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by Steve Miller

The following is some information that I have put together for people interested in getting started in hops.  This information is a general primer to answer commonly asked questions. This is an exciting time for the industry with excellent potential for marketing to over 400 microbreweries around the state, with more applications pending. The NY Farm Brewery legislation creates new opportunities for on the farm brewing and sales.  This legislation went into effect in January 2013, and you can contact Stefan Fleming at the Empire State Development Corp to get info on obtaining a Farm Brewery License at 585 399-7068 or Stefan.fleming@esd.ny.gov.  There are about 180 new farm breweries in NY as of January, 2018, however their production is only about 70,000 barrels of the 1 million barrels produced by craft brewers in NY.  

History 

New York historically had a very important hop industry about one hundred years ago.  In 1880, New York produced 21 million pounds of dried hops, the majority of the US crop, which sold upwards of $1.00/pound.  What happened, and why can we grow them again now? Disease pressure from downy mildew and powdery mildew, as well as aphids and spider mites made production much more difficult and risky.  The industry started moving to the Midwest, eventually reaching the Pacific Northwest, in response to this disease pressure.  Then along came prohibition, and the price of hops went from a high of $1 per pound to just 5 cents per pound almost overnight, and most of the hops in NY were pulled out of the ground. 

There are several reasons why we can grow hops commercially again in New York.  The industry in the Northwest has funded strong plant breeding and IPM research for many decades, and a good deal of effort has gone into developing new varieties with disease resistance.  These varieties are doing well in NY and offer the best potential.  Secondly, pest management options, both chemical and cultural, have come a long way in the last hundred years.  These advances make commercial hop production viable once again in New York State.  

Finances and Costs 

What’s the minimum acreage for a farm to make enough on hops to have a livable income?

If you are doing a good job of it, 10 to 15 acres should provide a good income.  It doesn’t sound like a lot of land under cultivation, but it is can be a lot of work and about $12-$15,000 per acre investment to get started. (see below) Currently, there is no one in New York with more than 40 acres of producing hops but I do expect that to change in the future.  

What returns can be expected and how many years does it take to get a return?

There is great potential now for growers in NY.   Local prices are all over the board, anywhere from $8-$14 per pound for dried, pelleted, hops, with an average yield of 800-1500 pound per acre if you are doing an excellent job. Some growers have obtained yields over 1,500 pounds per acre.  Brewers currently pay from $4-10 per pound for hops grown on the West coast or from Europe, varying greatly on the amount they purchase, the variety, and market demand. Aroma hops in particular are in high demand by craft brewers, and predictions are that about 12,000 new acres of aroma hops needs to be planted over between 2015 and 2020 in order to meet this demand. Much of this has been planted out, and the market has softened somewhat.  It is important to keep market prices in mind when developing a business plan, as brewers are conscious of their contracted prices for hops, and although most are willing to pay some premium, prices need to be realistic. Also, quality is more important than where they were grown, so “local” will not make up for poor quality hops. 

The first year in production you may get a few hops, with a partial crop the second season, and a full crop the third and fourth years.  Expenses are variable, but most growers believe they need to have gross sales of more than $6-8,000 per acre to break even because of initial investment, equipment, harvesting and processing costs. 

What are the fixed costs to start up and what are the variable costs for ongoing production? 

It costs about $12-15,000 per acre to get started including labor, plants, trellises, irrigation, and equipment. Growers are looking at the possibility of sharing some things, such as harvesters, kilns, and pelletizing and packaging machines.  USAHops.org has an excellent publication on the cost of hop production. Go to their website and look under resources for 5 acre, 10 acre, or 20 acre detailed spreadsheets. 

What are the costs, such as harvesting machines, etc.?  

Harvesting is one of the main costs in producing hops. Hand picking is not feasible for anything more than an acre or so. A stationary Wolf 140 or 170 harvesters will cost in the range of $30-35,000, but is not easy to find in the US so shipping is involved from Europe. The Northeast Hop Alliance has one located at Morrisville College that is available for members to use. There are 15 more of these privately owned around the state.  Keep in mind that the harvester you use needs to be within an hour of your farm, because of transportation time and costs. Growers are developing their own small-scale machines and several types may be available soon. For instance, Larry Fisher of Foothill Hops has built his own and will be sharing the plans. There are also plans from UVM in Burlington, VT for a harvester they designed and built with funds from SARE, as well as for a small-scale kiln and baler.  

What other equipment is needed to grow hops?

Additional equipment includes a small tractor, trailer, weed sprayer, and crop sprayer like what is used in vineyard or orchard, truck, drying equipment, possible pelleter, a cooler, and a building for storage and drying.   

Growers should plan on drying their own hops, but there are 3 pelleting companies in NY that will pellet and package; Northern Eagle Hop Processing in Oneonta, Foothill Hops in Munnsville, and Pedersen’s Farm in Seneca Castle. Others may have opened since this update, and can be found listed in newsletters and on the northeasthopalliance.org website.  

Marketing your hops 

What is the demand for hops in New York State to local brewers and in the future? 

Hops are easy to ship once dried, however the demand right now is from micro-brewers and local is “in”.  The growth was slow at first, because the brewers want to be sure that they can get a consistent product, both in quantity, availability and quality.  As the number of acres increases, the demand will also increase.  Brewers like the quality that they are getting from local producers!  The demographics of the consumers of these products are in their 20s and 30s and it seems unlikely that they will go back to more generic beers.  This is a good indicator that there is plenty of room for longevity and growth in the craft beer industry.  We estimate there is a need for at least an additional 400-500 acres of hops in New York to satisfy the domestic demand for hops. Craft brewing production in New York exceeds 1.5 million barrels a year now.  Keep in mind that farm brewery production is less than 5% of that number, so you must be prepared to compete with West Coast hops to be successful.  

Is it possible to be classified as an organic producer? 

Yes, there are some growers going organic.  It is more work and risky, I’d say and time will tell if brewers will be willing to pay a premium for organic hops.  Eastern hops are already higher in price than west coast hops. That said, there is interest on the part of growers and brewers.  

Is there a profitable online sales market? 

I would say yes, but with a caveat.  New York hops are going to be more expensive to produce, so many home brewers are looking to other regions still because they are less expensive.  You would have to build interest in “local” or uniqueness on the part of home brewers in order to be successful. 

Land preparation 

It is very important that you select the area where you will be growing and begin the get the land prepared.  It should be well drained, have access to water for irrigation, be flat or have a gentle slope, and have good air circulation as well as full sun.  Those are the key ingredients to site selection.  I would start by going to your Cornell Cooperative Extension office in your county and obtain copies of the soil maps of your farm.  The USDA NRCS or the County Soil and Water District staff can tell you about the particular qualities of each of the soil types.  

I would also obtain a soil test box there for Dairy-one/Agro-one and send it in with the “F” form filled out for hops establishment.  This will tell us if you need lime or other minerals to be added before you plant.  I also would suggest that you ask the Extension staff about establishing a cover crop this year to cut down on the weeds.  Buckwheat followed by clover is a good choice. Will you be organic?  What is growing in the field now?  Grass, weeds, corn? Atrazine carryover can be harmful.  You may want to kill off what is there with either tillage or cover crops or with glyphosate (Round- up) as perennial weeds and grasses will be a problem, and you want as little of those as possible before the hops go in. 

Designing a Hops System 

What is the system of growing plants that will produce the highest yield? 

The highest yields are still with full size plants on high trellises 16-20 feet off the ground. About 900 plants per acre are planted about 3ft apart in rows 12 ft apart. There are a few different high trellis systems being tried out in the Northeast. Low trellis systems (10 ft with plastic deer netting) are being used out west, but require specialized ($350,000) over the row harvesters, unless you plan to hand pick in the field.  It may also be more difficult to manage diseases in low trellis hops so I do not see this as a viable option at this time. Also there are very few varieties that lend themselves to dwarf production, which also means less diversity to offer a brewer. 

What about irrigation? 

Hops need at least an inch of water a week, more as the season progresses. Most growers are using drip with the emitters set at 18-24 inches apart.  You need to know how many acres you want to put in, and determine if you have an adequate water source.  You usually can water one block at a time for several hours and then shift to another. An acre can use 5-6,000 gals of water per day. 

How are the plants harvested? 

The plants grow up twine (coconut coir) which at harvest time is cut at top and bottom and brought to a barn to be hand-picked or trucked to someone with a harvester to machine picked. Baling twine will stretch, cause the plants to droop and break at the soil line and clog up a mechanical harvester especially the Wolf machines.  Hand picking is not cost effective, taking about 1 person hour per mature plant to complete.  We have 20 Wolf harvesters in New York and a number of smaller pickers manufactured in the state now.  As acreage grows we may see more of these purchased or built. Mobile harvesters are being built that can travel from farm to farm and have proven to be effective for use in the last few years. 

What is the process to dry and possibly pelletize the crop? 

After harvest, the crop needs to be dried right away.  Use plenty of warm air, no more than 100-120F, as air that is too hot will destroy flavors.  Once dried, the hops can be stored in air-tight bags in a cooler.  Before pelleting, they may need to be ground in a hammer mill and then pelleted, vacuum sealed, and again, stored cold.  In NY, a 20-C license is required from NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets in order to carry out any of these practices, including drying. An additional variance is required for vacuum sealing. 

What is the shelf life of product? 

This depends on quality, but usually a year if the hops are processed right and vacuum packed in Mylar bags, gas flushed and kept in a cooler or freezer. Many growers don’t pelletize until they have orders ready to ship.  

What varieties are in demand? 

For the most part brewers are looking for the more aromatic varieties, as they can get the bittering varieties more easily from the Northwest. Common varieties include Cascade, Willamette, Mt Hood, Fuggle, Liberty, and Perle are aroma varieties, and Brewers Gold, Chinook, Centennial, Nugget and Newport are a few bittering varieties that are being grown in the Northeast. We also must consider disease resistance. Mt Hood, Centennial, and Columbus (CTZ) for example, are not resistant to downy mildew. Saaz, and most of the German varieties have had mixed results in the East so far, but growers are experimenting with these. Varieties like Citra and Mosaic are proprietary and we currently cannot obtain stock to grow them. 

Finding more information 

For more information, I would start by going to the Northeast Hop Alliance website at www.northeasthopalliance.org and read through some of the literature that is listed on the resource page.  Copies of our newsletters are listed there, as well as articles from University of Vermont. UVM has a great resource site at http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/hops. 

Also, consider joining the Northeast Hop Alliance.  The Alliance supports research and development of the industry and is a small investment for your farm. The NeHA growers will likely be putting in a group order for coir each fall. Doing bulk purchases of supplies can save on start up costs. 

As mentioned previously, USAHOPS.org is the site for the Hop Growers of America and they now have some excellent resources for small growers, especially the spreadsheets for 5,10, and 20 acre hop farm startups. These are very accurate for the eastern growers and you can put in your own numbers as well.   

Cornell University and Cooperative Extension offers a Cornell Guidelines for Hop Production for $28 plus shipping.  There is also a new hop research yard planted at the NYS Experiment Station in Geneva. Variety and pest management trials will be carried out there.  

For the last seven years we’ve held a hops conference in Troy and Morrisville, NY .  A 2 DVD set (approximately 7-10 hours) is available from each conference for $30 each for the first 5 years and $60 each for the others because there are more DVDs per set, including shipping, no tax.  Any two sets of  DVDs can be purchased from Cooperative Ext of Madison County. (315 684-3001) 

If interested in brewing, contact: NYS Brewers Association at (315) 256-7608 or by mail at PO Box 25353 Rochester, NY 14625.

If you are interested in growing malt barley, contact Kevin Ganoe at CCE of Herkimer County at khg2@cornell.edu or at (315) 866-7920.

For more on growing hops, go to northeasthopalliance.org or contact me,  Steve Miller, the Executive Director at Northeast Hop Alliance at hops.educator@gmail.com or at (315) 525-7299.

New ways of telling stories in the 21st Century

by Petra Page-Mann

There are so many ways to tell a story. Over tea, reading a book, at the theater, or in the Small Farm Quarterly. In the 21st Century, ‘infographics’ are a fresh way of telling your story. And just in the nick of time. 

The attention span of American adults continues to dwindle, and is currently estimated at ten seconds. (Are you still with me?!) How we tell stories is more important than ever. 

What is an infographic?  

An infographic is a visual image, often a chart or diagram, used to represent information or data. But they’re going so far beyond charts.  

Infographics embody the wisdom, ‘a picture is a thousand words.’ Statistically, people remember 80% of what they see and do compared to just 20% of what they read.  

Take a look at the infographic below, just made by Fruition Seeds and called 7 Essentials of Seed Starting (and simple solutions to common mistakes). 

We created this infographic as many farmers and gardeners want to start seeds more successfully. Dreaming of the season ahead, a dear friend asked me to make a list of the “7 essential things she needed to know” to start seeds successfully this spring. 

 A few days later I was making supper with another dear friend whose illustrations are as vivid and whimsical as her gardens and stories. Eureka! She and I had SO much fun laughing and learning as we brought to life the 7 Essentials of Seed Starting (and simple solutions to common mistakes) in infographic form. 

My hope is that these tips and tricks, broken down into such accessible, bite-sized graphic stories, will surround you with the insight they need to start seeds more successfully.  

What tip is most valuable for you?  

Let us know! 

And hope to see you on our farm in the Finger Lakes one day.  (Because that’s where all our stories really begin.) 

Growing up in her father’s garden in the Finger Lakes of New York, Petra believes each seed and each of us is in the world to change the world. In 2012 she founded Fruition Seeds to share the seeds, knowledge and inspiration gardeners need to be more successful in the Northeast.  Don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation by contacting her at petra@fruitionseeds.com 

Tax Credit Available to New York Farmers for Charitable Food Donations

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced New York farmers are eligible to receive a tax credit for qualifying food donations made to food banks and other emergency food programs beginning Jan. 1, 2018. The tax credit is expected to save farmers a total of $10 million annually. Farmers across the state donated more than nine million pounds of food in 2017, which helped provide more than seven million meals to New Yorkers in need.

The tax credit was enacted to compensate farmers for costs associated with harvesting, packaging, and distributing local products to eligible food pantries, food banks and other emergency food programs across the state. Increased donations will help meet the growing demand for fresh, healthful foods in underserved communities across New York. It is offered as a refundable credit equal to 25 percent of the fair market value of qualified donations up to $5,000.

Eligible donations include fresh fruits and vegetables grown or produced in New York State and provided to emergency food programs that qualify for tax exempt status. To claim the credit, the taxpayer must receive proof of the donation in the form of a receipt or written acknowledgment from the eligible food program.

A fact sheet on eligibility requirements for the tax credit is available at https://tax.ny.gov/bus/farm-donations-credit.htm

 

Grant Opportunities Available to Support Farmland Protection

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced the availability of $5.5 million through two new grant programs for farmland protection.

New York’s Farmland Protection Implementation Program has been expanded to allow applicants to implement an Option to Purchase a Perpetual Conservation Easement, also known as an Option Agreement Project. This project expedites the process by pre-determining the value of development rights when submitting an application for the purchase of a conservation easement. A total of $5 million will be available to eligible applicants, including municipalities and counties. Grants up to $500,000 will be awarded to cover costs associated with obtaining an Option Agreement Project. Applications will be accepted until the available funding is fully committed and all applicants must submit proposals through the Grants Gateway. For more information, contact David Behm at david.behm@agriculture.ny.gov or click here.

Additionally, the new Land Trust Grants program has $500,000 available to advance farmland protection strategies identified by counties and municipalities. The program provides competitive grants of up to $50,000 to land trusts. It will inform landowners of programs that protect properties from conversion to non-farm uses and connect landowners with farmers interested in leasing or buying properties. Applicants can apply through the Grants Gateway through March 5, 2018. For more information, contact Jeffrey Kehoe at Jeffrey.kehoe@agriculture.ny.gov or by visiting https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/RFPS.html

University of Vermont Grazing Specialist puts grazing practices to the test at home. 

by Amy Overstreet 

Vermont farmer Cheryl Cesario is a University of Vermont Extension grazing specialist and also mom to four-year old Normandie Fleurette. (Photo credit: Douglas Gayeton, Lexicon of Sustainability)

Marc and Cheryl Cesario own and operate Meeting Place Pastures in Cornwall, Vermont, where they raise grass-fed beef and certified organic eggs. With 500-acres of certified organic pastureland, they harness solar energy that is converted into a wholesome and nutritious feed (grass) for their animals. Their Angus and Devon cows graze during the growing season, and are moved up to three times a day to new paddocks. “A lot of people see cows eating grass and think it’s easy, but it’s not,” explains Marc.  There’s a lot that goes into making sure you’re capturing as much solar energy as you can and converting it to grass.”

Cheryl and husband Marc manage their farm using the practices and grazing techniques that she teaches other farmers about through her work as a University of Vermont Extension grazing specialist. Besides managing multiple herds totaling 290 head, they are also raising their daughter, four-year old Normandie Fleurette. “We try to incorporate her as much as we can,” said Cheryl. “We were driving past the farm the other day and she told me, “I love my cows.” The Cesario’s are excited to see the next generation taking ownership and developing a sense of pride.

Fencing cows out of sensitive areas at Meeting Place Pastures accelerates vegetation recovery and protects soil and water quality. (Photo credit: Tim McCoy, NRCS)

When asked why they chose to farm organically, Cheryl says it’s the only form of production they know. “In addition to all the biological benefits, organic production allows us, as a small farm, to sell our products outside the commodity market and capture a premium. That keeps us competitive in the marketplace and contributes to the viability of our farm.”

Feeding their cows on organically managed pasture is an integral part of the Cesario’s farming philosophy: “Low stress and a forage-based diet make happy cows and our happy cows produce rich, flavorful meat that is nutritious, tender and of excellent quality.”

The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has worked with the Cesario’s to install soil and water conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP​). Financial assistance through EQIP helped them adopt intensive rotational grazing and conservation practices to support it. As a result, they have improved their financial bottom line, reduced their dependence on off-farm inputs, improved the health of their soil, protected water quality, and saved time and money. Rotating their animals also gives their pastures more time to recover after grazing periods.

Under previous management, cows were allowed uncontrolled access to Beaver Brook. This created a resource concern because of excess amounts of nutrients that entered the waterway. Right: The area is now protected with fencing and used for crossings only when necessary. This allows vegetation on both sides to regrow. (Photographer: Tim McCoy, NRCS)

“You’ll have 40% more yields in a six-week period by moving cows around,” explains Cheryl. “If you’re feeding hay to your animals in the middle of summer that could cost $30-50 a bale. If you have to put out three or four bales a day, that’s a lot of money when you look at the cost of purchasing feed instead of producing your own.”

In 2009, the Cesario’s purchased their first 97 acres, and immediately consulted NRCS​ to find out how to transition the cornfields into organic pasture. They also planted a hedgerow and trees to provide a buffer for a nearby stream, installed watering tubs and water lines for their cows, and erected fencing to keep the cows out of nearby Beaver Brook. “We did most of our own fencing, but as we added acreage, the assistance we received from NRCS was so helpful because we could do more and make an even bigger impact with conservation,” said Cheryl.

The Cesario’s worked with NRCS Soil Conservationist Tim McCoy, who helped them develop a comprehensive grazing plan for the health of their animals and their forages. “Fencing cows out of sensitive areas really speeds up the rate at which vegetation recovers,” McCoy said. Their grazing plan is paying off with improved yields and extended length of their growing season. “Good rotational grazing and long rest periods mean that our cows look really good,” said Cheryl.

Want to learn more about the NRCS?

The NRCS​’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s Organic Initiative helps producers conserve their land and also supports USDA National Organic Program standards. Eligible participants receive financial and technical assistance to implement conservation practices and develop conservation plans that address natural resource concerns. Payments are made to participants after conservation practices and activities identified in an EQIP​ plan of operations are implemented. For more information on financial and technical assistance available through the USDA NRCS, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.

Diverse pasture plantings provide the Cesario’s livestock with a well-balanced, nutritious diet. In addition, using season-specific plantings benefits the entire ecosystem. McCoy says their stewardship makes a difference in the health of natural resources on and around their farm. “Marc and Cheryl have transformed marginal land into healthy, productive pasture and reduced the environmental impact associated with grazing large herbivores,” said McCoy.

The Cesarios are also managing pests by organically mimicking nature. They are experimenting with nest boxes and tree swallows to attract more birds to reduce populations of flies that can negatively impact the health of their herd. “Our animals aren’t coming back into a barn every day, so it’s a bit more challenging if a problem arises,” says Cheryl. “For us, disease prevention is critical.”

Amy Overstreet is a South Carolina native now living in Williston, Vermont where she is an outreach specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). She is a 23-year employee of NRCS and enjoys hiking, ballet dancing, reading, and hanging out with her husband Tim and two rotten dogs, Gus and Newton. She can be reached at amy.overstreet@vt.usda.gov. Additionally, for more information on financial and technical assistance available through the USDA NRCS, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov

by RJ Anderson

Through his involvement with agriculture organizations across New York state and as owner and general manager of Bittner-Singer Orchards, Jim Bittner has developed many strong friendships through the years. On Thursday, Dec. 7, one relationship in particular was on full display as Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) recognized Bittner with the organization’s 2017 Friend of Extension award at Coltivare in Ithaca, NY.

Arlene Wilson, president of Epsilon Sigma Phi, Lambda Chapter and Cornell Cooperative Extension Executive Director Chris Watkins present the 2017 Friend of Extension award to Jim Bittner (center). (Photo: RJ Anderson)

A first generation farmer, Bittner’s 500-acre fruit farm in northern Niagara County produces apples, sweet cherries, tart cherries, and peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and pears. It is also known for its innovative business approach, growing markets through UPick, delivery to retail farmers markets and supermarkets, and servicing CSAs.

“Jim was one of the first value added growers in the state and is looked to statewide and nationally for his marketing prowess,” said CCE Executive Director Chris Watkins. “And he is very generous in sharing his expertise with others.”

In addition to his work on the farm, Bittner is president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau as well as secretary and treasurer for the Western New York Cherry Producers Cooperative (which he helped establish in 1991).  He is also on the Agricultural Advisory Committees of Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Chris Collins and is past president of the New York Horticulture Society and the Barker Lions Club.

Bittner’s relationship with Extension can be traced back to his childhood spent in the 4-H program, with his parents serving as club leaders. In 1974, the Bittners received the 4-H family of the year award.

“I wouldn’t be the person or farmer I am today without 4-H,” said Bittner.

A 1980 graduate of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bittner’s devotion to farming has mirrored his support of Cornell and Extension, specifically CCE of Niagara County. His many roles with CCE Niagara include time spent as a 4-H volunteer, association treasurer and board president from 2001 to 2002.

Bittner was also on hand in 2003 for the launch of the New York Farm Viability Institute (then known as the Ag Innovation Center at Cornell). Eight years later, he was elected board president of the farmer-led non-profit, which provides grant funds for applied research and outreach education projects designed to help farms increase profits.

In 2012, Bittner deepened his support of CCE by becoming the New York delegate to the Council for Agriculture, Research, Extension and Teaching (CARET). Utilizing an integrated advocacy approach, CARET’s mission is to increase support for the land-grant system and secure necessary funding for research, extension and teaching.

“Jim’s leadership in these arenas has contributed greatly to the support of the applied research and extension programs of CCE educators across the state,” said Watkins. “He really is – and has long been – a true friend of extension.”

RJ Anderson works in the Communcations Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at rj.anderson@cornell.edu.  

by Rich Taber and Ken Smith

Methods to improve old unproductive pastures and hayfields that are both effective and economical are a common challenge for farmers, and especially so for new and beginning farmers.  The time and cost for re-seeding includes multiple passes of tractors and tillage machinery including plowing, disk harrowing, spring tooth harrowing, rock picking, planting, and packing to establish a new planting, far more work and cost than many farmers can afford.  Also, many upland pastures are too steep and rocky to plow, and can be severely eroded if tilled at the wrong time.  An effective no-tillage/less tillage approach to reseeding these unproductive pastures and hayfields would be a great benefit to many farmers who depend on pastures or hay for their livestock.  

Well-managed pasture offers a diversity of species growing densely together.

Past studies done with Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grants have shown that it is possible to successfully no-till plant seedings of red clover and hairy vetch.  In an effort to build on these earlier no-till seeding studies, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County, in collaboration with SARE, did trials of no-till seeding of red clover, hairy vetch, white clover, perennial ryegrass, orchard grass, birdsfoot trefoil and kentucky bluegrass on six farms in upstate New York.  The farms included four organic Amish farms, one conventional dairy farm with no herbicide, and one conventional farm that used glyphosate, as a control.  Four of the farms used a no-till seed drill, and two of the organic Amish farms used spin on hand seeders.    

Each farm had a test site with six contiguous 1 acre plots.  All of the sites were tested for pH, and four of the farms had lime spread; two farms already had the necessary pH of 6.2. The lime spread had an Effective Neutralizing Value of 90% to bring all of the soils to 6.2.    

The following seed combinations were seeded in at the seeding rates recommended by the seed supplier:  

Plot 1: control, no seeds 

Plot2: Perennial Ryegrass and Trefoil 

Plot 3: Red Clover, White Clover and Kentucky Bluegrass 

Plot 4: Hairy Vetch 

Plot 5: Red Clover and Orchard Grass 

Plot 6: Kentucky  Bluegrass and White  Clover.  

The no-till planting of all seed plots was done in May and June of 2016.  The year was very dry, with drought conditions persisting through the summer, which greatly impacted the germination of the seeds.  As might be expected given the dry conditions, the seeds that were drilled germinated much more quickly than those that were spun on the soil surface. Prior to seeding, the hand spun sites were heavily grazed by either cattle or draft horses to remove as much plant material as possible, ensuring good seed to soil contact.  

The results of the plots were evaluated with seedling counts in 2016, with photographs, and with forage analysis in 2017. The main take away from the study was that in nearly all cases, each seeding treatment on each farm provided improved results compared to the control of existing plants in the field.  As might be expected, the results of the study varied by farm and by planting method, but overall forage analysis shows that each of the seed combinations provided improvement of forage quality when compared to the controls.  

In the first year, the drought year, the best producing crop early, was hairy vetch drilled into the glyphosate treated field.  This produced a thick crop of hay despite the dry weather.  However, on the other farms, the hairy vetch did not do as well. The one plant that seemed to do best in most of the seedings was perennial rye grass.  It seemed to establish in most of the test sites and contribute to better forage quality.  Otherwise, the red clover and white clover plots improved forage quality the most.  

In terms of management recommendations, our conclusions were that no-till seeding will provide improved forage quality on most farms.  If the pasture to be reseeded can be grazed down by animals as much as possible to remove competing vegetation before seeding this is a great advantage. A no-till seeder was more effective at establishing seeds quickly in dry conditions in the short term, but seed spread on dry ground with a spinner appears to eventually germinate and will also improve forage quality.    

In regard to which types of plants that farmers might want to consider for their own plantings, each of the different legumes seemed to do well on some farms but not on others, but perennial rye grass seemed to establish well in most sites.  Consequently, a seed cocktail containing perennial rye grass, red clover, white clover, and perhaps birdsfoot trefoil would be a good approach.  One or more of the legumes would likely succeed, as would the perennial rye grass, to bring in the needed nitrogen from the atmosphere.  

For farmers seeking a quick production of high quality hay, hairy vetch showed promise. A cocktail of hairy vetch, red clover, white clover and perennial rye might provide a heavy first year harvest of vetch, followed in future years with crops of the other varieties. 

The most important take away from the no-till seeding trial was that hayfields and pastures can be economically rejuvenated using no-till  seedings.  A no till seeder can be prohibitively expensive, oftentimes well over $30,000, and the best method of acquiring one would be to rent or hire the services by someone who already has one, especially seeing that it is only needed for a short time period each year.  The main advantage of this type pf seeder is that the seed in actually injected into the soil, whereas with a broadcast seeder the seed is simply scattered onto the soil surface. Broadcast seeders, either hand spun or tractor mounted, are very difficult to calibrate, and you have to very meticulous in using one of these type seeders.  Once you get the system in place, they can be useful, however, to strengthen existing stands. 

Rich Taber and Ken Smith are both officers at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Chenago County.

by Christine McGowan

Vermont prides itself as the Green Mountain State, with nearly 80-percent of its land mass covered in forest. Healthy and productive forests are inherent to Vermont’s culture and heritage. Yet, the industry responsible for bringing us countless valuable forest products: high quality furniture, specialty wood crafts, lumber and firewood, as well as services such as clean water, fresh air and a home for wildlife—is in decline due to a myriad of challenges. Rapidly changing commodity markets, overseas competition, and an aging workforce all are contributing to an industry in transition. And yet, both the environmental and economic viability of Vermont’s forested landscape depends on a healthy forest products industry to responsibly manage, harvest, and utilize Vermont’s forests.  

A logger loading a truck in Vermont.

Vermont’s forest products industry generates an annual economic output of $1.5 billion and supports 10,000 jobs in forestry, logging, processing, specialty woodworking, construction, and wood heating. In addition, Vermont’s forest recreation economy generates another $1.9 billion in economic output, and supports 10,000 additional jobs. While Vermont’s forests supply high quality saw logs used in construction or by specialty woodworkers, the majority of wood presently in our forests is considered ‘low grade,’ typically used for pulp to make paper or chipped for heat or electricity. And due to a sharp decline in the region’s pulp industry, combined with the low price of oil and a move away from expanding electric-only biomass in the region, the market for low-grade wood has substantially dried up.

So, while markets for high quality wood are healthy, they cannot singularly sustain Vermont’s forest products industry. Without healthy markets for low grade wood, Vermont is likely to see continued decline in the industry’s in-state infrastructure such as logging operations, sawmills and kilns, as well as the local jobs they sustained and the forest management service they provide.   

Hope for the Future  

Despite what sometimes sounds like a gloomy forecast for this industry in transition, I see hope for the future. Within the forest products industry are entrepreneurs developing new and innovative wood products and business models, logging and forestry professionals with impressive knowledge of and dedication to Vermont’s forest health and productivity, and talented woodworkers whose craftsmanship bolsters Vermont’s reputation for fostering creativity. 

According to the 2016 Forest Sector Systems Analysis, commissioned by the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board both protecting our forests and strengthening the entire industry are equally critical for Vermont’s economic and ecological future. Finding markets for low-grade wood, product innovation, workforce development, technical and business assistance, and financing were identified as major issues impacting the forest products sector. The analysis identified the need for network development and value chain facilitation to sustainably develop Vermont’s forest economy. This led to the creation of the Vermont Forest Products Program, coordinated by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund in collaboration with the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative and the Northern Forest Center 

Network development accelerates industry growth by bringing together diverse stakeholders to tackle systems level change no one business or organization can do alone. Modeled after the successful Farm to Plate Network, a new Forest Industry Network will create the space for industry professionals from across the entire supply chain and trade association partners throughout the state to build stronger relationships and collaboration throughout the industry, including helping to promote new and existing markets for Vermont wood products, from high quality furniture to construction material to thermal biomass products such as chips and pellets. 

Value chain facilitation builds teams of private sector stakeholders, along with service and capital providers, to address bottlenecks in existing supply chains and/or to take advantage of emerging market opportunities for specific products or services. Value chain action teams in the Vermont Forest Industry Network are comprised of members with knowledge or expertise from throughout the forest products supply chain and are working to advance the development of specific products including: mass timber, automated wood heat, and locally sourced wood products.  

Creating and retaining quality jobs for Vermonters, opening additional markets for locally produced wood products, and improving economic development in the forest products industry, all while benefiting the environment, is achievable and the work has begun. Learn more or join the Vermont Forest Industry Network at www.vsjf.org 

Christine McGowan is the Forest Products Program Director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. She can be contacted by phone at (802) 828-5770 or by email at christine@vsjf.org 

by Matthew Alfultis

Within agriculture, tractor rollovers account for the most fatalities (approximately 125 per year), as older tractor models lack proper protection. In 2006, the ROPS Rebate Program was launched in New York to help farmers install rollover protective structures (ROPS) on any tractor without one. ROPS, when used with seatbelts, are proven to be 99% effective in preventing serious injury or fatality in the event of a tractor overturn. Since the start of the Program, we have facilitated the installation of 1,600 roll bars across New York State, preventing at least 26 deaths and numerous injuries in the process. Due to its popularity and success, the Program was extended to six additional states between 2010 and 2016. As of June 2017 the Program expanded to form a national program to address tractor safety across the United States.

Rebranded as the National ROPS Rebate Program, we are still committed to helping farmers in New York obtain ROPS. Although it’s now a national program, there is still state-allocated funding available in New York and other Northeast states. We encourage anybody who does not already have a ROPS to get one. The Program will rebate the entire cost of the ROPS, including shipping and installation costs, up to 70% with a maximum out of pocket of $500 to the farmer.  If you are interested in the Program, or have any questions, please give us a call at 1 (877) 767-7748 or apply online at www.ropsr4u.com.

Matthew Alfultis works for the National ROPS Rebate Program. 

 

by Jill Monti

Indoor farming entrepreneurs and experts came to Cornell in early November with a goal: leverage the innovation at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to create viable businesses for local vegetables and produce grown indoors. 

Neil Mattson, director of Cornell CEA and associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science, at left, leads a tour of Cornell greenhouses in November. (Photo: R.J. Anderson/Cornell Cooperative Extension)

Known as controlled environment agriculture (CEA), the systems combine greenhouse environmental controls such as heating and lighting with hydroponic and soil-less production, enabling year-round production of fresh vegetables. The process extends the growing season through a range of low-tech solutions – such as row covers and plastic-covered tunnels – to such high-tech solutions as fully automated glass greenhouses with computer controls and LED lights. 

Led by Neil Mattson, director of Cornell CEA and associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell has become a world leader in CEA research. In early November, the Cornell CEA Advisory Council, which was formed in 2015 to expand the retail and food service markets for products grown using CEA, hosted on campus more than 80 entrepreneurs and stakeholders from across the Northeast to discuss the state of the indoor farming industry, urban agriculture, supermarket trends and new technology. 

At the conference, the group announced the formation of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Global Association, an organization to foster growth, understanding and sharing ideas related to controlled environment agriculture and associated industries. 

Erico Mattos, executive director of the newly formed Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering (GLASE) consortium, presented his vision to advance CEA by bringing together expertise from industry and academia to create solutions. 

Hydroponic tomatoes growing in a Cornell greenhouse. Photo: R.J. Anderson/Cornell Cooperative Extension

“The CEA Advisory Council meeting provided a great opportunity to connect with key players from the different segments of the CEA supply chain in New York. I was impressed with the quality and quantity of the ongoing initiatives in this area supported by Cornell University professors and staff members and the level of engagement from the industry members,” Mattos said. 

Mattos said private companies and public research from Cornell offer collaborative opportunities that can advance the CEA industry. 

Cornell graduates from the CEA program have been in high demand from companies who wish to leverage their skills and knowledge. Little Leaf Farms, a leader in indoor lettuce production founded by Paul Sellew ’79 and based in Devens, Massachusetts, has hired numerous graduates. 

“These talented individuals have provided immediate contributions to our business,” said Tim Cunniff, Little Leaf Farms executive vice president of sales and marketing. “It is exciting to see how Cornell is expanding its commitment in controlled environment agriculture to include the business of running a CEA operation. Cornell is in an excellent position to advance a scalable local food movement, and all of us at Little Leaf Farms are excited to be part of the process.” 

The Cornell CEA Advisory Council, which was formed in 2015 to expand the retail and food service markets for products grown using CEA, hosted on campus more than 80 entrepreneurs and stakeholders from across the Northeast to discuss the state of the indoor farming industry, urban agriculture, supermarket trends and new technology. Above, Doctoral student Jonathan Allred, center, leads a tour of Cornell greenhouses in November. (Photo: R.J. Anderson / Cornell Cooperative Extension)

Paul Brentlinger, who served on the grower panel and is the second-generation owner of CropKing, said his business and Cornell “have similar outlooks on the future generations of farmers, and we support Cornell as much as we can with their goal of educating the next generation of CEA operators.” 

Laura Biasillo, agricultural economic development specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Broome County, said: “CCE is the ‘boots on the ground,’ providing everything from technical assistance to the business planning, cost analysis and financing needed by startups and business that are expanding.” 

The conference attracted participants from traditional agricultural businesses interested in adding CEA to existing operations, to individuals with significant business experience, to those not yet in agriculture. 

“The diverse perspectives made the conversations highly engaging, and building a network for this emerging New York ag sector was one of the key benefits of the conference,” said Aileen Randolph, outreach and communications manager of the New York Farm Viability Institute. “Now it’s up to the participants to do the hard work of utilizing this information for their specific business planning process.” 

Jill Monti is the technical lead at the Cornell Institute for Food Systems Industry Partnership Program. She can be reached by phone at (607) 255-4322 and by email at jm2384@cornell.edu

Every farm needs a patch of delicious, nutritious, pain-reliving and mood-enhancing nettles.

by Paul Hetzler

One of my favorite plants is either highly versatile, or very confused. On the one hand, professional herbivores like rabbits and deer refuse to even touch it, but many people, myself included, will gladly eat it every day it is available. While contacting it is painful, it has been proven to relieve certain chronic pain. It is steeped in over a thousand years of folklore, at one point imbued with the power to cleanse away sin, yet medical science recognizes it as a legitimate remedy for many disorders. Some gardeners consider it a bothersome weed, but others actually cultivate it.

The stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, is native to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa, but has been widespread throughout North America from northern Mexico to northern Canada for centuries. Experts disagree as to the number of nettle species and subspecies worldwide. To confuse matters, many of these cross with one another to form hybrids. Although a few species do not sting, if it’s nettle and it gives you a rash, it’s fair to call it “stinging nettle”.

Nettles sprout little hypodermic needles on stems, leaves, and even their flowers. Called trichomes, these glass-like silica-based needles inject a mixture of irritating chemicals upon contact. The cocktail varies by species, but usually includes histamine, 5-HTP, serotonin, formic acid and acetylcholine.

So why would one place this well-armed adversary in their mouth? Well, when nettles are cooked, the stinging hairs are destroyed. Furthermore, nettles are the tastiest cooked green—wild or domestic—that I have ever had. It tastes like chicken. Kidding—it tastes a lot like like spinach, except sweeter. Nettles can be boiled, steamed, or stir-fried. They are great by themselves or in soups, omelets, pesto, casseroles, or pretty much any savory dish you can come up with.

One of the things I really like about nettles is that they are some of the first green things to get going after the snow melts. I should mention that only the tops of young plants are harvested to eat. The good thing is that the more you pick, the more young tops grow back. Eventually they will get too tall and tough, but frequent picking can stretch nettle season well into June.

On a dry-weight basis, nettles are higher in protein—about 15% —than almost any other leafy green vegetable. They are a good source of iron, potassium, calcium, and Vitamins A and C, and have a healthy ratio of Omega-3/ Omega-6 fatty acids. Because drying also neutralizes nettles’ sting, they have been used as fodder for domestic animals. Today nettles are commonly fed to laying hens to improve their productivity.

The Penn State Hershey Medical Center (PSHMC) has a page on nettles that reports that nettles help relieve symptoms, such as difficulty urinating, of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) in men. In terms of using pain to relieve pain, the  Medical Center also states that research “…suggests that some people find relief from joint pain by applying nettle leaf topically to the painful area. Other studies show that taking an oral extract of stinging nettle, along with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), allowed people to reduce their NSAID dose.”

As The Cat in the Hat said, that is not all. You’d think the University of Maryland was selling nettles the way they seem to promote them. Consider this endorsement: “One preliminary human study suggested that nettle capsules helped reduce sneezing and itching in people with hay fever. In another study, 57% of patients rated nettles as effective in relieving allergies, and 48% said that nettles were more effective than allergy medications they had used previously.”

Gardeners use nettles as a “green manure” because they (nettles, that is—gardeners may be nitrogen-rich, but they’re not routinely added to soil.) are high in nitrogen, as well as iron and manganese. Nettles can also help attract beneficial insects.

What can’t you do with nettles? I guess they’re kind of like Dr. Seuss’ “Thneed.” Turns out you can wear them, too. Nettles have been used for 2,000 years as a source of fiber for cloth-making. During World War I, Germany used nettle fiber to make military uniforms. I have made cordage from nettle stems using a simple technique called reverse-wrapping.

If you have a nettle patch, put away the weed killer, and consider yourself lucky.

Paul Hetzler is the Horticulture and Natural Resources Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County. For more information, visit paulhetzlernature.org

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