Northern Exposure: New CCE Ag Team Aids North Country Farmers
by R.J. Anderson
Home to rich soil, a large dairy presence, and determined crop producers, New York’s North Country also has more square miles than the entire state of Vermont and faces unique agribusiness challenges. Helping farmers navigate those issues are a pair of new regional agriculture teams fueled by Cornell University research and resources.
Now at full strength following its 2015 launch, the Northern New York (NNY) Regional Agriculture Team joins Harvest New York’s northern chapter as Cornell Cooperative Extension’s (CCE) latest additions to its network of regional agriculture programs.
NNY’s eight specialists collaborate with county-based extension educators, Cornell faculty and members of other CCE regional teams to solve agribusiness issues in Lewis, Jefferson, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Essex, and Clinton Counties. Utilizing resources from outreach program’s such Cornell College of Agriculture & Life Sciences’ PRO-DAIRY and CCE’s Harvest New York economic development program, the team provides group-based educational programming, one-on-one technical assistance and conduct on-site research projects in the region.
“The farmers I’ve talked to are excited about our program because they haven’t always had access to all of the resources we provide,” says Dr. Kim Morrill, one of the team’s two regional dairy specialists along with Lindsay Ferlito. “And while our region’s producers are hungry for new information, they aren’t always be able to travel to meetings in Syracuse or Ithaca. Plus, specialists from downstate don’t come to Northern New York very often.
“On top of that, not every CCE association in the North Country had a dedicated dairy, field crops or ag business specialist for their county,” Morrill adds. “With the makeup of our team, every farmer in our six-county area has access to current, up to date research results and technology as well as experts on the cutting edge of new techniques.”
Morrill says that for many producers in the region, one of the greatest needs is farm business management expertise—a role now filled by NNY’s Kelsey O’Shea, who started May 1. “Prior to Kelsey joining us, many farmers did not have access to this resource unless they paid a consultant who worked for a bank or lending agency,” says Morrill. “For many of our small farmers this was not financially feasible. Plus, they preferred a non-biased approach to farm business management. Kelsey gives them that.”
Leading the team is Dr. Kitty O’Neil, a field crop and soil specialist in St. Lawrence County, who, along with Watertown-based Field Crop Specialist Mike Hunter, can often be found on farms providing research-based field crop production recommendations and resources.
“We are here to help farmers implement changes that will enhance farm prosperity and resilience through sustainable growth,” says O’Neil. “At the same time, we show them ways they can minimize environmental impact and maintain long-term soil health.”
Rounding out the team are regional dairy and livestock specialists Betsy Hodge and Ron Kuck. Providing administrative and communications support is Tatum Langworthy.
Collaborating—and often working side-by-side—with the NNY team are three members Harvest New York. Launched in western New York in 2012, Harvest New York’s recent expansion into Northern New York represents CCE’s commitment to workforce development as well as expanding and increasing the profitability of the region’s agribusinesses.
As a dairy processing specialist, Anika Zuber works with regulatory agencies, suppliers, workforce development agencies, manufacturers, and the Food Science Team at Cornell to develop and improve dairy manufacturing operations in the North Country. Meanwhile, Livestock Processing and Marketing Specialist MacKenzie Waro partners with processors, producers and consumers to develop marketing opportunities and foster communication between industry stakeholders. The third member, recently-hired Lindsey Pashow, has hit the ground running in her role as the team’s agriculture business development and marketing specialist.
“The Harvest New York specialists bring a different angle to our work of promoting and sustaining agriculture in northern New York,” says O’Neil. “Anika, MacKenzie and Lindsey are focused more on post-harvest needs and concerns of ag businesses while the traditional focus of similar extension teams has been exclusively on the production side of agriculture.
“Those three have dug right in and are beginning to help address new regulations and sanitation training within dairy processing plants, identifying bottlenecks and the potential of northern New York meat processing systems and connecting local food promotional efforts with broader ‘cuisine trail’ projects across the region,” O’Neil continues. “Each of these efforts will have an impact on success and viability of North Country producers and marketers of raw and processed foods. Blending Harvest New York expertise with our crops, dairy and business management experience gives CCE the ability to assist farmers in nearly every aspect of the food production system.”
With the combined forces of NNY and Harvest New York, along with support from Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Country now have access to the resources that can help them with a variety of issues.
“We are really proud of our versatility,” says O’Neil. “We can help with everything from making a recommendation on a feeding method to promote calf health to assisting with intergenerational transfer of business ownership within a family or communicating new developments in control of a certain soybean pest,” O’Neil says. “If we can help individual businesses weather the adversity that comes with challenges like low milk prices, climate change, new regulatory requirements and whatever else comes along, the industry as a whole will be stronger. And so will our region.”
R.J. Anderson is a staff writer/communications specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension.