Sunday, February 28, 2016

Maple Weekends Coming Up in March, April

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

A bucket in Lewis County for collecting sap to make maple syrup
Empire Farm & Dairy

It’s the sweetest time of the year — maple sugaring time.

As soon as the weather is perfect, those warmer days of 40 degrees or so and cool nights down in the upper 20s, the sap will begin oozing out of maple trees all over New York state. Maple producers will collect it, boil it down and make that delicious, ooey, gooey maple syrup that everyone wait for this time of year.

Also during March, many producers across the state will open for tours, sales and even some pancake breakfasts during the two Maple Weekends. This year, because of the early Easter holiday, the two weekends are not consecutive.  

So, remember to head out to visit your local maple syrup producer during Maple Weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 19 and 20 and April 2 and 3.

Go to to find a maple producer near you.

Lewis County is the largest producer of maple syrup in New York state. New York state ranks second in the country behind Vermont in maple syrup production. Maine comes in third.

New York maple products at the State Fair
New York producers are coming off a record season in 2015, when 601,000 gallons of syrup were made. The record production was astonishing because 2015 almost ended up being the season that wasn’t.

As of early March 2015, temperatures were still too cold for the sap to begin running.

“If this horrible winter weather doesn’t shape up fast, the wonderful sweetness of Maple Weekends could be in jeopardy. To date, it’s been too cold and too snowy for most maple syrup producers to get into the woods and tap their trees. And even if they could tap, it’s been too cold for the sap to run,” wrote one maple blogger on March 7.

“Right now, some of the producers are getting things together and getting things ready,” Michele Ledoux, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Lewis County — the state’s largest maple producing county, said last year. “They are all waiting for the weather to break,” she said.

Luckily, once the weather cooperated and the sap began to flow, the maple producers were busy, busy, busy making syrup.

In 2014, New York producers made 546,000 gallons, down slightly from the 571,000 gallons in 2013. A total of 360,000 gallons were made in 2012.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Using New York Fruits to Make Tasty Spirits

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

Empire Farm & Dairy

Everyone knows you use grapes to make wine.

But did you know you could take just about any type of fruit grown in New York and make other types of spirits? And you can also make wine out of other fruits.

“Distilled apple beverages and apple wine have really taken off,” said James Allen, president of the New York Apple Association.

The numbers bear this out — there were 10 farm distilleries in New York state in 2011 and there are 85 today, according to figures from the state Liquor Authority.

An example: Apple Country Spirits in Williamson, Wayne County.

David DeFisher, a fourth-generation fruit farmer, began the business in 2012 after trying to figure out if there was a product he could make to bring in more profit from his fruits.

“We sold (our fruits) to processors for years,” DeFisher said. “Then in 2010-2011, I started thinking about what sort of value-added product could we begin producing that would bring in a better return.”

Tart cherry cordial by Apple Country Spirits
He and his wife took a course about distilling at Cornell University and then bought a still and built a 7,000-square-foot facility at the farm. Today they make a variety of distilled spirits — vodka, a cherry cordial, and bourbon- and whiskey-like products — from apples and other fruits.

He does not make apple vodka, which he said is regular, grain-distilled vodka flavored with apple.

“Our product, our vodka, is made from apples,” he said.

DeFisher operates a tasting room at the farm where people can taste the vodka, cherry cordial and bourbon-like and whiskey-like products and even a hard cider. The tasting room is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit

Distilling has a long history in New York state.

According to numerous online histories, back in the early days of our country, a distillery could be found on just about every corner. Seems the Founding Fathers and others in this new land liked to keep themselves supplied with a steady source of alcoholic beverages.

But once Prohibition grabbed hold of the country in the early 1900s, the distilling industry took a huge hit. New York state went from hundreds of distilleries to none.

Passage of the Farm Distillery Law in 2007 helped change that.

The law, signed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, established a farm distillery license for small-liquor producers that use mostly New York farm products. The distilleries make no more than 35,000 gallons of liquor annually and can conduct tasting on their licensed premises, much the same as wineries throughout the state.

The first to open was Tuthilltown Distillery in the Hudson Valley. Founders Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee took a mill that had once milled grain into flour and turned it into the state’s first distillery since Prohibition.

“Today, Tuthilltown Spirits distills Indigenous Vodka from apples grown at orchards less than five miles away and the highly awarded Hudson Whiskey line, using grain harvested by farmers less than 10 miles away,” according to the Tuthilltown website.

“The Visitor Center offers guests the opportunity to taste the collection of whiskeys, vodkas, gins, liqueurs and other unique, handmade spirits,” the website entry states. “Tours illustrate how Tuthilltown’s spirits are made by hand, one batch at a time.”

Another distilling company that started up shortly after Tuthilltown is Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett, Schuyler County. President Brian McKenzie said the passage of the farm distillery license bill was key to the business opening.

“We wouldn’t be here without it,” he said.

McKenzie got the idea for the business in 2007, made the first batches of spirits at the end of 2008 and sold to the public for the firs time in July 2009. The distillery is in the heart of Finger Lakes (five miles north of Watkins Glen on Route 414) wine country, making whiskeys, bourbons, vodkas and liqueurs using locally grown grapes, berries, rye, corn and other fruits and grains.

The location might seem odd, but it makes a lot of sense.

“A big reason why we’re situated where we are is the draw from the wine tours — we have a captive audience,” McKenzie said. “And then it’s a great spot because of all the agricultural products grown right near here. We have all the fresh, raw material we need right here.”

McKenzie said their flavored vodkas and liqueurs are made in the traditional manner, by soaking real fruits in the spirit.

“We don’t add extracts or synthetic flavoring to speed up the process,” McKenzie says on the distillery’s website. “Our whiskies rest in oak barrels for as long as they need to, until they mature into the rich, aged spirit we offer with pride.”

The entire process, from processing the raw ingredients to labeling filled bottles, is housed at Finger Lakes Distilling, which makes 18 different products. Its tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

And then, of course, there are those who still make spirits the old-fashioned way.

Elias Barber, a sixth-generation farmer in Schoharie County, uses not-ready-for-prime-time potatoes from his farm to make vodka. He said Barber’s Farm opened its tasting room in October (right next door to its roadside stand) where visitors can taste the vodkas.

“We had been playing around with the idea for almost three years,” Barber said. “We wanted to create a value-added product from a waste product (the potatoes that are too ugly for the public to buy).”

The farm got a Farm Distillery License and started making vodka from those ugly potatoes. Farm workers make about 300 750-milliliter bottles a week.

And now, “the sky’s the limit,” Barber said.


Craft Breweries Numbers on the Rise With More Hops Being Grown and Demand for Different Beers

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

Empire Farm & Dairy

Craft brewing has been a phenomenon for years in New York state and its momentum isn’t waning at all.

More and more craft breweries are opening across the state.

Statistics from the New York State Brewers Association show that in 2013-14, the craft brewing industry brought in more than $4 billion. There are about 240 craft breweries in the state now with about 50 more in planning.

The craft brewing industry boasts $450 million in tourism and brought in 3.66 million visits to breweries in the state. There also are 11,368 full-time jobs related to the craft brewing industry.

Like hard cideries, craft breweries have expanded their reach due to relaxed regulation and new laws passed in New York state.

One of the most important was the Farm Brewery License bill, that created a “Farm Brewery” license to allow craft brewers that use products grown in New York state to operate in a similar fashion to the state’s farm wineries.

State officials said this would lead to increased demand for locally grown farm products as well as expanded economic development and tourism.

This law allowed the farm breweries to run much the same as the farm wineries, which offer tours and have tasting rooms where visitors can sample the products and then buy the products.

“Craft breweries are a significant sector in our agricultural and tourism industries, and when they do well, our economy does well. I encourage New Yorkers to sample all of what our craft brewers have to offer,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a 2012 speech.

One of the newest craft breweries is Woodland Hop Farm and Fermentation, which opened just this year in Marcy, north of Utica. It is the first farm brewery in Oneida County.

Co-owner A.J. Spado said he and his co-owners are making 40 barrels of beer a month that is sold at their farm business on Trenton Road, not far from the SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

They bought their hops from another New York farmer this year, but this spring, they will plant 1 to 2 acres of hops at their site and increase that every year until they have from 6 to 10 acres.

“We try to use as many New York state ingredients as possible,” Spado said. “As of now, the hop varieties grown in New York state don’t allow hop forward beers to be completely brewed with local hops. Also, New York state maltsters are just getting into some of the specialty malts, so beers like stouts, IPAs, etc. still aren’t 100 percent NYS for us, yet.”

While Spado and his partners Keith Redhead and Nick Natishak are selling their beer out of their taproom now, they plan to eventually distribute their beer in the Syracuse/Utica/Albany areas.

The Great South Bay Brewing Co., located in Bay Shore on the south shore of Long Island, makes 29 beers -- three available all year and 26 seasonal brews.

Co-owner Rick Sobotka says the brewery began in 2010 and uses the highest quality malts and hops from New York state. They also have spent hours tinkering with recipes to come up with some extremely different tastes.

“When it comes to Bay brews, it’s not about how much we can make; it’s about how much better we can make it,” according to a writeup on its website. “It’s not about how fast we can turn it out, but about how fast the smile appears on your face when you taste it.”

Sobotka, a trained and licensed anesthesiologist, had always dreamed of opening a brewery. He began Great South Bay in a one barrel brewhouse of 1,400 square feet but soon grew into a 40,000-square-foot site and now makes 500 to 600 barrels (there are 31 gallons in a barrel) a month.

Great South Bay’s beers are available in half barrels and 1/6 barrel kegs (some beers are available in six-packs. The company distributes and sells throughout New York state.

“Two of our beers won gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado,” Sobotka said. Those were: Specialty Beer category, 59 entries, winner was Hog Cabin; Pro-Am Competition, 91 entries, winner was Muscat Love.

To find out where to get Great South Bay’s beers, go to and put your zip code into the beer finder.

Anyone familiar with Central New York most likely knows Empire Brewing Co., with a brewpub and restaurant in the Armory Square section of downtown Syracuse.

This company has been brewing all types of craft beers since 1994 and prides itself on the buy local mantra -- meaning obtaining its ingredients from as close by as possible.

In fact, go to its website and click on sustainability and there is a huge list of all the local companies Empire Brewing turns to for local ingredients for its beers and its food.

Probably the biggest endeavor for Empire in the coming months is the Empire Farmstead Brewery, which is supposed to open in the spring. According to its website, the “site will be developed for educational and beer production purposes. The property will also grow hops, lavender, vegetables, herbs and fruits for use in the brewing process and to support the needs of Empire’s brewpub located in Syracuse.”

“The 28,000-square-foot building will be situated on a 22-acre property on Route 13 in Cazenovia,” the website states. “The objective of the Empire Farmstead Brewery is to expand the existing brewing facility and agricultural component of Empire Brewing Company to a stand-alone manufacturing and agritourism facility.”

New York State Making a Comeback in Hops

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

Empire Farm & Dairy

New York state used to be the king of hops.

The small green plant that looks like a pine cone and gives beer its distinct flavor was the top crop in Central New York in the mid-1800s. 

Madison County, just east of the Syracuse area, was the first site in the state where hops were grown, when “county resident James Coolidge introduced commercial hop growing to the state by bringing a rootstock from New England,” according to the Madison County Hops Fest website.

By 1828, hops production spread to 11 counties and the state was raising 80 percent of all the hops in the country. But then Prohibition, which began in 1919, and a fungus put an end to the state’s hops kingdom.

However today, thanks to the surge in craft breweries, home brewers and products like hard cider, the growing of hops has made a comeback in New York state.

Today, hops are grown in most counties in New York, said Steve Miller, the state’s hops specialist, who works out of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Madison County.

In fact, the number of acres of hops in the state has expanded considerably in just the last three years.

The 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, the most recent official statistics available, shows only 19 acres of New York land was in use for growing hops that year. Today, more than 300 acres of land statewide is growing hops, with the number growing by 75 to 100 acres a year.

“We estimate there is a need for 400 to 500 acres of hops in New York to satisfy the domestic demand,” Miller wrote in his hops FAQs, an informational handout sheet he gives to farmers. It’s also available at

In addition, Miller said the New York Farm Brewery legislation, which went into effect in January 2013, created new opportunities for on-the-farm brewing and sales. He said he gets 10 to 15 calls a week from people who want to begin raising hops and the number of hops farmers with at least one acre has increased from about 3 in 2006 to about 75 in 2015.

“The farms are all over the state, except the Adirondacks and Catskills because of the cold, short season,” Miller said in an email.

Hops farmers in New York are a mixed bag — some grow hops to sell to brewers while some grow hops to make their own beer on the farm.

Chris Hansen, one of the three owners of Climbing Bines Hops Farm and Brewery near Penn Yan in Yates County, said he and friends Brian Karweck and Matt Klehamer started growing hops on the Finger Lakes farm six years ago and opened their own brewery 2½ years ago.

“That was the whole plan from the beginning,” Hansen said. “We knew that by growing our own hops, we could ensure the best ingredients and the quality of the beer.”

For the first couple of years, Climbing Bines did sell hops to others, Hansen said. But once the brewery was up and running, the seven varieties of hops grown on the farm’s 1.5 acres went into the more than 10 different types of beer brewed on site.

Today, Climbing Bines makes 500 to 600 barrels of beer a year — that works out to 15,500 gallons to 18,600 gallons of beer annually. And this year, the farm is expanding from its 1.5 acres of hops to about 3 acres.

The first craft brewery in Oneida County is Woodland Hops Farm and Fermentation in Marcy, just north of Utica. Co-owner A.J. Spado said the company, which just opened this year, is planting an acre of hops this spring and hopes to expand each year up to 6 to 10 acres.

They made and are selling beer this year, but used hops and malt grown by growers from New York and elsewhere.

Bluebell Hopyard in Farmington, Ontario County, grows 2 acres of five varieties of hops to sell to breweries and craft breweries throughout the state. Most of their customers are in the Rochester area, such as VB Brewery in Ontario County and Fairport Brew Co. in Monroe County, while some are in New York City and the Albany area.

They do not operate their own brewery and instead, sell all their hops to other companies.

Co-owner Kurt Charland said the company grows enough hops to “meet the demands of our current customers” and there are no plans for expansion right now. Both he and the other co-owner have full-time jobs (Charland is a civil engineer and his partner runs an animation studio) so the hop farm is a “full-time, part-time job,” Charland said.

Hops specialist Miller said any farmer thinking of putting in hops on his or her land should be sure to do some research first. He said it’s not as easy as just putting hops into the ground, harvesting and raking in the money.

Miller said farmers should study hops and find out if it really is a crop they want to invest in. Several seminars and conferences are held each year for people interested in the subject.

“This is not the same type of farming at all,” Miller said, comparing hops growing to other popular crops, such as sweet corn or vegetables. “We encourage people to get information first.”

Hops farmers are helped by programs held at various colleges, through the Northeast Hops Alliance and through Miller’s office.

At the recent Cornell Hops Conference and Northeast Hops Association annual meeting in December at Morrisville State College, attendees learned about pest control, genetic hop varieties and getting patents when developing a new hops variety.

Guest speaker Kevin Riel of Double ‘R’ Hop Ranches, Inc. in Washington state talked about how to produce hops, focusing on fertilizing, irrigating and training hops for yield and quality. Riel grows about 1,000 acres of hops.

Also, Ron Sirrine, a faculty member at Michigan State University, talked to attendees about what hops growers in Michigan are doing.

There was also a trade show with the conference so hops growers and those considering growing hops could talk to vendors about the equipment and supplies needed to grow hops (Miller said about 350 people attended the hops conference. 

Anyone who missed the conference but wants to order DVDs of the speakers can contact Miller at (315) 684-3001, ext. 127 or email

Here are some of the differences farmers will see when growing hops:

** Harvesting. The harvesting is completely different from other crops. Hops cannot be hand-harvested — it takes an hour to hand-harvest one plant — so machines must be purchased. The average machine can cost about $30,000.
** Equipment: Once hops are harvested, they must be dried, processed, baled and kept in a walk-in cooler. So to get started, a farmer will need a small tractor, trailer, weed sprayer, crop sprayer similar to what is used in a vineyard or orchard, and then a truck, drying equipment, possible pelleter, a cooler and a building for storage and drying. Some growers look at sharing equipment.
** Planting: The cost of plants and trellises for the plants to grow on can cost $15,000 an acre to start.
** Land: About 10 to 15 acres are needed to get a money-making hops operation off the ground. Some New York farmers have as little as a couple of acres. New York varies from the Pacific Northwest, where farmers grow from 500 acres to several thousand acres of hops.
** Miller said land preparation is important. Land where hops will be grown should be well drained, be flat or have a gentle slope, have access to water for irrigation, and have good air circulation and full sun.
** Cost: “Expenses are variable, but most growers believe they need to have gross sales of more than $6,000 to $8,000 an acre to break even because of initial investment, equipment, harvesting and processing costs. If the hops are poor and your yield is low, you are losing money. The first year you may have some hops, a partial crop the second, and a full crop the third.”
Source: All information and quotes from Steve Miller, New York state hops specialist


New York Spring Dairy Carousel April 8 to 11 at State Fairgrounds

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine

Empire Farm & Dairy

The New York Spring Dairy Carousel is scheduled for April 8 to 11 at the New York State Fairgrounds in Geddes, just west of Syracuse.

Entries for the shows must be postmarked by March 10 to avoid late fees. Every owner/exhibitor must have a signed entry form on file.

Forms not signed by the owner will be returned for signature. Forms entered online will constitute a signature.

New York Spring Dairy Carousel is recognized as the most prestigious and largest spring dairy event in North America. All seven major dairy breeds are represented in eight shows, five sales and several junior activities.

In 2015, more than 1,000 animals from 20 states and Canada attended the show and sale and several thousand people attended the four-day event.

The event is open to the public and admission and parking are free. Food is available. Exhibitors and staff are happy to answer questions about cattle and the dairy industry during the show.

Schedule of shows and sales
8 a.m. April 7, barns open and cattle may move in.
7 p.m. April 7, all cattle must be in place.
8 a.m. April 8, Holstein USA National Judging Conference.
Noon April 8, junior showmanship.
2:30 p.m. April 8, Richard Keene Memorial Judging Contest, juniors welcome
6 p.m. April 8, protein breeds sale (Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn).
9 a.m. April 9, New York Junior Holstein Show, (resident New York juniors).
1 p.m. April 9, Ayrshire show.
1 p.m. April 9, Guernsey show.
4 p.m. April 9, New York Spring Holstein Sale.
6 p.m. April 10, protein breeds sale.
8 a.m. April 10, Red & White show.
9 a.m. April 10, Milking Shorthorn show.
12:30 p.m. April 10, Jersey show and Brown Swiss show.
8 a.m. April 11, International Spring Holstein Show.

Entry forms for the Spring Carousel are available in the February issue of New York Holstein News and at

Also, in conjunction with the Spring Carousel, Holstein Association USA is planning a 2016 Judges Conference from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 8 in the Coliseum at the fairgrounds.

The conference will include judging classes as well as classroom time and lunch. Participants will judge six high-quality Holstein classes, one of which they will be assigned to provide reasons for their judging.

A panel of officials will give attendees who meet the minimum requirements a “satisfactory” rating. Those planning to apply for the Holstein Association USA judges lists in the future must first attend and receive a satisfactory rating at a Holstein Association USA judges conference before submitting an application.

Individuals on the judges list must have attended and received a satisfactory rating at a Holstein Association USA judges conference within a five-year period.

Attendees at the judges conference must be at least 22 years of age by day of the conference. The fee to attend is $50 for pre-registrants (closing two weeks before the conference) and $100 for late registrants.

Register for the conference online with a credit card at this link:

Anyone with questions about the judging conference should email Jodi Hoynoski at

Friday, February 26, 2016

NOFA-NY Board Wants Farmers and Farm Workers to Get at Least $15 an Hour

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

From the board of directors of NOFA-NY

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York board has released a statement regarding the unbalanced food price structure that affects farmer’s costs and what they can pay their workers.

“As of Dec. 30, the New York state minimum wage is $9 an hour.
For employees of fast-food chains, the minimum wage rose to $10.50 in New York City and $9.75 in the rest of the state, and the base hourly rate for restaurant servers and other tipped workers increased to $7.50.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, the $1.60 of 1968 would be $10.96 today.

Like minimum wage, the prices paid to farmers for their products have not kept up with inflation.

The number of farms and the acres in farmland in New York state continue a long decline. In 2002, there were 37,255 farms; in 2012 the number had dropped to 35,537. With the price of milk $8 lower than a year ago, more New York state dairies will go out of business. 

In January, the price paid to the farmer for winter squash was about 19 cents a pound and the retail price was $1.29 a pound. That is the type of unfair price structure that keeps farms from financial viability. It is time to shift more of the dollars paid for food back to farmers and farm workers.

Given our policymakers’ commitment to cheap food, achieving fair wages for all the people who work to bring food to our tables is inherently challenging.

When NOFA-NY surveys our farmer members, many make statements like this: “I certainly believe farmworkers should receive a fair wage, and I conduct my business in that way.”

Fairness is an important value for New York’s organic farmers, yet the wages farmers pay their workers range from only $9 to $20 an hour. Most of the farmers are not earning much more, and farmers in the first 10 years of their farming careers often pay their workers more per hour than they earn themselves.

There is plenty of money in the U.S. food system. According to their own public financial postings, for the first half of fiscal 2015, net sales for General Mills totaled $5.3 billion. 

Its competitors, Campbell Soup, ConAgra Foods and Mead Johnson Nutrition Co. reported revenues of $2.2 billion, $2.7 billion and $978 million, respectively, for their last reported quarter.

NOFA-NY believes that this has to change.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will not happen overnight. It should be phased in over a number of years as in Los Angeles, where the increases begin with a wage of $10.50 in July 2016, followed by annual increases to $12, $13.25, $14.25 and then $15. Small businesses and nonprofits are allowed an extra year to comply.

NOFA-NY’s board is in favor of raising the minimum wage, but we want to see prices to family-scale farms rise too since few farms are paying $15 an hour either to the farmers themselves or to their workers.

The prices farmers receive must go up. The prices paid to farmers for farm products must be a fair share of the final consumer price, covering the farm’s full costs of production, including living wages for farmers and all farm workers.

It is time to reallocate the food dollar to give a fair share to farmers and to raise the minimum wage for food workers. NOFA-NY calls upon all who want locally grown food to join us in the challenging effort to make our food local, and also organic and fair.”

New York Farm Bureau Sets Legislative Agenda; Fighting Minimum Wage Hike is Number 1

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

New York Farm Bureau released its 2016 state priorities Jan. 27 that focus on improving conditions in New York state to allow for agricultural growth. 

New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton laid out the legislative agenda during a press conference call with the media that included NYFB’s Public Policy Director Jeff Williams.

The number one issue for New York Farm Bureau this year is to strongly oppose the $15 minimum wage. The plan would dramatically impact farms competitiveness and cost farmers an estimated $500 million in additional annual labor costs alone. That would be crushing in a year like this one, when milk and commodity prices are significantly lower.

Norton said the average agricultural wage in New York state is $12.39/hour, well above the current minimum, but an increase will force wages up across the board, including those already making more than the minimum based on skill and experience. Additional costs will rise as well for payroll taxes like unemployment insurance and FICA. 

Other expenses will come from increased costs for goods and services that farms must purchase.

“The governor’s minimum wage proposal makes New York completely uncompetitive with the other agricultural states,” Norton said.  “When Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25 and New York’s is $15, how can our farms and other businesses compete? The answer, unfortunately, is to reduce labor costs or shut down.”

State funding for critical farm programs is also a top priority for NYFB. The governor included a number of items in his budget plan to help the farm industry, including money for the Environmental Protection Fund, which will assist farms with water quality, conservation and farmland protection programs.
Norton said Farm Bureau also remains committed to securing money to assist schools in starting new FFA programs and  agricultural education programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there will be 60,000 new jobs a year in the farming and food industries, and the state will need to have a workforce ready to meet those demands to help grow the industries right here at home.
“We have an abundance of school districts looking to add chapters and this funding would help get those chapters off the ground and started,” Norton said.
A third priority related to the budget is the investment in roads and bridges for upstate New York. 

The governor is committing $20 billion to match infrastructure efforts happening in and around New York City. The parity in upstate-downstate funding remains a priority because our farms need access to good roads and safe bridges in order to transport their goods to market.

“Many of the bridges that cross the Erie Canal are no longer accessible to agricultural equipment and vehicles because of the weight limit and restrictions,” Norton said. “This increases time and costs for farmers who may have to travel miles out of their way to get to a farm field or deliver milk.”

Another new priority is support for transferring farm assessment functions from the Department of Taxation and Finance to the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Agricultural land assessments are determined by Agriculture and Markets under Agricultural District Law. However, when it comes to administering the assessments, it falls to Tax and Finance, which can create some confusion for assessors not well versed in Agriculture District Law.

“There is a real sensitivity and understanding of our industry in the Department of Agriculture and Markets and we feel that assessment program and functions would be much better served in that department rather than Taxation and Finance,” Williams said.

Finally, energy is another major priority. Reducing costs and increasing efficiencies for farms, while also helping farms transition to renewable energy sources, provide many benefits for agriculture. 

The governor’s initiative, known as Reforming the Energy Vision or REV, is looking to be a more market-based plan than current energy policy incentives.

New York Farm Bureau will work this year to ensure REV is implemented in a fair and effective way so that rural New York is able to take advantage of the programs available, and farms can contribute to a more resilient grid and power their neighborhoods.

Farmers React to Proposed $15 an Hour Minimum Wage Proposal

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

Empire Farm & Dairy

Dairyman Jeffrey Murrock said a robotic milking system was recently installed at his farm, a move made to offset the potential impact of the governor’s $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal.

The co-owner of Murrock Farms, in the town of Pamelia, Jefferson County, is among thousands of farmers statewide who are concerned about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s wage proposal. 

The New York Farm Bureau, for example, recently announced that its number one legislative priority this year is to oppose the proposal (see page 12).

The plan would gradually raise the current $9-an-hour minimum wage to $15 in 2019 in New York City and in 2021 for the rest of the state.

To cut down on its payroll, Murrock said his 220-cow farm plans to soon lay off two of its 10 employees. Fewer employees are needed as a result of the new automated milking system, in which cows enter robot stations to be milked. The system went into operation about three weeks ago.

“We’re looking to the future, and we put the robotics in because they’ve been talking about raising the minimum wage for over a year,” said the 31-year old, who co-owns the farm with his younger brother, Dillon, and father Darryl.

Murrock said he believes hiring employees will become increasingly difficult if the wage proposal is approved, as retail and hospitality jobs would become more attractive.

“You’re putting in a lot more hard work on the farm,” he said, adding that entry-level employees at the farm are paid the state’s minimum wage.

The farm bureau has determined the average agricultural wage in the state is $12.39 an hour.

Collectively, the bureau calculated the proposal would increase labor costs of the state’s farms by roughly $500 million per year.

The prospect of a sharp payroll hike is daunting for farms because they’re already combatting low milk prices, said John Ferry, co-owner of Milk Street Dairy in the town of Rutland, Jefferson County. 

His farm is staffed by 27 employees and has about 1,700 milking cows. Employees at the farm start out making $9 an hour.

“It’s not just the people below $15 an hour who would be raised,” he said. “The people above that are going to expect similar raises, and you’re adding $6 across the board.

“We have a payroll of more than $1 million a year, and this payroll increase would be in the range of five times what our profit was last year.”

Ferry said the farm can’t afford to lay off any of its employees, and it would be challenging to find new ways to cut costs. Without an increase in milk prices, he said, it would be difficult to survive such a steep wage increase.

“In the existing situation, we’d be out of business,” Ferry said. “No dairy farm has cash flow. I would hope to survive the wage increase longer than others, hoping that a shortage of milk would bring the price back up.”

Investing in a robotic milking system to reduce the number of workers could be an option to cut costs, Ferry said.

“But that would be a huge capital investment,” he said, “and I’d be very uncomfortable to take on the risk.”

Michael Hill, owner of Hillcrest Farms in the town of Ellisburg, Jefferson County, said he doesn’t believe the wage proposal would significantly impact his 950-cow operation. The farm is staffed by 15 employees.

“Half of the employees are at $15 or more now, and the other half make $10 to $12,” he said. 

Hill said he is worried, however, about his ability to hire new workers under the wage-increase scenario. His employees work an average of about 60 hours per week.

“I’m worried about the labor pool getting smaller,” he said, adding that he already has difficulty attracting new workers. “People will want jobs where you don’t get dirty and get holidays and weekends off ... But these cows don’t take a day off.”

For more on this issue, read more stories on this blog ..... 

Hard Cider Sales in New York Gets Some Help from Federal Law

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

Empire Farm & Dairy

WASHINGTON — A small change in federal tax policy may help give some extra kick to New York’s apple cider industry — all the way to Europe.

Congress agreed in December to treat hard cider more like beer — instead of wine or champagne — for purposes of a federal excise tax, which may spur cider makers to make their brews a little stronger to compete with beer, said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, a trade group.

Under the law, called the Cider Act, cider with an alcohol content of up to 8.5 percent will be taxed at the lower rate of 23 cents per gallon that also applies to beer. Previously, hard cider with an alcohol content greater that 7 percent faced the same $1.07 per gallon rate as wine, or as much as $3.30 per gallon depending on the level of carbonation.

The law puts U.S. producers on a more even keel with competing countries, meaning export markets may open, apple industry representatives said.

Smaller producers will see an even bigger benefit, keeping a 17-cents-per-gallon rate that they pay, and which will apply to all of their hard-cider production, said Mark Seetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs for the U.S. Apple Association, a lobbying group for growers.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was a chief sponsor in the Senate. In the House, Upstate New York lawmakers widely supported a similar version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence). The Senate Finance Committee reported that the cost to the federal Treasury, in foregone revenue, is negligible.

Schumer said the definition of hard cider used in the Internal Revenue Code was outdated, especially given how the industry has grown and how the process of making cider is just inexact enough to send the product beyond the old limits unintentionally.

“Under this legislation, apples that would otherwise be sold at a loss or thrown away, are now ripe for the cider press,” Schumer said in a news release after the bill’s passage. “By modernizing the definition of hard cider, our hard cider industry would pay less in taxes and be able to expand and compete.”

Congress passed the tax change as part of a year-end tax and spending measure. Advocates fell short on a related goal to also ease excise taxes on craft beer, wine and spirits, although Congress could revisit that issue later this year or in 2017.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, New York ranks second to Washington state in apple production and has more apple cider producers than any other state, with more than 50.

Apples are big business in the state, with 55,000 acres in production and 694 commercial growers, the New York Apple Association said. That translates to about 10,000 direct agricultural jobs in growing, harvesting and packing, for instance, the association said.

New York cider makers such as Angry Orchard, in Walden, could expand into higher-alcohol varieties, Allen said. Angry Orchard makes cider with a 5.5 percent alcohol content, and the company touted the new law on its website. Among other gains, producers will be able to use fruit such as pears, in addition to apples, and U.S. law will be more in tune with competing countries, said Ryan Burk, the company’s head cider maker.

“Our cider friends in other parts of the world were already aligned with these standards, so these regulations will level the playing field for American cider makers to export cider abroad, and allow folks all over the world to get a taste of the great cider we are producing here in the U.S.,” he said.

“The cider industry in New York is growing, and new cider varieties are being budded and planted,” Allen said. “The craft cider business is certainly trailing the craft beer in volume, but it is reaching the same consumers and same age groups.”

Nationally, hard cider has expanded fast. Ratings by the Nielsen Company show that sales of cider in the United States grew from $78 million in 2011 to $470 million in the year ending in January 2015.

Drinking habits of younger Americans are largely at play, Nielsen said. In addition, cider tends to be a “gateway” drink, which people buy along with beer, for instance, the company said.

“The changes in hard-cider taxation will greatly benefit smaller hard-cider producers, and by making U.S. standards compatible with those of the EU, cider makers will potentially have access to European markets as well,” Seetin said.

Hard Cider Production Takes Off in New York State

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

Empire Farm & Dairy

Beak & Skiff 1911 Hard Cider
When the owners of Beak & Skiff orchard in LaFayette south of Syracuse decided to build a site to make hard cider, they put up a 30,000-square-foot building.

What they didn’t realize at the time was the hard cider industry would take off at such a rate that they outgrew their 30,000-square-foot building in a little more than a year.
Now, they are expanding just to keep up with demand.

“We thought this was a five-year building,” said head cidermaker Yann Fay. “But we were wrong. After 1½ years, we outgrew it. Today, we can’t keep up with the demand.”

Just listen to this — at Beak & Skiff’s 1911 Cidery, production has increased from about 20,000 gallons of hard cider in 2014 to an estimated 300,000 gallons this year. A total of 200,000 gallons came off the bottling line in 2015.

To meet the demand, Fay said the company built a new 30,000-square-foot addition onto the cidery and moved all the storage of product and supplies into that space. That frees up space in the main part of the cidery building for four new fermenting tanks to handle 18,000 more gallons of bulk cider.

Beak & Skiff isn’t the only New York business reaching new heights in the hard cider world. More and more farms are getting into the hard cider business. According to statistics from the state Liquor Authority, the number of hard cider makers has gone from five in 2011 to 22 now.

But these aren’t the only sites making hard cider. Some wineries are expanding to add hard cider to their repertoire. Craft breweries are also getting into the hard cider game.

Even longtime brewer F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, the home of Saranac beer, is making hard sodas — hard root beer, hard orange cream and hard black cherry.

Rochester also boasts a first hard cider-only tavern. Mullers Cider House opened in December and is serving 50 ciders from the United States (outside New York), France, England, Spain, Scotland, Ireland and Germany and 19 ciders (plus two seasonals) made in New York state. It also has a pub-style food menu.

“I think it’s time,” Patrick Jaouen, a co-owner of Mullers with Sam Conjerti Jr., told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle in December. “And just from the response we’ve gotten so far, people are ready for something new.

“There’s a million craft beer places and wine bars. When they come into Mullers, it’s going to be a new experience. I think people are craving that. I think that with the passion we have for this, that we have for cider, we’re going to be able to expose people to a whole other world that they weren’t aware of,” he said.

Part of what made hard cider a big deal in New York is the cider law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October 2013, which made a license available to farm cideries that use crops grown exclusively in New York state. That law led to the creation of eight farm cideries in the state and cider being made at craft breweries and wineries in the state.

The Farm Cidery Law created a license for cider manufacturers similar to licenses available to farm wineries, breweries and distilleries. In order to obtain a farm cidery license, the hard cider must be made exclusively from apples and other pome fruits grown in New York state, with production of up to 150,000 gallons annually.

Cuomo has had three New York Wine, Beer and Spirits Summits — in the fall of 2012, spring 2014 and fall of 2015. The summits brought the “farm-based beverage sector together with agricultural producers and government officials in an effort to accelerate and prolong the rapid growth exhibited by the state’s beverage industry,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

All of this makes perfect sense since New York state is the second largest apple producer in the United States. New York growers harvested an estimated 1.1 billion pounds last year. The state is home to 40,000 acres of apple orchards, where growers produced an average of 31,500 pounds of apples per acre.

Fay, the cidermaker at Beak & Skiff’s 1911 Cidery, said there is no worry that places like Beak & Skiff will run out of apples for picking and fresh eating with more cider being made. He said Beak & Skiff is always planting more trees to meet the demand.

“We have 300,000 trees on 300 to 400 acres,” he said. “We plant 8,000 to 10,000 new trees each year. There are four to six apples in each bottle of hard cider. So there will always be enough apples.”

The 1911 Cidery at Beak & Skiff has a beautiful state-of-the-art bottling line that automatically fills 750 milliliter bottles (about the size of a wine bottle) with hard cider. The cidery employs seven full-time production people and six full-time sales people and is planning to add new employees this year.

Making hard cider is much the same process as when regular apple cider turns hard. Remember finding a bottle of regular cider that had been pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten? 

After a while, that cider turned hard because the sugar in the cider turned to alcohol.

It’s the same with hard cider made at cideries, except you don’t have to wait forever for the natural fermentation process. Fay said things are helped along by adding yeast, which works to break the sugars down into alcohol. The cider sits in fermentation tanks for anywhere from six weeks to six months and then is bottled.

It has an alcohol content of 5.5 percent to 6.9 percent, just a tad more than beer.

Apple Country Spirits in Williamson
Most spirits are noted by proof, say 100 proof or 80 proof. The alcohol content of these would be 50 percent for the 100 proof and 40 percent for the 80 proof (take the proof number and divide by 2 to get the alcohol content, according to the Serious Eats website).

Wine ranges from 10 percent to 18 percent alcohol.

The hard ciders can be made in varying flavors and, like wine, can run the gamut from dry to sweet. 

Fay said as a cidermaker, it is his job to experiment using different varieties of apples and mixing different apples and even hops to come up with creative tastes. 1911 Cidery has even come up with some seasonal blends, like its pumpkin hard cider in the fall. 

David DeFisher, a fourth-generation fruit farmer in Williamson, Wayne County, recently moved into the hard cider business at his farm. He also runs Apple Country Spirits, which he opened in 2012, which makes a variety of alcoholic spirits made from apples and other fruits.

DeFisher welcomes consumers to visit the farm, ask questions about the distilling process and hard cider fermentation process. Oh, and also, try some of the beverages.

“The farm cideries legislation opened the door to new opportunities for New York’s cider manufacturers, and the progress they have made since it became law is truly remarkable,” Cuomo said in a speech. “From offering tastings to selling their world-class product alongside other made-in-New York goods, our state’s cideries are driving economic activity across the state, and I am proud that we have been able to play a part in their success.”

Here are some other cider operations that have opened of late:

** November 2015 — Angry Orchard Cider Co. opened a new Innovation Cider House, home to a small-batch cidery, tasting room and hard cider research-and-development center at Angry Orchard’s 60-acre apple orchard in the village of Walden, Orange County.

Angry Orchard is investing $9.1 million in the Innovation Cider House and  employ at least seven full-time employees through 2018. The facility has also been awarded a $175,000 Empire State Development capital grant to cover the costs of the cidery’s machinery and equipment. The facility will be home to cider research and development for the cider maker, including small batch experimentation with different ingredients, apple varieties, recipes and processes.

At the orchard, visitors can learn about cider as well as try samples of exclusive, handcrafted Angry Orchard ciders. Ciders developed at the orchard may eventually become part of the Angry Orchard family of ciders available nationwide. First launched in 2012, Angry Orchard is the number-one selling hard cider in the United States, where cider consumption has nearly quintupled since 2010.

** December 2015 — Mullers Cider House, a hard cider-only bar and tavern, opens in Rochester.

** April 2014 — The Anheuser-Busch (owned now by InBev) plant in Baldwinsville in suburban Syracuse makes the company’s first hard cider, Johnny Appleseed.

** 2015 — The Empire Cider Center opens in Geneva near the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. It is an business incubator of sorts for cider makers, where lab testing, research and development, small-batch production, bottling and cold-storage goes on so producers can test their products. It is making its first hard ciders this month (February). 

For more information on New York cider, visit, a website run by the New York Apple Association.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

New York Farm Bureau Lists National Priorities for 2016

From New York Farm Bureau:

New York Farm Bureau leaders met with members of New York’s congressional delegation this week in Washington, DC to discuss the organization’s member-approved national public policy priorities for 2016.

Following the visits, New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton and Elizabeth Wolters, NYFB’s associate director of national affairs, held a press conference call with reporters this morning to publicly unveil the priorities. 

The priorities are:


New York’s visit was timely with next week’s expected markup of Sen. Pat Robert’s bill that would establish national standards for the labeling of products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

GMO labeling is an important issue in New York state as a proposed bill looks to create a statewide label for ingredients created with the assistance of biotechnology. This disregards the clear scientific evidence that shows the food is just as safe and nutritious as ingredients bred using more traditional methods. 

New York Farm Bureau opposes a statewide approach because it would create a patchwork of labeling laws that would prove costly for New York farmers and consumers alike.  Because of the concern, New York Farm Bureau is supportive of Sen. Robert’s bill.

The chairman’s proposal is centered on a strong foundation to protect interstate commerce and prevent state-by-state labeling laws. It will direct USDA to initiate formal rulemaking to set definitions and standards for the labeling of products that may contain ingredients derived from agricultural biotechnology. The bill also contains an educational component to inform consumers about the safety of GMOs.


New York Farm Bureau has long been in opposition to proposed changes to the Clean Water Act that members believe broaden the jurisdiction from navigable waters to also including dry land. 

The new “Waters of the U.S.” rule will vastly increase the scope of the Clean Water Act and put an undue burden and more regulatory control on farmers and their land with no benefit to the environment.

Both houses of Congress voted in a bipartisan fashion to repeal the rule. Unfortunately, the President vetoed the measure. 

That doesn’t mean this issue is settled.  The Sixth Circuit Court has issued a stay based on legal concerns. While it works its way through the legal system, New York Farm Bureau will continue to work with Congress to find a solution on the matter along with advocating for more comprehensive regulatory reform.

New York Farm Bureau also was successful this year at the American Farm Bureau Federation national meeting in Orlando, FL to pass a resolution in the national policy book related to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.   

New York Farm Bureau supports allowing third party accredited individuals as well as Natural Resources Conservation Service staff to complete wetland determinations. This will help to reduce the amount of time farmers have to wait to have a determination completed. Currently, the delays of up to a year hinder what farmers can do with their land.


New York Farm Bureau has long been saying we need a stable workforce on our farms or else the rural economy and our local food supply will ultimately suffer. 

Despite the political climate in Washington and the current presidential campaign, immigration reform remains a top priority for New York Farm Bureau. It is time to end the immigration stalemate and pass reform legislation that addresses short and long-term farm labor needs.
Because of the unlikelihood of that happening in 2016, New York Farm Bureau is changing its focus this year to look for reforming the H2A seasonal guest worker program. This includes modernizing the application process to use electronic submissions as opposed to the current paper applications that must be mailed to the U.S. Department of Labor. 

In addition, New York Farm Bureau is looking for opportunities to open up the H2A program to dairy farmers who need help year round.

Until this is completed, New York Farm Bureau will work with Congress to minimize negative impacts of farm labor shortages and will oppose a mandatory E-Verify program unless and until a new comprehensive agricultural guest-worker program is in place to provide farmers with workforce security.


Food safety is another top priority for New York Farm Bureau. The FDA is in the process of implementing new food safety rules as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act and New York Farm Bureau is monitoring the implementation, particularly those dealing with produce and animal feed, and will be working with the FDA to balance the compliance burden with an actual public health benefit.

Federal money should also be used to provide adequate training of inspectors and provide for inspections for foreign farms. The United States must ensure foreign farms and the goods that they produce are held to the same standards so as not to make domestic farms non-competitive and offshore our food production. 

If we are to be able to compete on the world market place, our farmers’ hands cannot be tied by our own rules and food should be safe regardless of where it comes from. 


With a growing export market for a number of things that we produce in New York, New York Farm Bureau will continue to support the next generation of trade negotiations that remove unscientific barriers and high tariffs and provide new opportunities for our farms. 

This includes the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership  agreement with the European Union.

The Pacific agreement is expected to increase cash receipts and net exports from New York by $111.4 million and $66.2 million per year, respectively. It is estimated the increased marketing opportunities for New York’s farmers and ranchers will add more than 500 jobs to the New York economy.

Ritchie Offers Survey on Legislative Issues

From the office of state Sen. Patty Ritchie:

State Sen. Patty Ritchie is encouraging Central and Northern New Yorkers to share their opinions on a variety of issues expected to come before the Senate in the coming months through her 2016 Legislative Survey. 

Ritchie’s survey, which is available at or by calling (315) 782-3418, focuses on a number of topics, including the following:

** Creating stronger ethics measures to increase transparency in government;

** A proposal by thegGovernor to require businesses to provide up to 12 weeks of paid family leave;

** Efforts to strengthen various sectors of our economy, including agriculture, manufacturing and technology;

** Potential increases to the minimum wage; and

** The governor’s proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

Last year, nearly 5,000 people took part in Ritchie’s Legislative Survey. In addition, in the past she has also gathered feedback from constituents through surveys on topics like Common Core and sportsmen’s issues.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Peterson Brothers of Parody Fame to Speak at 2016 Celebration of Agriculture Conference

The Peterson Brothers of farm song parody fame are coming to Central New York.

The brothers will speak at the 2016 Celebration of Agriculture Conference Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in DeWitt.

 Come and learn from the Peterson brothers, who have made agriculture a common theme and learning experience via social media. Attendees will be able to pick up some pointers from the brothers on how to enrich your farm image, share your success stories and get the biggest bang from your operation.

Farmers from Kansas, the brothers are well known on YouTube for their parodies with agricultural themes. There often are some good educational tips in the songs too.

Also at the conference, attendees will be able to attend a variety of workshops covering photography, public speaking, enhancing your farm image and adding dollars to a county farm bureau treasury.

There also will be and extended Young Farmers conference with networking, leadership programs and tours.

A morning session for young farmers Saturday, March 12 will feature Greg Peterson of the Peterson Brothers. 

For more details, to view the conference agenda or to find a registration form, go to

Meal registration deadline is March 2. For information or to answer other questions, call (800) 342-4143 or email

Go to to see a couple of the song parodies.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

$4 State Fair Admission Tickets on Sale Thursday

New York State Fair admission tickets for $4 will be on sale beginning at 6 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 25. 

The tickets, to celebrate the midway point to opening day of the 2016 fair, are available online at

This “Halfway to the Great New York State Fair” makes 10,000 tickets available for purchase at 33 percent off the advance sale price and 60 percent off the $10 price at the gate.

They are good for admission any day of the 2016 fair.

Army Horses Looking for New Homes

Need a horse?

How about one that's been in the Army.

Check out the story at this link.

John Walrath, long-time farmer and Holstein association member, dies

John Walrath
Long-time farmer and Holstein association member dies in East Springfield, NY, Otsego County.

Go to this link to see John Walrath's obituary.

Monday, February 22, 2016

It's National FFA Week

Feb. 20 through 27 is National FFA Week.
State Sen. Patty Ritchie meets with FFA members during a Senate Ag Committee meeting

Please join me in thanking all those FFA students who learn so much about agriculture and the environment and then turn around and share their expertise with all of us. 

And thanks to all the FFA advisers who also share their wisdom, knowledge and time to help these FFA students learn and prosper.

To learn more about FFA and National FFA Week, go to

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Bringing the Farm to School in Waterville

Check out this Farm-to-School story:

Go to

Ritchie Meets With Agriculture Advisory Council

Top row, from left to right:  Allen Kelly, Jay Matteson, Dave Fisher, Eric Behling, Dr. Jack Zeh, Senator Ritchie, Kevin Acres and Ron Robbins
Bottom row, from left to right: Jon Greenwood, Mary Kelly, Keith Pierce and Phil Randazzo

State Sen. Patty Ritchie met recently in St. Lawrence County with members of her Agriculture Advisory Council, which is comprised of farmers and agriculture professionals from throughout Central and Northern New York.

She heard their concerns and listened to their suggestions for what can be done to improve the state’s leading industry.

“Making real progress when it comes to strengthening our agriculture industry and boosting the bottom lines of farmers across the state depends heavily on the feedback we’re able to gather from the farmers and agribusiness owners on the ground level,” said Ritchie, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. 

During the meeting, Ritchie shared the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Annual Report, which highlights work done by the committee in 2015, including securing record budget funding for agriculture, efforts to make locally-grown foods more readily available for consumers and an expansion of initiatives that encourage young people to pursue careers in farming.

In addition, attendees also discussed priorities for the 2016 Legislative Session, including advocating for additional funding for key agriculture programs, as well as continuing to cut red tape for farmers. 

Just last week, Ritchie unveiled “Planting Seeds,” an initiative to support the agriculture industry in a number of ways, including restoring budget cuts and increasing funding for key agriculture programs, providing new tax and regulatory relief for farmers, supporting initiatives that promote food safety and creating new opportunities for young people, as well as veterans, who are interested in pursuing careers in farming.

Apples Are the Focus of Ag Literacy Week

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

Beautiful New York Empire apples
Empire Farm & Dairy

Apples are going to be the focus for this year’s Ag Literacy Week.

Volunteers across New York state will go into elementary schools March 14 through 18 to read the book “The Apple Orchard Riddle” to second-graders as part of Ag Literacy Week.

This event is held each year around the time of National Agriculture Day (March 15) to help bring agriculture into the classroom. A book about a different farm product or aspect of farming is chosen each year to be read in second-grade classrooms throughout the state. The elementary schools are given copies of the book and teachers and the readers discuss the book with the students.

There are also related activities that tie in to make this experience fun and engaging.

“The Apple Orchard Riddle,” written by Margaret McNamara and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, takes children on the journey of Mr. Tiffin’s class taking a field trip to the apple orchard were they will learn every aspect of the farm, including how apples are harvested, the process of making cider and the many different varieties of apples.

While the class picks their apples and checks out the farm, Mr. Tiffin gives them all a riddle to ponder.

The book was chosen because of the importance of apples in New York’s economy. New York ranks second in the United States in apple production and the state has more apple varieties than any other state. 

The apple industry also provides more than 17,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state and there are more than 680 producers growing apples on more than 55,000 acres. New York apples go not only for fresh eating and cider, but also for sauce, apple pie filling and even for alcoholic spirits and hard cider.

Anyone interested in reading in a classroom for Ag Literacy Week should go to  to see the Ag Literacy Day contact for their particular county.  

Volunteers who go into the classrooms to read the book usually are somehow connected with agriculture — such as dairy princesses, master gardeners, farmers, Cooperative Extension agents, etc. But anyone can volunteer to read.

Now in its 11th year, Ag Literacy Week is sponsored by the New York Ag in the Classroom program. Some of the other topics children learned about in previous years were beekeeping, poultry, maple, weaving fibers, cheese, tree farming, seeds and gardening.

For more information, go to