Saturday, August 27, 2016

Farm Service Agency Head Visits NYC Farms



You wouldn’t think there would be much reason for the head of the Farm Service agency to go to New York City.

But there he was — the national administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency — touring farms in Brooklyn and the South Bronx.

Val Dolcini was interested in seeing what is going on in urban agriculture in hopes of working with the USDA to develop a variety of new tools to support urban farmers. 

The discussions from this trip to New York City will help the USDA better understand the unique challenges urban agriculture faces, as it looks to expand its capacity to better serve and meet the needs of farmers in urban areas, Dolcini said.

While in New York City, Dolcini saw crops being grown on the rooftop at the Brooklyn Navy yard. He saw community gardens filled with crops in little nooks and crannies in the city. He saw families finding little areas of soil near their apartments planting food they could eat all summer and fall.

“There is 65,000 square feet of space on the roof of the Brooklyn Navy Yard with a dozen or so Mom and Pop operations,” Dolcini said. 

He said people in the city grow for themselves and also sell their produce at farm stands or even through CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), in which people buy shares of the farm operation in return for some of the bounty of the farm.

He said during his tour of New York City, he found people growing all types of greens, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, root vegetables and cut flowers.

“There are lots of opportunities for farming in New York City,” Dolcini said.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Andrianna Natsoulas New NOFA-NY Director

News from NOFA-NY

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), proudly announces Andrianna Natsoulas as its new executive director, effective Aug. 1. 

Founded in 1983, NOFA-NY is a statewide organization leading a growing movement of farmers, consumers, gardeners and businesses committed to promoting sustainable and fair local, organic food and farming.

“It is an honor to join NOFA-NY — a trailblazer in the sustainable food system across New York state and the region,” Natsoulas said. 

“As the demand for local foods increases and the integrity of organic products needs constant protection, NOFA-NY’s role in local, state, regional and national venues is at an all time high. I am excited to continue this important work and expand the organization’s reach,” she said.

Natsoulas has been a social and environmental activist for over two decades. She has coordinated with the global food sovereignty movements and has served on national and international boards and steering committees to protect access to resources, fight trade agreements and build alliances.

Natsoulas has been an independent consultant, writer, researcher and advocate for more than a half dozen grassroots, regional and international organizations.

“Andrianna brings a wealth of experience in nonprofit management and development, strategic planning, fundraising, and coalition building to NOFA-NY,” said board of directors Chair Phil Barbato. 

“In addition, she has worked with a number of food-related organizations such as the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Food & Water Watch, and has written the important book, ‘Food Voices: Stories From the People Who Feed Us.’”

Natsoulas received her master’s degree in ecosystems analysis and governance from The University of Warwick, Coventry, England, and her bachelor’s degree in environmental forest biology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.

Barbato also acknowledged “the superb efforts of Nancy Apolito, who stepped up to take over the duties as interim executive director in  January. Nancy’s efforts and intelligence guided the organization through more than half a year of work, including the successful search for a permanent executive director.

“The NOFA-NY team is stronger and more effective than ever due to her extra endeavors on our behalf. We’re so pleased that Nancy will be continuing at NOFA-NY as operations director,” Barbato said.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

World Dairy Expo Celebrates 50 Years

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:


MADISON, Wis. — This year marks the 50th anniversary of World Dairy Expo — a celebration of the journey from a small World Food Expo in 1967, to the internationally renowned show of today.

This fall’s expo is set for Oct. 4-8, and the theme is “Celebrate 50!” to commemorate the show’s golden anniversary. The expo will take a look back at 50 years of history and the people whose passion and dedication helped build the show from the ground up.

In celebration of this exciting milestone, an open house, hosted by World Dairy Expo, will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 5 in the Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall.

This free event will provide Expo stakeholders a chance to gather and exchange memories, while enjoying a night of food, fun and entertainment.

“The Open House is designed for anyone connected to World Dairy Expo, whether a cattle or commercial exhibitor, attendee or volunteer, judge or judging team member,” said Joan Lau, World Dairy Expo Board of Directors and 50th Anniversary Committee member. “Anyone who loves Expo is welcome to attend. 

"It will be a fun evening to reminisce, share stories and celebrate the show’s rich history. It’s Expo’s way of saying thanks for 50 great years!” she said.

Elements from past years will also be featured throughout the grounds during the show. Expo-goers will have the chance to walk down memory lane with the 50th Anniversary Historical Display, located on the mezzanine level of New Holland Pavilion 1.

“The Historical Display will provide a glimpse into the past through photos and memorabilia collected over five decades,” said Debbie Crave, World Dairy Expo Board of Directors and 50th Anniversary Committee member. “Seeing how the show was built, past events and endless memories will add a unique touch to this year’s celebration.”

Special 50th anniversary events will take place throughout the week, starting with an official kick-off to the show during Tuesday morning’s Opening Ceremony, and continuing through the selection of Supreme Champion on Saturday evening.

Recognized as the meeting place for the global dairy industry, World Dairy Expo attracts more than 70,000 attendees from over 90 countries to Madison, Wis., each year.

Visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@WDExpo or #Celebrate50) for more information.
Entries are open through Aug. 31.

Dairy Cattle Show entries are now open for those wishing to exhibit at the 50th World Dairy Expo. Entry forms are available online through the Dairy Cattle Entry system or for print on the Expo website. Entries are due Aug. 31. 

Late online entries will be accepted until Sept. 11 and paper entries will be accepted until the day of the show, both at an increased rate.

New this year, all animals must have an official USDA AIN or Canadian CCIA RFID number listed on the entry form at the time of submission. Animal entries lacking this number or with a pending identification status will not be accepted.

Entry information, a complete schedule of events, rules and other updates can be found in the Premium Book – mailed to recent dairy cattle exhibitors on July 1, or available online at 

New exhibitors can request a copy of the Premium Book by contacting the World Dairy Expo office at 608-224-6455 or

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Olympians Celebrated in 2016 Butter Sculpture

By Debra J. Groom
Celebrating the Summer Olympics athletes is the theme of this year’s butter sculpture at the New York State Fair.
The Milk Life campaign sponsored Team USA in the recently completed Rio Olympics so this year’s sculpture pays tribute to Team USA and athletes from New York state.
The sculpture, done again this year by Jim Victor and Marie Pelton, of Conshohocken, Pa., shows a female basketball player, male volleyball player, male swimmer and female runner.
Celebrating the Olympians
Diana Dibble, vice president of consumer communications for the American Dairy Association North East, said milk is a natural nutrient powerhouse “that has always been on Olympians’ tables.”
“In fact, nine out of 10 (Olympians) said they drank milk while growing up,” she said.
Made of 800 pounds of salted butter from a milk plant in Batavia, Genesee County, the sculpture was  done over a period of 10 days. This is the 14th year Victor and Pelton have sculpted the showcase of the Dairy Products Building.
The sculpture is one of the most popular sites to visit during the 12-day New York State Fair. It is in the Dairy Products Building at the New York State Fairgrounds in Geddes. 

The fair opens Thursday, Aug. 25 and goes through Labor Day, Sept. 5. This is the 48th annual butter sculpture at the state fair.
“On behalf of dairy farmers producing the nutrient-rich milk that helps fuel Olympic athletes, I am so pleased that Milk Life is a sponsor of Team USA,” said Chris Noble, vice president of Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, Livingston County.
“I’m thrilled that this year’s butter sculpture provides us the means to celebrate that sponsorship,” he said.
Noble also said once the fair is over, the butter will be brought to his dairy farm, mixed with food waste and manure and then put into the anaerobic digester on the farm to convert it to methane gas and electricity.
The American Dairy Association North East also is sponsoring a selfie contest during the New York State Fair. Go to the Dairy Princess Booth in the Dairy Products Building and get a patriotic red, white and blue mustache.

Put the mustache on and then snap a selfie with your favorite dairy product. Tag the photo #milkUSA and post on Instagram.
The grand prize winner will receive a Buffalo Bills prize pack. Second prize is an Apple watch and daily prizes of $50 gift cards for dairy products also will be awarded.

Go to for more contest information and rules.

Drought Stresses Crops Throughout New York State

Empire Farm & Dairy


It’s hot.

It’s dry.

It’s not raining.

Drought map as of early August
That’s the forecast farmers have been dealing with since they began putting crops in the ground a few months ago. It doesn’t matter what they’re growing, the crops have been stressed due to the ongoing drought hitting a good part of New York state.

“Many areas of the state are in a severe drought,” said Aaron Reynolds, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo. “The precipitation has been real spotty in nature. And that is producing stress in the crops.”

According to a map put out by the National Weather Service, the worst of the drought is in Western New York. The map shows a severe drought area along the Southern Tier from Binghamton west, the Finger Lakes region, the Suffolk County area of Long Island and most of Western New York.

Patches of the Hudson Valley, Nassau County on Long Island and most of Central New York, such as Onondaga, Oswego and Jefferson counties, are in a moderate drought. The north country is deemed “abnormally dry.”

It doesn’t seem the weather will get any better any time soon.

Though rain is forecasted for short periods, it’s going to take a lot more than that to break the drought. And even then, the damage has been done to many of Western New York’s farms.

Crops struggling

Some farmers are fighting a two-front war as the drought worsens — with one problem not as obvious as the other.

Most obviously, the lack of water is hurting the crop harvest. Yields are way down as plants are struggling to grow. By this time of year, corn stalks should be above your head, but this year’s crop is topping out at about two feet high. And it’s not like the corn is behind schedule — it’s just done growing.

John Starowitz of Starowitz Farms in Byron, Genesee County, said his corn crop has already “tasselled,” meaning the corn is as good as it’s going to get, and it’s barely above your knee.

“When you have crops and vegetables, they all rely on water, and you’ve got to have a certain amount of water,” he said. “When you don’t have water, everything is skimpy and small.”

Jason Turek, who runs the third-largest vegetable farm in the state — Turek Farm near King Ferry in Cayuga County — grows 4,000 acres of vegetables that are sold throughout the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states. Of that, 2,500 acres are sweet corn.

He said he is harvesting only about a quarter of each field in early harvest vegetables, like corn and green beans. “It is hurting us — we’re in denial,” he said.

He said his corn is “hurt for sure” and by now, he should have cut 20,000 boxes of cabbage for shipment. He’s cut 1,000 boxes.
Ironically, his farm is spread out along the shore of Cayuga Lake. 

He’s lacking water but there’s a whole lake nearby.

But Turek said it really doesn’t make any difference. If he could draw water from the lake, he would be allowed by regulation to take only 100,000 gallons a day. He said he needs 65 million gallons to water his entire farm.

“It’s like fighting a forest fire with a garden hose,” he said.

The drought is bringing on another problem that might not be as obvious, too: pests.

Pests are attracted to moisture, and the only things with any semblance of it are the crops, even though they’re struggling themselves.

Starowitz said the bugs, deer and woodchucks are all causing damage to his crop, worse this year than past years because of the drought. The pests are “clearing out anything that’s green,” he said.

He hasn’t completely given up hope yet, though. He said there might be enough crop to sell to buyers, but he’s not expecting to make any money on it.

“Basically we’re just riding the storm out, we’re going with the punches,” Starowitz said. “There’s always hope.”

While some crops suffer in the drought, others are doing well. 

Onions seem to be coming through the drought OK, said Christy Hoepting, Cornell Cooperative Extension vegetable specialist.

“One of the benefits of it being hot and dry, and so breezy, is that we don’t have very much disease pressure,” Hoepting said. “The disease pressure is what can really be ravaging. There are a couple diseases that get going when it is cool and wet, so we don’t have to worry about any of those. The biggest pest concern is onion thrips, which do very well in the heat.”

However, onions — which prefer moderate temperatures — will grow quicker, and may not reach their full-size potential, especially in ground which hasn’t been irrigated. Still, Hoepting believes this season’s yields will be “pretty good.”

“Our (onion) quality should be excellent,” she said, explaining without the diseases to contend with, onions can produce crop of higher worth. “Quality is usually excellent in a hot, dry year at the expense of maximum bulb size.”

Dairy farmers feel the heat

Dairy farmers are having trouble handling the heat, too.
While crop farmers are dealing with the effects of the drought now as they harvest, the season will be over soon and what’s done will be done.

Dairy farming, however, is a 24/7, 365-day operation and can’t necessarily stop because corn and hay crops failed. But the harvests are so low that farmers are looking elsewhere for feed.

“We’re taking a lot of steps to purchase feed,” said Dale Stein of the multi-generational Stein Farms in Le Roy, which has about 1,000 cows on it. He’s taking these steps because his corn harvest is down 60 percent.

“We’re going to be so short (until next harvest),” he said.

Unsurprisingly, this shortage brings on a lot of financial burden. 

Stein said this shortage will cost him about $25,000 a month for 12 months until he can harvest again. Many farmers have insurance for situations just like this, as Stein does and has tapped into a little this year, but that doesn’t recoup lost revenue as much as it lightens the debt burden. 

For instance, Starowitz said if you have $100,000 in debt because of the drought, insurance might cover $90,000 of that, leaving the farm still in the red.

Stein said dairy farms’ problems are being compounded as well by drought; not only are they paying for feed, but small revenues are being brought in because of the low price of milk.

He added this has him “concerned” and “worried” that the effects of this situation might linger for another two years.

One glimmer of hope in all of this for some dairy farmers is that milk production is relatively stable thanks to technological advancements.

Cows like cooler temperatures and definitely do not like the heat. But since a lot of farms have invested in equipment that regulates the temperature in Western New York’s fickle climate, most cows are none-the-wiser.

“Our cows are kept cool,” Stein said.

Livestock impacted as well

The drought affects farmers in different ways, depending on their crop and what they are raising.

For those who raise livestock, there was no pasture available for animals to graze. While livestock typically graze about six to seven months out of the year, pasture foraging was limited because the season started so dry.

“A lot of livestock producers are now feeding hay, which they would normally feed during the winter,” said Nancy Glazier, small farm specialist on the Northwest Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Team for Cornell Cooperative Extension. “Their hay harvest has been lighter than normal, so that’s adding another kind of a wrinkle. 

They have to purchase some hay elsewhere.”

While some farmers have been buying hay from their neighbors, others have been going out of the region and out of state to get what they need. She added some farmers even put in alternative feed such as oats or another type of annual grass.

The drought affects the livestock as well; Glazier said the drought and high heat causes more stress.

“Some farms may actually keep their animals in the barns, because it is a little cooler if they don’t have trees available for them in pastures,” she said.

“Farmers are pretty resilient,” Glazier went on. “Every year is a different year. They just have to deal with the hand they are dealt from Mother Nature.”

Other commodities affected by drought

Most people probably wouldn’t think trees would be bothered by a lack of water. Mature trees have deep roots and can draw on underground water for their needs.

But the lack of rain and excessive heat still can stress trees. Christmas tree growers, maple syrup producers and apple growers all are worried about this year’s crop or future crops.

Mary Jeanne Packer, president of the Christmas Tree Growers of New York, said some producers have lost up to half their crop of new trees planted this spring. Each year, growers replace the trees they harvested and sold last holiday season and it’s these young trees that have trouble in a drought.

“Some have set up irrigation,” she said. “Most of the problem is west of Syracuse.”

The loss of young trees won’t affect consumers immediately, but you never know down the road. Packer said if growers lose half of their young trees this summer, they will have to plant double the amount next spring and that damages their bottom lines.

Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, said both apple trees and grape vines are stressed this summer from lack of rain.

With the apples, the drought won’t kill the trees, but it will affect the size of the fruit.

“The apples will be much smaller. They will be good and very sweet because there will be less water in them and more sugar,” he said.

It won’t be good financially for the apple growers either because the drought also will reduce the number of apples on the trees, cutting their yields. He said they shouldn’t have a problem with new trees planted in the spring because most growers irrigate these.

Maple trees won’t die from the drought, said Helen Thomas, executive director of the New York Maple Producers Association.

But, “if the water table is low and continues through the winter, the trees won’t have enough water to make as much sap in the spring,” she said. This means there could be a lot less syrup and other maple goodies next year.

What’s causing record dryness

David Thomas, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo, said the recent summers that could take the silver or bronze medal in the Drought Olympics were 2012, 1995 and 1988. 

In all three cases, the past droughts followed particularly dry years, with isolated or widespread droughts across Western New York in the March 1 to July 31 period, that were eased by later summer weather.

“2012 was also dry from spring into the summer,” Thomas said. “It was a little wetter than this year (with rain picking up in the summer). It helped (end) the drought, but we did have a dry period from March to July.”

The National Weather Service monitors droughts via multiple measures, with precipitation at airports an input that Thomas said shows this as the driest summer in 75 years. It’s been a confluence of factors to get here.

In Western New York, multi-year droughts like the one hitting California are prevented by the shear accumulation of snow that provides an annual replenishing of the water table and soil moisture.

Batavia experienced a reprieve from heavy snowfall in 2016 after back-to-back winters that brought blizzards, sustained deep freezes and snow-bound misery, but that wasn’t helpful below ground.

An upper-level wind pattern that frequently blew from the northeast prevented the “no doubters” of Gulf of Mexico-fueled spring rains that commonly add to the precipitation scoreboard.

“We didn’t have a really snowy winter, and that led into a dry spring that really caused the ground to dry out quickly across the region,” Thomas said. “The bright, sunny days through the spring and drier air allowed the drought conditions.”

Even the timing of weather systems hasn’t helped. Cold fronts have generally appeared over Western New York during the more atmospherically stable overnight hours, whereas an afternoon conflict with the daytime heat would lift the formation of clouds and thunderstorms.

“Without the sun’s heat, there’s not as many showers and thunderstorms,” Thomas said.

More than a little rain needed

This far into a drought, the region needs more than a sustained rainfall. Thomas said it will take months of above-normal precipitation to replenish the water table and have lawns, fields and trees recover.

“It won’t be one particular event or a week-long stretch,” he said.

A wayward hurricane ready to unload a flash of rain in Western New York, similar to the late stages of Hurricane Frances in 2004, wouldn’t be the solution. Thomas said a tropical storm would bring an abundance of rainfall, but forecasting one to pass over the region is next to impossible at this point.

And a flood doesn’t “fix” the problems of a drought. It just creates problems of its own.

At Fenton Farms in Batavia, Paul Fenton and his wife Gail have been fortunate to catch a portion of the handful of rain events that have punctuated the worst drought in their 30 years of farming an area between the city and Thruway. But each week the benefit has been weaker.

“It’s just evaporating so fast, the subsoil is absorbing the showers we do get, and with the high temperatures — we have three days of 85 degrees plus this week — the evaporation is just intense,” Fenton said. 

“We’re still producing nice stuff where it’s getting water, but the work to produce the product (is unprecedented). We’re irrigating seven days a week.”

New Leadership Steps Up at FFA



:Photo by Catie Rowe
The new state officers for FFA. Top, left to right: Katherine Killenbeck, Seth Brower, Camille Ledoux. Bottom, left to right: Matthew Currie, Taylor McNamara, Jacob Ax
When looking back on life, May 2016 may very well stand out as a month to be remembered for a group of high school students.

Camille Ledoux, a student at Beaver River Central (Lewis County), Seth Browe who attends Granville (Washington County), Katherine Killenbeck, a recent graduate of South Jefferson (Jefferson County), Jacob Ax, a student at Stockbridge (Madison County), Matthew Currie who attends Tully (Onondaga County) and 
Taylor McNamara, a student at Madison (Madison County), represent a broad swath of New York state schools. 

All of these students were elected to serve as part of a six-member team for a year and perform duties as New York state FFA officers.         

On May 6, Camille Ledoux traded in her cherished Beaver River FFA jacket for a brand new New York State Association jacket.

As each position and the newly elected members were announced, Camille listened intently for her name to be called. Soon every position had been filled except for president, and the moment they called “Camille Ledoux” onto the stage to stand with the rest of the team is a moment she will remember for the rest of her life.

Camille is the first New York State FFA president from Beaver River. Throughout the year, she will be working closely with the rest of her team to serve the FFA and its members by inspiring young leaders and advocating for all aspects of agriculture.

Camille recently joined Vice President Seth Browe, at the State President’s Conference in Washington D.C. to discuss delegate proposals and help make important decisions for the betterment of the organization. She will also be traveling to Indianapolis in October to represent New York FFA as one of four delegates at the National FFA Convention and Expo.

Camille and her team will be traveling a lot throughout their year of service, visiting chapters and meeting with different people in the agriculture industry.

The FFA, a national youth organization, once known as the Future Farmers of America, offers leadership and career development opportunities for students interested in agriculture-related careers.

One in five American careers is founded in agriculture and students studying agricultural education in New York high schools are preparing for careers that are essential (food safety), current (“Green” technology and renewable fuels) and lucrative (veterinary science). 

As elected state officers, this group of six highly motivated students will have the chance to promote these opportunities throughout the state to students, school administrators, businesses and legislators.

Camille and her team recently launched a campaign called “No Member Fights Alone” to raise money and awareness for cancer research and treatment. The team will be selling bracelets at various FFA events over the course of this year and the proceeds will go to a different organization each season.

This year’s officer team is excited to make a difference and hopes that future teams will take initiative to give back to causes that are close to their own hearts.

For more information about New York State FFA or how to join, check out our website ( or call (607) 254-2880.

Be Sure to Check Out Morrisville State College at the State Fair

News from Morrisville State:

Morrisville State College will have a strong presence again this year at the New York State Fair, featuring a car, horses, chair massages, renewable energy — even ice cream. 

The fair runs Aug. 25-Sept. 5.

Fairgoers can learn about horses and horsepower inside the Morrisville State College building, located near Gate 4 by the Coca-Cola Coliseum and the Iroquois Indian Village. Horses from various equine programs will be housed in the building throughout the duration of the fair.

Along with horses, the college will showcase its Mustang car. Students in the college’s automotive programs transformed the 1988 Mustang into a 550 horse-power dragster which accelerates to 130 mph in 10 seconds.

Visitors can also obtain an array of information about the college, including athletics and activities and will have an opportunity to speak to faculty and staff about the college’s program offerings. 

Morrisville State alumni are encouraged to stop by and access materials to find fellow classmates, enjoy history about the college and get caught up on its expansion and progress. MSC Alumni Day at the fair is Aug. 27.   

Massage therapy students will also showcase their skills, offering free chair massages from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 30 in the Morrisville State College building.  

The college will also have a presence and provide samples daily in The Taste New York Marketplace (formerly Pride of New York), operated by the Morrisville State College Auxiliary Corporation (MAC) through Nelson Farms.

Many products will be available, including products sourced from vendors all over New York state such as salsas, jams, barbecue sauces, granola, fudge, maple, honey, coffee, spices, candy and popcorn.

There will also be guest appearances by chef Tom Armstrong (award-winning Tom’s Bootleg BBQ) and Syracuse chef John Tumino (In My Father’s Kitchen) along with many other New York state food entrepreneurs.

The Marketplace is located between Gates 1 and 2 near Chevy Court. Store hours are the same as the fair, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the exception of Labor Day when the fair closes at 9 p.m.

Additionally, the School of Agriculture, Sustainability, Business and Entrepreneurship will have an exhibit in the FFA Building.

Equine faculty and students will be honing their skills, competing with the Morrisville College Foundation’s six-horse Belgian hitch in the coliseum near the dairy barn. Admission to the horse show is free. 

Morrisville is the only college in North America to compete with a six-horse hitch.