-one help for farmers/landowners who are developing plans for a value-added forest product enterprise. Separate plans for specific enterprises to include maple sugaring, saw timber/sawmilling, firewood production, and agroforestry enterprises are being developed.
NEW YORK STATE WOODSMEN’S FIELD DAYS
Boonville Oneida County Fairgrounds
ROUTE 294 BOONVILLE, NEW YORK
Annually held the third full weekend in August, Rain or Shine
Dates for 2017 are August 18, 19 and 20
More information will be developed soon regarding this exciting project. New York State’s forest resources are always at the risk of being sold and subdivided for development. This project aims to keep the landscape in forests by providing farmers and landowners with viable income-generating possibilities. Anyone desiring more information on this project should feel free to contact the author. We will also be soliciting landowners who may already have established viable woodland businesses to be interviewed and filmed for our video production component. An excellent place to mingle with other successful woodland business owners is at the New York State Woodmen’s Field Days, held each year in Boonville, NY. See the sidebar for more information on this event. Other excellent places for woodland information can be found at the New York Forest Owners Association website, www.nyfoa.org, and the Cornell Forestry site, http://blogs.cornell.edu/cceforestconnect, or http://cornellforestconnect.ning.com.
Rich Taber, M.S., M.S.F., is Grazing, Forestry, and Ag Economic Development Specialist with CCE Chenango. He lives on a farm in Madison County with his wife Wendy where they enjoy a variety of amenities from their 100 acre woodlot. 607-334-5841 ext. 21 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Editor
The spring brings renewal – and the promise of a productive year ahead for farmers. We ease into the season with excitement and some caution, wondering if early killing frosts or too much or too little rain will make our lives difficult. Despite all the unknowns, we’ve experienced all the possibilities before, and know we can make it through in the end. All of us at the Small Farms Program wish you a healthy, safe, and productive growing season, and hope you find the enclosed stories and articles inspirational and helpful in your farm enterprises. We are always looking for YOUR stories for our “Lessons from the Land” column, so please consider sending us one!
Agroforestry Trainings for Veterans
The Cornell Small Farms Program, with support from New York State and the USDA, announces three trainings in agroforestry this coming spring to support Veterans looking to get into agricultural production. Agroforestry includes farming practices that combine trees and forests with crop production.
Each training includes classroom instruction and site visits to farms in active production. Content will cover the technical aspects of production as well as the financial and business considerations for each venture.
These trainings are exclusively for veterans and active military personnel who are residents of New York State with an interest in selling commercial farm products (filing a Schedule F) in 2017 or 2018. Participants will be asked to complete a targeted survey at the end of the course as well as 6 months from completion, to determine the effect on their operation.
Cost: $30 per training includes lunch and all materials. Participants are able to submit up to $100 in travel expenses for reimbursement.
March 31 & April 1, 2017
Log-Grown Shiitake Mushroom Production
Cornell Cooperative Extension Chenango County
99 N Broad St, Norwich, NY 13815
This course discusses the appropriate wood species and set up for economical production of log-grown shiitake mushrooms. Participants will get hands-on experience in inoculating logs and receive budget-planning tools to help them decide on the scale of their operation.
May 12 & 13, 2017
Managing Trees and Animals in Silvopasture Systems
Cornell Cooperative Extension Schuyler County
323 Owego St # 5, Montour Falls, NY 14865
This course will explore the successful integration of livestock and trees in mixed systems to help participants understand how to establish and maintain forest and tree grazing systems on their farms.
Questions? Contact Dean Koyanagi at 607- 255-9911 or email@example.com. Learn more and register at: http:// www.nebeginningfarmers.org/projects/farmerveterans/veteran-trainings-in-agroforestry-2/
One-Day Professional Development Training
Framing an Economic Evaluation of Community Food Systems Initiatives
Save the Date: May 19, 2017
Led by Becca Jablonski (Colorado State University) and Todd Schmit (Cornell University, Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management), Cornell’s LRFS* Team will host an in-depth training on the USDA-AMS The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments and Choices. The Toolkit aims to help communities reliably evaluate the economic impacts of investing in local and regional food systems. This workshop will be tailored to small teams of Extension professionals, researchers, students, and other stakeholders (e.g., farmers, food security reps, distributors, processors, community planners, local legislators, etc.).
For more information or to request a Toolkit Training application, contact Kathi Colen Peck at firstname.lastname@example.org. Preference will be given to those who apply as a small team (2-4 individuals representing inter-organization or interdisciplinary perspectives working together on a local and regional food systems initiative).
*Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Local & Regional Food Systems (LRFS) effort explores ways to maximize and improve interdisciplinary and inter-organization coordination, alignment, and connection for a robust and resilient regional food system in New York State. To date, a small team of researchers, staff, and Extension professionals has been identifying and further developing a collaborative network that will work to better integrate sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management in order
to boost the economic, social and environmental well being in NYS. The Toolkit Training is one such effort to help strengthen collaboration among campus, county, and community.
Baskets to Pallets Training
The Baskets to Pallets project hosted an intensive two-day training workshop at Templeton Hall, Cooperstown, NY. A total of 50 producers of all levels were instructed on preparing their products for marketing to wholesale buyers — especially food hubs, groceries, restaurants and cooperatives. The Training drew a huge diversity of farmers from about a 100-mile radius.
In a pre-training survey, farmers cited a number of barriers to entering wholesale markets, including knowledge, time, money, infrastructure and transportation challenges. After the Training, most farmers reported feeling ready to enter at least one new wholesale market. Farmers had the opportunity to meet a total of 30 buyers at a regional Farmer-Buyer Mixer in Troy, NY a few
weeks after the training.
To learn more about the Baskets to Pallets project, visit http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/wholesale/
Partnerships Foster Reduced Tillage Info
The Cornell SFP teamed up with Michigan State University and the University of Maine to offer 3 webinars in March and shared the latest research on reduced tillage for organic vegetable production. We discussed soilbuilding practices for both small and midsize farms, from permanent beds, tarps, and mulches, to cover cropping, strip tillage, and cultivation tools. Find and listen to webinar recordings at our Reduced Tillage project page, http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/reduced-tillage/.
Cooperative Ext., SUNY announce spring class schedule
by R.J. Anderson
When Samantha Schriber-Vanstrom decided to drive nearly five hours from her western New York home to attend the Harvest New York poultry cutting workshop at SUNY Cobleskill, she did so looking to maximize her small farm’s profits.
“I wanted to learn about how other people operate and ways to process my birds for better cuts,” said Schriber-Vanstrom. “I’d been quartering some birds for a couple years, but was curious about other ways to attract more customers through other types of cuts. I found that, and more, at the workshop. It was well worth the drive.”
Schriber-Vanstrom was one of 12 attendees at the October 12 session, part of a series of meat processing and marketing classes co-organized by SUNY Cobleskill and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s (CCE) Harvest New York economic development and sustainability program. Held at the SUNY Cobleskill Meat Laboratory, the one-day workshop was led by Meat Lab Manager Betsy Jensen, Harvest New York Livestock Processing & Marketing Specialist MacKenzie Waro, and Culinary Arts Instructor Mike Lapi, who led a hands-on butchering session.
Participants spent time learning the regulations for poultry slaughter, processing, and marketing, then visited the meat lab where they observed Lapi butchering a bird, after which they processed one themselves.
“This was the third class in the series, and it was a big success,” said Waro. “We have been very excited about the success of these workshops. Participants ask great questions, and walk away with new knowledge about meat cuts, marketing and processing.”
Based on the positive feedback following last year’s meat cutting workshops, Waro said Harvest New York and SUNY Cobleskill are beefing up their 2017 schedule. “Participants have been asking for additional workshops on cooking meat, and we will be adding that into our 2.0 meat workshops for the spring,” she said. “Workshop participants gain skills that they can bring back to their business and apply towards the future of their farms.”
At Schriber-Vanstrom’s farm in Kennedy, New York, which she operates with her husband, Eric, and his father, they milk 85 dairy cows while raising goats, sheep, pigs and Red Cornish chickens. The grass-fed meat is sold directly from the farm and at area farmers’ markets.
For Schriber-Vanstrom, the highlight of the poultry session came during the processing component of the workshop. “Mike was really good at showing us different things, answering questions, and making sure the information was useful,” she said. “Seeing how other people cut their birds and then actually doing my own processing was a great learning experience. Hands-on is the way I learn best, so it was really beneficial to me.
“And having Betsy and Mackenzie there to cover the marketing and regulations aspect in the same day was also really helpful,” she added. “They were good about getting into the nitty gritty of some of the things we as farmers don’t necessarily think about.”
Upcoming schedule of classes for meat producers:
February 3- Lamb 1.0 (marketing and processing) hosted at SUNY Cobleskill
March 14-15 Cured Meats hosted at Cornell University
March 17- Beef 2.0 (processing and cooking) hosted at SUNY Cobleskill
April 21- Lamb 2.0 (processing and cooking) hosted at SUNY Cobleskill
May 17 – Pork 2.0 (processing and cooking) hosted at SUNY Cobleskill
May 31-June 1 Cured Meats hosted at Cornell University
To register or for more information, call Linda Serdy, SUNY Cobleskill Office of Professional and Continuing Education at 518.255.5528 or SerdyML@cobleskill.edu.
by Peter Smallidge
A sugarbush is a special type of woodland. Woodlands include a complex mixture of natural processes and attributes such as soil type, elevation, tree species, types of wildlife, history of use, tree age and more. Foresters can help maple producers gain an in-depth understanding of these factors to achieve a healthy and productive sugarbush, but there are several steps a maple producer can take on their own.
Three principles should guide the way a maple producer looks at a sugarbush. These principles apply to all woodlands. First, managing the sugarbush to produce a specific product (in this case sap) is really about managing which plants receive sunlight. Sunlight feeds the leaves that make sugar, which of course is needed for high quality sap. Second, trees are biological organisms, similar in some respects to a tomato plant, a cow, or a human being. Biological organisms are born, grow and eventually senesce. They also respond to stressors in their environment, and their vigor determines how well they respond. Third, as trees get larger they require more space. Because trees cannot move as they become crowded, some trees will die as the sugarbush matures.
With these principles in mind, a reasonable goal for a sugarbush is to make sure that trees of good vigor and potential longevity have adequate sunlight, stress events are minimized, and the effects of crowding are controlled by the owner who selects which trees will remain. Following are a few actions that maple producers can take to help keep their sugarbush healthy and productive.
1. Monitor crown health. The leafy part of the tree, the crown, is perhaps the most important part of the tree to monitor. Be alert to evidence of unhealthy crowns. Symptoms of poor crown health may include dead branches in the upper part of the crown, poor leaf color during the growing season, unusually small leaves, or a transparent crown. There will always be a couple trees in a sugarbush with poor crown health, but if several trees show these symptoms it is a sign that a problem exists. A symptom tells you a problem exists, but it doesn’t usually identify the problem. Crown health may decline as a result of root problems, such as compaction from machinery.
Repeated injury to the crown can also reduce health because of reductions of energy reserves in the roots, as occurs when defoliation coincides with drought. Crown problems often result in less sugar production and lower yields the following sap season. In extreme cases, minimize or avoid tapping to allow trees to recover a healthy crown. Unfortunately, the causes of unhealthy crowns often can be difficult to change. Some of the following actions also help maintain good crown health.
2. Assess competition for light among trees. Trees need light to grow. Although sugar maple is tolerant of shade, it does not thrive in these conditions. Maple producers need their trees to thrive, not just survive. The appropriate stocking, that is the number of trees of a given size per acre, is a numeric index of competition for resources, specifically light. There are also visual indications of too much competition for light. First, if the upper canopy, collectively the crowns of the tall trees, is closed and does not allow sunlight through, then there may be too much competition for light. If the canopy is closed, and some trees have rounded crowns while other crowns are flattened on two or more sides, there is likely too much competition.
If the maple trees produce seeds, but there are no seedlings, there is either too much shade or too many deer. Before taking action, visual cues to competition should be assessed by a forester who will measure stocking. In many cases the state forestry agency can provide a public forester to do the assessment. These foresters are pre-paid, i.e. your tax dollars at work. If competition is high, thinning around the best trees will ensure they have enough light to continue to thrive. Look for resources on Crop Tree Management to guide the selection of trees to cut and those to leave. Woodlot and sugarbush thinning webinars are archived at www.youtube.com/ForestConnect.
3. Look for interfering plants. Interfering plants are either native or non-native (or “invasive”), and interfere with something the owner wants to accomplish. Examples of interfering plants include multiflora rose, ferns, beech, striped maple, bush honeysuckle, and many more. For maple producers, interfering plants may complicate access for tubing or buckets. Interfering plants may also impede efforts to establish young desirable maple seedlings. In some areas, deer pressure is high and they browse desired plants. This browsing gives a growth advantage to the interfering plants that deer do not browse. Strategies and techniques to control interfering plants depends on the problem plant, its abundance, how thoroughly the maple producer wants to control the plant, and the producer’s use of herbicides or organic strategies. The author’s website includes numerous resources to help control interfering plants.
4. Monitor tree diameter growth. Tree diameter growth is critical to maple syrup producers. Diameter growth is an index of crown health. Diameter growth also helps to heal tap holes, adds new wood for future tapping, and acts as a reservoir for sap. A tree may produce the same amount of wood each year, but the thickness, known as the diameter increment, will decrease because the wood is spread around a bigger tree. Tapping guidelines assume tree growth is sufficient to add new wood and prevent future tapping into columns of stain from prior tapping. “Pattern tapping” helps prevent tapping into a stain column, and so does adequate diameter growth.
Producers should expect annual diameter increments of 1/8th to 1/10th of an inch for trees less than 16 inches, 1/10th to 1/12th of an inch per year for trees 16 to 20 inches, and 1/12th to 1/16” of an inch for larger trees. The actual growth necessary to provide a sufficient thickness of new wood depends on the depth of tapping and the offset of the tapping pattern between years. “Band tapping” high versus low bands of the tree will reduce the expectation for diameter growth (but why would you strive for slower growing trees?).
Annual measurements at the same position on the stem with a tape measure will reveal tree growth. Producers can place an aluminum nail in the tree at 12” high, and use a 3.5-foot stick to locate consistent height to annually measure diameter at breast height (dbh). Measure a minimum of 30 to 40 trees, and at least one per acre. Just as producers should measure sugar concentration, so they need to measure tree diameter growth.
5. Consider tree age and longevity. Sugar maple can be a long-lived tree, with some trees reaching 300 to 400 years of age under ideal conditions. Under normal conditions, maple will likely have reduced production between 150 and 250 years of age. Maple producers could assess if there are patches of old or otherwise unproductive maples and regenerate a couple small patches every few years. Cutting within patches needs to be sufficiently intense to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor. Patches could be 0.25 to 0.75 acres, and vigorous trees within the patch could be retained. Young seedlings should be protected from deer by fencing or dense continuous piles of brush around the perimeter. A forester can help assign vigor-ratings to trees, and producers can monitor sap production for individual trees. The location and timing of patch cuts should synchronize with planned changes of tubing and mainline.
6. Livestock. Historically, many farm woodlots and sugarbushes have allowed cattle and other livestock to free range. In these cases, grazing involved a perimeter fence and then free choice of consumption by the livestock. This continuous or set-stock grazing proved detrimental to the animals, the trees, and the land where the stocking rate (same concept as for trees, see #2) was too high. Sustainable grazing is possible, but requires considerable work. Silvopasture is a deliberate process of integrating livestock into woodlands while also managing for nutritious forage plants. Management-intensive rotational grazing in small paddocks with herd/flock movement daily ensures ample rest periods for the land and intensive, restorative grazing of the forages. With careful planning, silvopasture practices can solve some interfering plant problems. Any plans for deliberate grazing should assure that root damage is avoided; pigs in particular can cause root damage through their tendency to “root.” The author’s website has several references and resources for silvopasture.
7. Avoid soil ruts and compaction. While tree crowns are perhaps the most important part of the tree for producers, tree roots tie for first place or are at least a very close second. The roots anchor the tree to the ground, pull water from the ground into the stem for sap, and feed the foliage. Damage to roots by tractors, skidders, or livestock can cause irreparable damage. It is easier to prevent than to fix a problem. Producers with buckets need to access the sugarbush, but they should limit the number of trails. In chronically damp or soggy areas, install corduroy with a continuous mat of small logs and poles to float the tractor. Use as small a machine as possible that is safe and effective, and add high floatation tires if practical. Other types of woods work should allow equipment only during seasons when the ground is firm: usually summer, dry falls, and during cold winters. Repairing ruts with fill or corduroy may help avoid the need for a new trail and more damage in a new area, but this will not repair the damage to the roots.
8. Mixtures of species. Your sugarbush will generally be healthier and more resistant to stresses such as insect defoliation if there is a mixture of species. When thinning a sugarbush to provide more light to desired trees, avoid the temptation of a monoculture. Providing adequate sunlight to keep a thrifty maple healthy may be best accomplished by cutting another maple… there, I said it, it is okay to cut a maple. Seriously though, most producers can look at a maple with a small crown, weak fork, or old scars from maple borers or tractors and know that the tree is not productive or is otherwise risky. Bucket producers have the advantage of truly knowing a tree’s productive capacity. Paint or mark a tree of low productivity during the season, and cut that tree later in the year when time permits. When cutting firewood or thinning, set a target for the main canopy to be about 75% sugar maple or red maple and 25% other species. These aren’t hard numbers, but use them as a guideline.
Time is of course the biggest obstacle to maple producers working in their sugarbush. Start with the easy tasks, and keep a list of priorities. Use this list to guide a discussion with a forester from your state forestry agency or your consulting forester. Let them know your goal is a productive and healthy sugarbush. A forester can help you develop a plan and a schedule to optimize the use of your time. Finally, be safe in the woods; there are too many stories of maple producers hit by trees and crushed by tractors.
Acknowledgements – Joe Orefice and Steve Childs provided helpful reviews of this article. This article was adapted from an article by the author that was published in the Maple Syrup Digest October 2016.
Peter Smallidge is the NYS Extension Forester and Director, and works in the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest as well as at the Department of Natural Resources and the 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.
by R.J. Anderson
Strong friendships typically spring from deep roots. That is certainly the case with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and Eden Valley Growers, Inc., a 50-year-old vegetable growing farm cooperative in western New York. It’s also why CCE recently honored Eden Valley Growers with its 2016 Friend of Extension award.
“Excellent extension and research programming is not possible without grower involvement and that is where Eden Valley Growers comes into the picture,” said CCE Director Chris Watkins during the keynote address at the Friend of Extension luncheon on December 2, held at Cornell University’s Moakley House. “Their member farms are key in connecting university research to real-world farm utility.”
Based in Eden, New York, Eden Valley Growers consists of ten member farms, most of which are third or fourth generation. Members use the co-op for marketing and distribution of produce. Each year, the cooperative ships over half a million cases of fruits and vegetables throughout the United States.
For more than 30 years, the Friend of Extension award has been presented by Cornell Cooperative Extension and Epsilon Sigma Phi, to recognize truly outstanding support of and personal involvement in Extension efforts.
In nominating Eden Valley Growers for the award, CCE of Erie County Executive Director Diane Held and CCE Erie Farm Business Management Educator Megan Burley, along with Cornell Vegetable Team Specialist Darcy Telenko, described members of the cooperative as always willing and able to answer questions from CCE educators, host farm tours, and sit on panels for a grower workshops. In addition, Eden Valley Growers advise CCE staff on research projects and have participated in hiring searches to fill positions on CCE’s Cornell Vegetable Team.
On hand to accept the award were representatives from member farms Henry W. Agle & Sons, Amos Zittel & Sons, W.D. Henry & Sons, MCR Farm, and D. & J. Brawdy Farms. In accepting the award, Mark Zittel told the audience that the relationship between Eden Valley Growers and CCE is a symbiotic one and that CCE provides unbelievable resources for vegetable growers throughout the state. The most important of those resources, he said, are extension specialists such as Telenko, who are wholly committed to assisting the cooperative’s member farms.
Watkins said those farms in turn provide an important conduit for extending Cornell’s research and agriculture expertise. “The member farms’ support and willingness to host research trials and implement Cornell recommendations allows CCE to provide current solutions that keep the vegetable industry thriving across the state,” said Watkins. “We are honored to call Eden Valley Growers a true Friend of Extension.”