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Medina Lions Club hears about Hub editor’s farm work experiences

Staff Reports Posted 9 April 2018 at 11:12 am

Photos courtesy of Dean Bellack: Tom Rivers, the Orleans Hub editor, last week was the keynote speaker at the Medina Lions Club. He discussed his experiences working at local farms in 2008, news articles that are the basis of the book, Farm Hands: Hard Work and Hard Lessons from Western New York Fields.

MEDINA – Tom Rivers, the Orleans Hub editor, was the featured speaker last week at the Medina Lions Club’s meeting at the Junior Wilson Sportsmen’s Club. He discussed his experiences back in 2008 when he worked at about a dozen local farms as part of a series on farm labor for The Daily News in Batavia.

Rivers worked at The Daily News for 16 years before leaving in March 2013 to help start the Orleans Hub. He covered agriculture, Orleans County and other local issues for The Daily News.

Farmers have long struggled to have a stable workforce. The issue became more dire with immigration raids not long after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Many farmers have had workers removed by immigration authorities, often during the peak of harvest season.

Rivers wanted to find out why so few local people would do the field work and other farm jobs. He planted onions, milked cows, and harvested cucumbers, cabbage, pumpkins, apples and other crops to give a glimpse into what the work is like. He found it to physically exhausting, with pressure on the farmers and their workers to pick produce that is near perfection in order to be sold at Wegmans and other grocery stores.

Farmers have been pushing for about two decades for action at the federal level so more farm workers can be in the country legally.

The workers are vital to agriculture, rural New York’s leading industry, Rivers said. Orleans County and other rural counties also are facing steep population declines. If the federal government overhauled its immigration policies, allowing more long-term farmworkers to stay in the country legally, those workers could help reverse the population decline.

The workers also are skilled and have ambition. They might buy and rehab many of the vacant houses in the county, and could open businesses, Rivers told the Lions Club.

Rivers won several state and national awards for the series on farmworkers. The articles in The Daily News were compiled and expanded into a book, Farm Hands: Hard work and hard lessons from Western New York fields.

To see a review of the book, click here.

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State grant will help Extension get new digital sign to promote events

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 March 2018 at 11:30 am

File photo: This photo from July 2013 shows Extension Director Robert Batt, who was then the president of the Fair Board, and Kerri Richardson, who was then community educator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, gearing up for 4-H Fair in Knowlesville. The Extension will soon get a new digital sign allowing the organization to list more events.

KNOWLESVILLE – The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County has been awarded a $4,535.75  to purchase and install a multicolor LED sign on the Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds. The new sign will allow the Extension to better promote agriculture education and events.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball announced the funding on Friday. It was part of nearly $600,000 for research, promotion, and development projects to strengthen New York State’s diverse agricultural industry and spur economic growth across the state.

The funding for the Extension was approved by the Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority.

Other grants approved by the GVRMA include $300,000 to the New York State Agricultural Experimental Station in Geneva with $260,000 going to malting barley research in New York State and $40,000 dedicated to enhance the location of the Institute for Food Safety.

The Board also awarded $200,000 to the New York Wine & Grape Foundation to support its successful NY Drinks NY program, a promotional effort showcasing New York’s wine and grape industries.

In addition, the GVRMA Board awarded the following projects that will boost the promotion and marketing of New York’s agricultural industry:

• NYS Wine & Culinary Center – $15,000 for the promotion of its annual craft beer festival, a public awareness campaign to promote beer production and hops growers.

• Finger Lakes Wine Alliance – $15,000 for the promotion of NYS Rieslings in the Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany markets.

• Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County – $15,000 to support Monroe County farmers in their efforts to create and promote agritourism on their farms.

• Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County – $4,535.75 to purchase and install a multicolor LED sign on the Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds.

• Irondequoit Farmers’ Market – $5,736.12 to develop a “Nutritional Fact Book” and promotional materials that will promote the value of fresh fruits, vegetables and plants available at the market.

• Bishop Kearney High School – $15,000 to build a vegetable garden greenhouse where students will learn the importance of sustainable agriculture and develop a deeper understanding of the food that they consume.

• City of Geneva – $11,842 to purchase an open burners range and two dry storage cages, which will be used in the City of Geneva’s KitGen, a shared culinary incubator production space for tenants.

• Homesteads for Hope – $15,000 for a construction and cost feasibility study for an Agri-Enterprise Center, which would be used as a general store, farm café, community classroom and rentable event space on Homesteads for Hope’s 55-acre farm property for young adults with autism.

“These investments in research, promotion, and business development are critical to sustaining and growing a wide range of projects that benefit the agricultural community,” Commissioner Ball said. “I thank GVRMA for their  partnership, which has allowed for resources to be targeted to assisting the industry across the Genesee Valley and New York State.”

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600 elementary kids happy to connect with animals at Mini-Farm

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 March 2018 at 2:48 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – An elementary student gets a close look at chick that recently hatched in the Albion ag shop.

There were many of the chicks, just a few days old, featured at Mini-Farm Day today at Albion Central School.

FFA members introduced elementary students to a variety of animals and farm equipment.

Abbie Pappalardo, a sophomore at Albion, introduces elementary students to a Holland lop-eared rabbit as part of Mini-Farm Day. Abbie was joined by Kendall Derisley, left.

Myra Rosario and Paige Derisley show off a goat named Gus.

Nick Sacco and Bryce Pritchard discuss a sprayer and its long booms to a group of fifth graders. Panek Farms brought the sprayer and two tractors for the Mini-Farm Day. Poverty Hill Farms, a dairy in Albion, also brought a chopper for the display.

Meganne Moore walks Oops, her miniature horse, before returning to the ag shop where Oops was popular with the elementary students.

Medina FFA will host its farm day on April 19.

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Ag Literacy teaches second-graders about food, farming

Staff Reports Posted 23 March 2018 at 4:41 pm

Provided photos from Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orleans County

This week has been Agricultural Literacy Week across New York State and 2nd graders around Orleans County have been reading “Before We Eat, From Farm To Table” by Pat Brisson, illustrated by Mary Azarian, to learn more about agriculture and the food system in New York State.

Molly Kotarski, the Orleans County Ag in the Classroom Educator, visited second graders in Lyndonville today. She brought along items which allowed the students to “dress up” as different workers and parts of the local food system – including the cows which provide milk for the making of yogurt.

Other workers include farmers/growers, truck drivers (including a milk truck driver), processing plant worker, grocery store worker. Students discussed what careers are available within the local food system.

The book teaches students how fruit and vegetable crops as well as dairy products are grown, stored, processed and sold to consumers.

Kotarski is shown on Wednesday when she visited Kendall students. Kristina Gabalski, the 4-H program coordinator for the Cooperative Extension, read to Holley students on Tuesday. The Extension provided books and lesson plans to the Albion and Medina FFA for those chapters to reach out to second-graders in their schools.

According to New York Agriculture in the Classroom, understanding not only how food grows, but the systems in place to safely move that food to our plates is powerful. Through building student awareness and understanding of local food systems, we are empowering them to choose a career that will directly impact their local economies and health of their communities.

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Albion FFA joins Farm Bureau members in Albany to meet with state legislators

Posted 19 March 2018 at 5:25 pm

Provided photo: Albion FFA students joined Farm Bureau members from Genesee and Erie counties at meeting with State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer at Lobby Days. Pictured, from left, front row: Bailey Nesbitt, Haley Black, Alex Rustay and Karli Henchen. Pictured in back row: Christian Yunker (Genesee CFB), Adam Krenning (Albion FFA Advisor), Justin Robinson (Albion FFA), Natasha Sutherland (Genesee CFB), Senator Ranzenhofer, James Kingston (Genesee CFB), Hal Kreher and Daren Phillips (both from Erie CFB).

Press Release, Orleans County Farm Bureau

ALBANY – Representatives from the Orleans County Farm Bureau spent two days in Albany visiting with lawmakers on March 5-6 to highlight the organization’s state public policy priorities for the year.

The Orleans County farm Bureau also sponsored five students from the Albion FFA to attend. They kicked things off with the popular Taste of New York Reception for state lawmakers, commissioners and staff. Following the evening event, members participated in the annual Lobby Day on Tuesday, March 6, where they met with both their local state senators and Assembly members as well as New York City lawmakers that the Orleans County Farm Bureau adopted.

Orleans County Farm Bureau advocated for a number of priorities this year. The organization supports doubling of the minimum wage tax credit from $30 million to $60 million. The minimum wage tax credit, while only covering a fraction of the mandated increased labor costs, would be especially important in light of the down farm economy.

Farmers also advocated for important budget funding for a myriad of agricultural research, promotion and marketing programs. They also asked for funding to support Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences capital and faculty seed funds to maintain facilities and keep and attract much needed faculty and research. Farm Bureau also supports increasing the state’s lunch reimbursement rate for school districts that purchase 30 percent of New York grown, produced and processed food. In addition, Farm Bureau is supporting the Environmental Protection Fund program that provide cost sharing for critical water quality and farmland protection projects.

Finally, New York Farm Bureau’s priorities include allowing for the registration of UTV’s for legal travel on roads from farm to field, opposing unworkable farm labor mandates and supporting the removal of an acreage requirement for farms in the agricultural assessment program as long as they meet income eligibility requirements.

These priorities are based on member-approved public policies that originate every year at the county Farm Bureau level and are passed by the full delegate body at New York Farm Bureau’s State Annual Meeting in December.

In addition to advocating for priorities with lawmakers, Orleans County Farm Bureau members also participated in a special panel discussion with the Commissioners from the Departments of Agriculture and Markets and Labor as well as the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Chief of Staff. Members were able to ask questions about a number of issues facing the state’s family farms.

Orleans County Farm Bureau members took time away from their farms to travel to the State Capitol to visit with their lawmakers about many important issues facing agriculture. It is imperative for famers to share their stories with every level of government. The better our representatives understand the impact of their decisions on agriculture, the better it will be for local farmers and our rural communities.

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Community celebrates local agriculture, FFA

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 March 2018 at 4:23 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

LYNDONVILLE – Olivia Krenning, an Albion seventh-grader, recites the FFA creed during the Orleans County Farmer to Neighbor Dinner last Saturday.

Olivia’s father, Adam, is the Albion FFA advisor and agriculture teacher. Mr. Krenning has served in the role for 18 years. When he started, he said there were only 70 FFA programs in the state and now there are nearly 200, with new chapters recently starting nearby in Barker, Roy-Hart, Warsaw, Pavilion and Attica.

Albion has started a land lab where students grow crops with some expertise from local farmers. That food is harvested and used in a field to table class, where students learn about canning, dehydration, freezing and cooking. Kenning said the program is looking to add an ag engineering class.

State Sen. Rob Ortt said five FFA students from Albion recently visited him in Albion to voice their support for agriculture and FFA programs. Alan Panek, second from right, is the Orleans County Farm Bureau president. Farm Bureau paid for the students’ expenses with the trip to the state capitol.

The three students, from left, include: Justin Robinson, Haley Black and Carli Henchen.

Ortt said agriculture is an important “economic driver” for the state, especially in the rural communities.

He said he would push in the state budget negotiations to keep funding for agriculture programs, including research and development.

Barry Flansburg served as emcee for the event, which was attended by 170 people at the White Birch Golf Course on March 10. The Farmer to Neighbor Night is now in its 20th year, an annual event before the busy spring planting season.

Flansburg is a member of the Albion FFA Alumni, which helps organize the annual Farmer to Neighbor Night and also the annual food drive where farmers donate more than 30,000 pounds of produce to Community Action.

Leaders from different agricultural agencies addressed the group. Robert Batt is executive director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orleans County, which has several specialists working with fruit, vegetable and other farm sectors.

Amanda Krenning-Muoio is a senior field representative for Orleans County. She said Farm Bureau continues to advocate for farmers at the local, state and national levels. Mike Southcott of the Southcott Agency, in back, is a long-time sponsor of Farmer to Neighbor Night.

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Gillibrand seeks dairy ‘price floor’ to help farmers suffering from low milk prices

Posted 13 March 2018 at 3:59 pm

Press Release, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today announced new legislation, the Dairy Farm Sustainability Act, to create a new “price floor” for milk that would help New York’s dairy farmers continue operating while milk prices are historically low.

Gillibrand’s legislation would work in tandem with the Margin Protection Program (MPP) and would bring back effective provisions of older dairy programs to create a “price floor” for milk. The “price floor” would be set at $23.34 per hundredweight, and would adjust over time for inflation. Historically low milk prices are devastating New York’s dairy farming communities, and this legislation would improve the existing safety net to stabilize these farms during periods of very low milk prices.

“New York is blessed with more than 4,000 dairy farms, and even more hardworking men and women who wake up before the sun comes up every single day, to produce the milk we need to stay healthy,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Historically low milk prices are creating a crisis for our farmers and dairy communities, and Congress needs to fix this problem now. My new bill, the Dairy Farm Sustainability Act guarantees a minimum price for dairy farmers, to ensure that our farmers don’t go bankrupt every time prices drop.”

When milk prices drop below the price floor, the Dairy Farm Sustainability Act would automatically trigger a payment to stabilize New York dairy farm operations. The current MPP program would continue to operate for dairy farmers’ milk prices when they are above the price floor, but during periods of very low milk prices, the Dairy Farm Sustainability Act would pay eligible farmers 45 percent of the difference between $23.34 per hundredweight and the current All Milk price. MPP-participating farms would be eligible for payments from the Dairy Farm Sustainability Act on up to the first 5 million pounds of production.

The Dairy Farm Sustainability Act would be included as a provision in the new five-year Farm Bill being drafted in the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee.

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Soil & Water honors Yates farm for conservation practices

Photos by Tom Rivers: Gary and Nancy Thering accept the Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) award for Conservation Farmer of the Year from Katie Sommerfeldt, the district technician for the Orleans County Sol & Water Conservation District.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 February 2018 at 9:37 am

Thering Family Farm works to protect soil, environment

Gary Thering thanked the Soil & Water staff for helping the farm implement many conservation practices.

GAINES – A Yates family that has been farming together on Millers Road since 1976 was honored on Wednesday for their years of conservation practices.

Gary and Nancy Thering grow corn, mixed hay and apples. They also  have 85 cows, 25 heifers, 42 calves and Black Angus bulls. The Therings are known for their mini straw bales. They designed and built a twine baler that turns 800-pound round straw bales into mini bales.

The Orleans County Soil & Water Conservation District honored the farm on Wednesday as the 2017 “Conservation Farmer of the Year.”

The farm has worked to optimize soil health and reduce erosion by installing drainage tile, rotating crops, and reducing chemical usage as part of Integrated Pest Management. The Therings target use of pesticides.

They built a covered feedlot and also an Agrichemical Handling and Mixing facility which reduces runoff.

“We never could have done it by ourselves,” Gary Thering said during a luncheon Wednesday at Tillman’s Village Inn.

He thanked the Soil & Water staff for their expertise in helping the farm implement many of the soil-saving practices. The Therings have worked with Soil & Water since 1999 to participate in the Agricultural Environmental Management program.

“We’re very, very grateful,” Thering said. “It makes our farm better. It makes our community better.”

Soil & Water presented these photos of Thering Family Farm, where Gary and Nancy have been farming together since 1976 on Millers Road.

During the meeting 73rd annual meeting of Soil & Water on Wednesday, staff reviewed accomplishments from 2017, which included:

• Surveying and designing 56 miles of drainage tile for farmers

• Working with local highway departments to survey and design 22 culvert replacements and 8,175 feet of drainage ditches

• Implementing Best Management Practices for several farms, with projects including two grassed waterways, a silage leachate collection and treatment system, a covered feedlot, 3,340 feet of exclusion fencing to keep livestock out of local streams, 55 acres of conservation cover, and 1,959 acres of cover crops

• Purchasing a new tractor and boom mower that was shared with the 10 towns, county and Oak Orchard Small Watershed Protection District to mow and clean drainage ditches throughout the county, which helps keep water moving and reduces flooding. The “Slashbuster” was used to clear and open up 17,315 feet of stream blockages.

• Soil & Water also was awarded several grants. One from the NYS Ag Non Point Source Pollution program helped pay for a covered feedlot for a local farm.

• Soil & Water also used 10 separate grants from the NYS Grown & Certified program for five variable rate sprayers, four micro irrigation systems, and one Agrichemical Handling Facility.

• The district also received funding the through the North Atlantic Aquatic Conductivity Collaborative program to assess 160 culverts in the lower Oak Orchard Watershed for structural integrity and aquatic conductivity (fish passage).

• The district also distributed 8,000 tree and shrub seedlings and transplants to 120 landowners for conservation practices.

• Soil & Water also runs a fish program and distributed 2,800 yearling bass, bluegill and minnows to seven farm fishpond owners, and also distributed 27 grass carp to four pond owners to help control nuisance weeds.

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Gillibrand says dairy insurance program fails farmers

Posted 5 February 2018 at 11:10 pm

Press Release, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced new legislation, the Dairy Premium Refund Act, to return insurance premiums to farmers who paid millions of dollars for an insurance program that left them empty-handed when milk prices plummeted.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service 2016 reports, New York State dairy farmers are a major economic driver in the state and produce more than $2.51 billion worth of milk per year on 4,420 farms across 53 counties.

“I’ve heard from dairy farmers all over New York that the current dairy insurance program is not working,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Right now, our dairy farmers are in the midst of a serious financial slump through no fault of their own. Milk prices are now much lower than the cost it takes for farmers to produce that milk, and farmers are struggling to pay their workers and their bills. The Dairy Margin Protection Program was supposed to help our dairy farmers in situations like this, but even though farmers have paid millions of dollars into the program, they’ve barely been paid out a dime. My bill would put all of those unused insurance premiums back into the pockets of our dairy farmers, who work day and night to provide milk for our families are and deserve better than the raw deal they’re getting with the current dairy insurance program.”

The Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP) is the primary insurance option for dairy farmers when the price paid to farmers falls or feed costs rise. Thousands of New York dairy farmers paid millions of dollars to the USDA for this insurance, but when milk prices and feed prices fall at the same time as they did last year, farmers often lose money on every pound of milk they sell and few farmers receive an insurance payment.

Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would ensure that dairy farmers automatically receive a check in the mail at the end of the production year for any insurance premium funds not used to pay claims to them ‎during the previous year. Currently, these leftover funds are given to the U.S. Department of Treasury rather than to the farmers who paid them. This bill proposes no new spending, would provide payments retroactively since the DMPP program was implemented in 2015, and would apply to all future MPP program years.

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Farmers now eligible for tax credit for food donations

Staff Reports Posted 30 January 2018 at 12:32 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: Adam Krenning, Albion FFA advisor and agricultural teacher, helps unload food donated by local farmers during the FFA’s annual food drive on Dec. 16. More than 35,000 pounds of food was donated by local farmers.

Local farmers can now get a state tax credit for produce donations to food banks and other emergency food programs.

The credit is worth 25 percent of the fair market value of the donations, with the credit capped at $5,000 a year. For example, if a farmer donated $12,000 worth of food, the farmer could be eligible for 25 percent of that or $3,000 in a tax credit.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today urged New York farmers to pursue the tax credit, beginning January 1, 2018.

The tax credit is expected to save farmers a total of $10 million annually. According to the New York Farm Bureau, farmers across the state donated more than nine million pounds of food in 2017, which helped provide more than seven million meals to New Yorkers in need.

“This administration is committed to stomping out hunger in every corner of New York, and by establishing an incentive to increase access to farm-fresh products, we are one step closer to this goal,” Governor Cuomo said. “Refunding farmers for their generous food donations not only supports the state’s agricultural economy, but encourages more New Yorkers to help end hunger in our communities once and for all.”

Following a recommendation of Governor Cuomo’s Anti-Hunger Task Force, the tax credit was enacted to compensate farmers for costs associated with harvesting, packaging, and distributing local products to eligible food pantries, food banks and other emergency food programs across the state. Increased donations will help meet the growing demand for fresh, healthful foods in underserved communities across New York.

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

A fact sheet on eligibility requirements for the tax credit is available by clicking here.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said, “Our farmers aren’t just great at growing food, every year they are among the leading donors to food banks, food pantries and similar organizations. Their donations provide fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables to millions of New York families that may otherwise go without. At the Governor’s direction, the State has worked hard to develop this tax credit to reward farmers for their generosity and spur economic growth in the agricultural industry, and to feed even more New Yorkers who need it most.”

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said, “New York Farm Bureau is excited to see the rollout of the Farm to Food Bank Tax Credit. This has been a priority issue for our organization’s members who routinely donate to their regional food banks and local pantries. The credit will help offset the costs of picking, packing and transporting the food to the donation centers, while also increasing access of fresh, local food to New Yorkers in need. We appreciate Governor Cuomo and his agency staff’s efforts to make this day a reality.”

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