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Census of Agriculture response deadline one week away

Staff Reports Posted 29 January 2018 at 6:15 pm

Orleans had 13th most ag revenue out of 62 counties last time in Census

Photo by Tom Rivers: Onions grow on the muck, which covers about 5,000 acres in Orleans and Genesee counties.

WASHINGTON – Farmers have a week to respond to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture.

Every five years the National Agricultural Statistics Service does the Census of Agriculture. Producers should respond online at www.agcounts.usda.gov or by mail by February 5. The online questionnaire offers new timesaving features.

The Census of Agriculture is the only NASS questionnaire mailed to every producer across the country. The Census provides a complete account of the industry, its changes, and emerging trends. Census data are widely used, often relied on when developing the Farm Bill and other farm policy, and when making decisions about disaster relief, community planning, technology development, and more.

“We are asking producers to help show our nation the value and importance of American agriculture,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We need to hear from all of our farmers and ranchers, no matter how big or how small their part of agriculture. The Census is their voice, their future, their opportunity. Please respond now.”

The 2012 Census of Agriculture showed a big jump in farm revenue in Orleans County. The revenue from farms totaled $150.3 million in 2012 for sales of fruit, vegetables, milk, livestock and other farm products, a 48.8 percent jump from the $101.0 million recorded in 2007, according to the Agricultural Census.

Orleans ranked 13th of the 62 counties in New York for farm revenue. Wyoming County claimed the top spot in the state at $318.5 million in 2012.

State-wide, the numbers increased 24.9 percent to $5.52 billion in 2012.  That was up by $1.1 billion from the $4.42 billion in 2007.

Everyone who received the 2017 Census of Agriculture questionnaire is to return it, even if they are not currently farming, NASS said. The first few qualifying questions on the form will determine whether completing the entire questionnaire is necessary.

After the Feb. 5 deadline, NASS will begin following-up with additional mailings, e-mails, phone calls, and personal appointments. To avoid these additional contacts, farmers and ranchers are asked to complete their Census as soon as possible.

“It is important that every producer respond to the Census of Agriculture so that they are represented and reflected in the data,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “These statistics can directly impact producers for years. Without their input, our hardworking farmers and ranchers risk being underserved.”

For more information about the 2017 Census of Agriculture, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov. For questions or assistance with the Census, call toll-free (888) 424-7828.

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Kast honored as ‘Next Generation Farm’

Photo from NYS Ag Society: Pictured from left include at the New York State Agricultural Society meeting in Syracuse on Jan. 4 include from left: Commissioner Richard Ball, NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets; John and Cheryl Kast; Amanda and Brett Kast; Elizabeth Claypoole, NYS Ag Society; Mark Modzeleski, The Voss Group, award sponsor.

Staff Reports Posted 16 January 2018 at 9:31 am

Brett and John Kast embrace new technology, apple varieties and other crops

Press Release, NYS Agricultural Society

SYRACUSE – An Albion farm was recognized recently with a “Next Generation Farmer Award” at the New York State Agricultural Society annual meeting.

Kast Farms is a Century Farm dating back to 1884. Brett and John Kast are brothers who represent the fifth family generation to operate this diversified fruit, vegetable and grain operation in Orleans County.

Using new precision technology, partnering with Cornell University and others, and trying their hand at experimental crops like industrial hemp has enabled the brothers to uniquely challenge the status quo to help grow farm profitability, the Ag Society said.

The Kast family got their start in farming in 1884 when Aldelbert Chapman purchased the original 140-acre farmstead. Since that time, the Albion-based operation has grown to 4,500 acres. It’s a diversified fruit, vegetable, and grain operation that takes full advantage of Orleans County soil and climate afforded by its proximity to Lake Ontario.

John and Brett Kast pursued separate careers off the farm prior to returning home within the last 10 years. Until 2012, John was employed by the Buffalo and Fort Worth zoos. Brett worked in the Texas oil business before returning in 2008. The family business has immediately felt their combined impact. Owned and leased orchard acreage has increased, and the brothers created their own land limited liability corporation, adding another 600 acres of crop land.

Using new precision technology has allowed the pair to put their own stamp on Kast Farms, including prescription planting, fertilizing and spraying. Working with Cornell University and others, new consumer-friendly apples such as RubyFrost and SnapDragon are being grown on tall spindles and the future may dictate even more diverse varieties. For the past four years, Kast Farms has been malting barley and growing industrial hemp. Partnering with Farm Fresh First, they’ve expanded into spinach production, all with an eye to adapt and drive efficiencies for where customers and new markets are driving.

Both brothers believe that having off-the-farm work experience has enabled them to uniquely challenge the status quo to help grow farm profitability. But they’re quick to look to long time employees, vendors and Cornell to mine for new ideas, efficiencies and mentoring. “It’s this combination that has allowed the farm to continue to grow and be profitable,” John said.

Established in 1832, the mission of the NYS Agricultural Society is to foster, promote, and improve the NYS food and agricultural industry through education, leadership development and recognition programs. It has played a vital role in the development of the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, Cornell University’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station, the NYS Fair, and the Empire State Food and Agricultural Leadership Institute (LEAD NY). In 2011, the NYS Agricultural Society Foundation was formed.

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Niagara fruit grower recognized for distinguished service to NY agriculture

Staff Reports Posted 5 January 2018 at 6:29 pm

Provided photo: NYS Ag and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball, front left, congratulates Jim Bittner on being recognized with the New York State Agricultural Society Distinguished Service Citation on Thursday in Syracuse. Also pictured, front row, third from left: Margo Sue Bittner, NY Farm Bureau representative Sandy Prokop, and NY AG Society President Beth Claypoole. Back Row: Kevin Bittner of Barker, David Bittner of Lyndonville, Janet Walker of Holley, and Award Committee Chair Richard Church.

The New York State Agricultural Society, the oldest Agricultural organization in New York State, honored Jim Bittner of Appleton with a Distinguished Service Citation at its 186th annual meeting on Thursday in Syracuse.

New York State Commissioner of Ag and Markets Richard Ball thanked Bittner for his service on various committees and pointed out that the Ag Society is like a family reunion. Producers, academics, political leaders and others involved in some aspect of agriculture come to celebrate this vital industry.

After relating Bittner’s history on the family beef farm and with Bittner Singer Orchards, presenter Richard Church, quoted nominator David Grusemeyer, New York Farm Viability Executive Director, who said, “Jim was a founding board member and later led the NYFVI as its chair with a level head, steady hand, and inquisitive spirit.”

Commissioner Ball confirmed that adding, “The industry is stronger today because of his great work.”

Church then listed the various agricultural organizations in which Bittner is involved: Niagara County and NY Farm Bureau, US Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching, NYS Advisory Council on Agriculture, New York Specialty Crop Advisory Committee, Agricultural Labor Advisory Group, SILO committee, Cornell School of Ag and Life Science’s Deans Advisory Committee, and Council of Agricultural Organizations. In addition, he has served on the NYS Horticultural Society Board of Directors.

In the community, Bittner is a long-time member of the Barker Lions Club and works with the Lewiston Kiwanis to have Niagara County peaches at their annual festival.

New York Farm Bureau Executive Director Jeff Williams thanked Jim for his service pointing out that they have worked together since 1975 when they were NY Future Farmers of America officers together. Williams pointed out the numerous lobbying activities in both Albany and Washington in which Bittner has participated.

In his “thank you” speech, Bittner acknowledged those who helped and supported him along the way: his parents, Joe and Theresa Bittner; children Kevin, Janet and David; wife Margo; and the two farmers who gave him the opportunity to farm, Frederick Atwater and Tom Singer.

Bittner also encouraged the group to reach out to those outside of agriculture to promote understanding.

“If you aren’t at the table, you may be on the menu,” he said.

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Local state legislators named to Farm Bureau’s ‘Circle of Friends’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 December 2017 at 3:24 pm

Three local state legislators are among the 172 elected officials named to New York Farm Bureau’s “Circle of Friends.”

State Assembly members Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, and Michael Norris, R-Lockport, both made the list and so did State Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda. Hawley’s district includes all of Orleans except Shelby, as well as Genesee and western Monroe. Norris’s district includes Shelby in Orleans, as well as parts of Niagara and Erie counties. Ortt’s district includes all of Orleans, Niagara and western Monroe.

New York Farm Bureau has released its annual “Circle of Friends,” naming 172 New York State Legislators to the distinguished list. The award is an indication of the individual lawmaker’s support of New York agriculture and Farm Bureau, NYFB said.

The “Circle of Friends” is not an endorsement, and this distinction only recognizes the 2017 legislative session. The honor is based upon each legislator’s voting record on issues of agricultural importance as well as other evidence of legislative support, including sponsorship of bills that New York Farm Bureau has either supported or opposed during the most recent legislative session.

“New York Farm Bureau selected these Senators and Assembly members because of their commitment to the hard-working farm families in New York,” said David Fisher, President of New York Farm Bureau. “We appreciated their support on a whole host of bills and budget items this year, and we look forward to collaborating with them as a new session is about to begin. It is imperative that we work together to support local food production and the agricultural economy that benefit all New Yorkers.”

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Kludt tops NY corn growers for third straight year

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 December 2017 at 11:50 am

Wins yield contest with 322-bushels-per-acre

Photo by Tom Rivers: This photo from August 2016 shows corn on Brown Road in Albion.

KENDALL – Matt Kludt from Kludt Brothers Farm is the state champion for the third straight year in an annual corn yield contest.

Kludt won the no-till/strip-till non-irrigated class with a yield of 322.4 bushels per acre. He used a seed from Channel 201-00DGVT2PRIB.

Ryan Swede of Pavilion was second at 307.6 bushels per acre with Kludt close behind in third place with another entry at 306.6 bushels per acre.

Last year Kludt won with a yield of 298.5 acres in the no-till/strip-till non-irrigated class. Kludt also won the title in 2015 with 319.7 bushels per acre.

The National Corn Growers Association has announced the winners of the 2017 National Corn Yield Contest. There were five national entries that surpassed the 400-plus bushel per acre mark, including David Hula of Charles City, VA, with the biggest yield –  542.3 bushels with a seed from Pioneer. Hula competes in the no-till/strip-till irrigated class.

The contest is in its 53rd year and remains NCGA’s most popular program for members.

“The contest provides farmers more than just an opportunity for friendly competition; it generates data that impacts future production practices across the industry,” said Roger Zylstra, chair of NCGA’s Stewardship Action Team. “The techniques first developed by contest winners grow into far-reaching advances, helping farmers across the country excel in a variety of situations.  Our contest emphasizes innovation both from growers and technology providers, thus enabling us to meet the growing demand for food, feed, fuel and fiber.”

Winners receive national recognition in publications such as the NCYC Corn Yield Guide, as well as cash trips or other awards from participating sponsoring seed, chemical and crop protection companies. The winners will be honored during Commodity Classic 2018 in Anaheim, Calif.

Click here to visit National Corn Growers Association website www.ncga.com for the complete list of National and State winners.

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Leader of ethanol plant says facility has been an asset to local farmers, community

Photos by Tom Rivers: Tim Winters is president and chief executive officer of Western New York Energy in Medina.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 December 2017 at 11:17 am

MEDINA – Tim Winters, 48, is chief executive officer of Western New York Energy, a company that celebrated its 10th anniversary of production last week.

Winters joined the in September 2007, soon before it opened and began turning corn into ethanol. WNY Energy initially planned to use 20 million bushels of corn annually to produce 50 million gallons of ethanol.

The output proved a conservative number because the company is on pace to produce 62 million gallons this year. All of the ethanol is blended and used in the Rochester and Buffalo markets.

The facility also produces high-protein distiller’s grains for livestock and the CO2 is captured and used for food and soda industries. The company pays more than $1 million in taxes locally each year.

John Sawyer and his son Mike were influential in getting the plant built. John was the company’s first CEO and president. He died from leukemia at age 72 on Oct. 13, 2013. Mike followed his father as the company’s CEO and president. Mike died while hiking in the Adirondacks at age 43 due a medical condition on Aug. 18, 2016.

Tim Winters said the two Sawyers were critical in getting the plant built and in its success. Winters was interviewed on Friday at his office at WNY Energy, which is located at the corner of Bates Road and Maple Ridge Road.

A banner at the entrance of the plant notes that WNY Energy has produced more than 500 million gallons of ethanol in the past decade.

Question: What did you do at the start your career?

Answer: I was in the family business for several years and then had a couple different jobs. Then I moved out West for six years and worked for a large grain company in Oklahoma.

Question: Was that where you were right before Western New York Energy?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What did they do to lure you back home?

Answer: I was actually here getting remarried and was nosing around the company. The company I was with was talking with companies about building ethanol plants and grain elevators in Oklahoma. While I was back here I wondered what this new plant was all about. I ended up meeting Mike (Sawyer) and emailing Mike. He asked me what is it I do and I told him I was a controller. He said he was looking for a controller. It just kind of happened very quickly from there.

Question: What does a controller do?

Answer: A lot of everything. In a normal capacity it’s just accounting functions. But for us here at this company it’s a lot of dealing with some of the marketing, operational and working with the plant, helping to analyze data. I also do a fair amount of the IT. I have some grain experience so I was involved in that.

We’re a large company but it is small enough where I had the title of controller, but it was always whatever needed to be done.

A truck with grain from H & E Farms in Albion is unloaded last Friday at the ethanol plant.

Question: When you guys started I think you were taking in 20 million bushels to make 50 million gallons of ethanol. I thought the output ended up being more.

Answer: It was 50 million as the original name plate, that’s what the plant was designed for. We started running pretty much over that within months when we started.

Question: Was that because it was a conservative number?

Answer: They design these to be able to run a little bit harder. We were able to gain efficiencies and learn more about the plant to get more gallons out. It’s been pretty much a continuous trajectory up since then. Currently today we are running about 62 million gallons with a potential to run even higher.

Question: With 20 million bushels?

Answer: Yes. Twenty million is what we’ll grind this year. It will probably be 21 million next year. When we started we were probably grinding 17 to 18 million.

Question: That’s significant because I know one of the criticisms I’ve heard about ethanol is the amount of energy to produce it. You’ve made gains getting more out of the corn. It looks like you’re about 3 gallons for every bushel of corn.

Answer: A lot in the industry when it was started was about 2.7 to 2.75. Our average over the years I would say has been 2.9-plus. Every year you try to close in on that magic 3 number.

Question: Has it happened for you?

Answer: Not yet, but with the technology each year we’re getting a little bit closer.

Question: I wonder what could clinch it for you to hit the 3 level?

Answer: It doesn’t sound like a lot to go from 2.9 to a 3, but that’s actually a lot. For every hundredth that you get it’s a big step. It takes quite a bit to gain those little bits. When you think about it, take that .01 and multiply it by 20 million bushels. That’s a lot of gallons.

Question: (During the interview several trucks stop at the weigh station outside by Winters’ office) Is this a normal occurrence for you, having all of these trucks here?

Answer: Generally on average we take 75 a day.

Question: And that is throughout the year?

Answer: Yes. We have times in the year where there are more. It could be a hundred or more. We have unloaded as many as 200 corn trucks in a day in the past. Sometimes, it’s 40-50 a day. It really depends on how much is bought and the time of the year.

Question: In terms of the impact for the local farmers, they used to have to drive much farther, to Dunkirk perhaps to the Purina plant.

Answer: Or Arcade or Batavia.

Tim Winters keeps an eye on market prices at his office.

Question: When you’re driving farther, it can gobble up your day just with the added time.

Answer: Yes. An hour-and-a-half to 2-hour drive is not uncommon at all each way.

Question: With the local growers, including some in Medina, it must be awesome having you here so close by. And you can see all of the new grain bins that have been put up in the last 10 years, including the new one by Western New York Energy. (The WNY Energy bin can hold 800,000 bushels and was built about two years ago.) What was the reason for the new grain bin you added?

Answer: One of the big reasons we decided to do it was because as we continue to produce more, we needed to have more days of run time available. What if you got into a winter storm in the middle of January? With only a million bushels of storage, that was only around 15 to 17 days for us. That was kind of uncomfortable. So a larger capacity gives us that insurance if we have bad weather and at the same time gives us more options throughout the year. We can buy more during harvest than we could before.

Question: I think 50 people work here.

Answer: It’s 51 today. That includes Shelby Transportation.

Question: With that, you guys go get the corn? How does that work?

Answer: Yes. We get the corn and we also haul out some of the distiller’s. We do some other hauling as well.

Question: When you consider the distiller’s and the CO2, is there any waste here?

Answer: No. When we’re done there is nothing left of the corn kernel. We use every piece of it. We talked earlier about the gripe about using more energy than you’re making, but in reality in the most recent analysis it’s at least 2 to 1, sometimes 2 ½ to 1. For every energy unit we’re using, we’re creating that much more than what a gas refinery or oil refinery would be. They’re energy deficits.

The point I’m making is gaining all of those efficiencies and using all of your byproducts, you don’t have anything to burn off or waste to dispose of.

Question: I think there were more criticisms of the ethanol industry 15-20 years ago, but you don’t hear that much these days. Do you think ethanol has proven itself?

Answer: One of the great things about being in this industry is we are young, we are really just in the first 10 to 15 years of taking off. With the technology every day there is something new coming out. It’s really exciting to see what is could be coming down the pike.

Distiller’s grains are a byproduct of the ethanol process and are used to feed livestock including many cows in Western New York.

Question: I know some plants have doubled in size after they opened. Is that something that might happen here?

Answer: It’s something that we have considered, but it’s quite an investment. When you look at building capacity on that large of a scale, the cost per gallon is quite a bit higher than when we originally built the plant. It’s something you have to take a much harder look at because your payback is going to be much longer. We’ve chosen to take a more phased in approach. We built a new fermenter, we built some cooling capacity. We’ll continue to look at some of those projects maybe just building up in phases, rather than in one big lump sum. Not to say that could never happen, but right now the phased in approach is the best investment strategy for Western New York Energy.

Question: What kind of ripple effect do you think this plant has had on the farming community?

Answer: From what I remember, growing up in the family feed and grain business, yes it has had an impact. This area has always grown a lot of grain. Anybody who has lived here more than 20-30 years remembers that. There used to be a lot of government storage. There used to be a lot of excess storage and prices that the farmers received were very poor. I remember years that corn was maybe $1.50, $1.25 a bushel. Over the years that got tough for a family farm to stay in operation.

After we started – within months of after we started – farm families that I’ve known for all of my life, it wasn’t uncommon for some of them to come up to me in the grocery store and say, “Tim, we are so glad you and the plant are here because we were getting ready to sell the farm.”

Just look at the farms that have built bins, that have trucks. They are doing better to be able to make investments in new technologies and equipment. But farming is still farming. There are good years and there are bad years, but hopefully overall the averages are better than what it was.

Question: Not only are you here and the corn price is up, but the yields are also up. It seems like a good time to be a local corn grower.

Answer: Right now, if I put my farmer hat on, the price is not great. The Chicago Board of Trade today is trading around $3.50 (per bushel). That’s not great but it could be a lot worse.

There are farms out in the Midwest that are getting below $3 cash price.

Question: I thought you paid a little more than going rate?

Answer:  There are a lot of factors that go into it. The term you’re looking for is basis. That’s the price, plus or minus whatever the Board is trading at. That really depends on the season and a lot of other market conditions. Sometimes it’s over. We have been under at times. But generally we’ve been paying over.

Question: Don’t you test the corn and based on the quality that affects the price?

Answer: Yes, there are several different quality factors that we evaluate for. For instance, if it is too high in moisture there is a small discount and a dockage that goes along with it. If there is too much foreign material, beeswings or weed seeds – things like that that aren’t corn – there are discounts for that. It’s all about quality, just like anything else.

Question: If it’s wetter than you want do you then have to dry it?

Answer: We don’t have a dryer. All we have are fans. We can take slightly wetter than we’re used to. But we can’t take 18 percent or even 17 percent (moisture). What ends up happening is if you take that wetter grain and put it in the middle somewhere, concrete or the bin, it will eventually rot. To store it for any amount of time it has to be 15.5 percent or below, preferably.

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John Sawyer, right, and his son Mike Sawyer were the driving force in establishing Western New York Energy and the construction of the $90 million ethanol plant.

Question: The only sad part about this is that John and Mike Sawyer aren’t here today.

Answer: I agree.

Question: But they certainly brought an asset into the community. I like that the shareholders are local people. The plant has helped to bring some money into the community. If the farmers make money they often put it back in the community, including helping to fund the Extension Education Center and the new library in Albion.

Answer: Correct. That is one of things that drew me here. I didn’t know John or Mike before I came here. I checked them out and I’m sure they checked me out. I heard nothing but good.

When you heard John talk about where did this come from, it all came from his desire to help out farmers. This is what developed. It does allow us to provide not only 50 good-paying jobs for employees, but it allows us to do good things for the community – the Parade of Lights for example. As a Medina native, I’m very proud to do that. As you know, you’ve been in the area long enough, we’ve had a lot of things taken away over the years. It’s nice to bring something back for a change.

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Cost of Thanksgiving dinner goes down in 2017

Posted 17 November 2017 at 1:40 pm
File photo by Tom Rivers: These turkeys were part of the 2014 meat auction at the 4-H Fair in Knowlesville. The cost of a turkey has dropped a little compared to Thanksgiving a year ago.

File photo by Tom Rivers: These turkeys were part of the 2014 meat auction at the 4-H Fair in Knowlesville. The cost of a turkey has dropped compared to Thanksgiving a year ago.

Press Release, NY Farm Bureau

The 2017 Market Basket Survey reveals a nearly 10% price decrease for the average Thanksgiving Day dinner over last year’s meal, according to New York Farm Bureau. The average total price this year, which includes a 16-pound turkey, is $44.74. This is a $1.89 decrease over last year’s survey of $46.63.

Turkey prices are about $1.34 per pound in New York State, down more than 9 percent on average in this informal survey compared to 2016. This drop in price is reflected in national numbers.

According to the USDA, wholesale whole turkey prices fell in 2017 and have remained below historical averages since January. Lower retail turkey prices are a result from continued large inventory in cold storage, which is up almost double digits since last year.

The New York numbers also reflect slightly higher pumpkin prices. A wet season led to a smaller pumpkin crop than what we saw last year in New York, though there is no national supply problem due to abundance in pumpkin production in other states that supply pie mix manufacturers. The increase may be attributed to higher production costs. In addition, milk prices have remained low throughout 2017. While this continues to be tough on farmers, consumers have benefited with lower whole milk prices.

New York Farm Bureau’s volunteer shoppers sampled prices in different regions of the state trying to get the best prices available, but they do not use promotional coupons or special deals such as “buy one-get one free.”

The shopping list includes 12 Thanksgiving food items ranging from turkey and rolls to fresh carrots and celery to pumpkin pie mix, enough to feed 10 people around the dinner table.

“The dinner price has dropped for a second consecutive year which means New Yorkers can continue to enjoy a reasonably priced Thanksgiving meal,” said Phyllis Couture, chairwoman of New York Farm Bureau’s Promotion and Education Committee. “While farmers continue to struggle with lower commodity prices across the board, American consumers benefit from lower prices at the cash register. Much of this is due to New York farmers who work hard to produce an abundance of healthy, nutritious food. They take pride in knowing their products help make for a joyous and affordable holiday season.”

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NY has $1.25 million available in grants for new farmers, veterans in agriculture

Posted 20 October 2017 at 2:35 pm

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that $1.25 million in funding is available through two grant programs designed to assist farmers across the state. The New Farmers Grant Fund helps new and early-stage farmers, and the New York State Veterans Farmer Grant Fund supports farms owned and operated by military veterans. Both programs are designed to promote growth and development in the state’s agriculture industry.

“Agriculture remains a major sector of our economy and by supporting the development of early-stage farmers, these businesses will continue to provide fresh, local produce for New Yorkers across the state,” Governor Cuomo said. “This grant fund will bolster our agricultural industry by providing both veterans and farmers the support they need to expand, and thrive.”

New Farmers Grant Fund

Now in its fourth round, the $1 million New Farmers Grant Fund will provide grants of up to $50,000 to assist with up to 50 percent of eligible project costs. To qualify, all farm business owners must be within the first ten years of having an ownership interest in any farm business, and the farm must have a minimum of $10,000 in income from sales of products grown or raised on the farm. Eligible project costs include the purchase of machinery, equipment, supplies, and the construction or improvement of agricultural structures.

More than $1 million was awarded to 27 new and early-stage farms across the state in the third round of the New Farmers Grant Fund. Since its launch in 2014, the program has provided nearly $2.5 million to over 65 farms across the state to expand operations and improve profitability.

Veterans Farmer Grant Fund

A new $250,000 grant program, the New York State Veterans Farmer Grant Fund, will also provide grants of up to $50,000 for up to 50 percent of eligible project costs. To qualify, at least 50 percent of the farm business must be owned, operated and controlled by a veteran, as defined in the program guidelines. The farm must also have a minimum of $10,000 in farm income; however, this program is not limited to beginning farmers. Eligible project costs are the same as for the New Farmers Grant Fund.

Empire State Development, in consultation with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, administers the grant funds. The applications and guidelines for the New Farmers Grant Fund and the Veterans Farm Grant Fund are available online. The deadline for submission is January 26, 2018.

These grant programs are central to the state’s efforts to grow New York’s agricultural industry through strategic investments in the next generation of farmers. Currently, the average age of New York farmers is approximately 55. At the same time, there is greater interest from women, veterans, new Americans, and others in beginning a career or starting a second career in farming.

This year, at the direction of Governor Cuomo, the State Department of Agriculture and Markets established a Beginning Farmer Program, including a one-stop shop, to help these groups overcome obstacles to entering the profession and maintaining a successful agricultural operation in New York. Through the program, the Department launched a statewide listening tour to address challenges facing early-stage farmers and to provide information about existing resources available to them. Additional resources for new or prospective farmers are available on the Department’s website, or by contacting the one-stop shop at (718) 722-2668 or nyc@agriculture.ny.gov.

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “Governor Cuomo has brought a new focus to advancing agriculture in New York State and because of his commitment, there are so many new opportunities. Innovative initiatives like these grant programs are helping to pave the way for the next generation of farmers, including our veterans whose experience in the military make them uniquely qualified for jobs on the farm. We are proud to help administer this critical funding and support the future of our industry.”

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said, “Securing capital is one of the greatest challenges for beginning farmers looking to get their new businesses off the ground. These grants can be the seeds to growing the future of farming, and New York Farm Bureau appreciates the focus on new farmers who have much to offer the agricultural community, including veterans who possess unique skills well suited for farming.”

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Albion FFA puts on Fall Festival for 600 elementary kids

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 October 2017 at 12:17 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Amelia Targa, a kindergartner at Albion, paints a pumpkin today as part of a Fall Festival organized by the Albion FFA. About 600 elementary students have been part of the festival the past two days. Besides a series of activities at the FFA Ag Shop, student were able to walk in a corn maze at the district’s Land Lab.

The pumpkins were donated by Panek Farms. Nesbitt Farms also donated apples and cider pressed by Roberts Farms in Medina.

Garrett Derisley, the FFA president, waits for the next class to stop by the Ag Shop.

Sarah Gregori helps Daniel Dash, a kindergartner in Mrs. Krull’s class, leave a handprint on a poster that will be added to the classroom. Each elementary class that attended the Fall Festival was able to make a poster with hand prints.

Dalton Wilkins talks about corn with this class. Dalton said a typical ear of corn has about 800 kernels. Corn is a popular food for just about every type of livestock, he said.

Fjolla Bela, a member of the FFA, carries in mini pumpkins to be painted by the elementary students.

Alaina Fleming demonstrates how to use an apple press for these students.

FFA members Ben Restivo, center, and Nick Sacco, right, take questions about a combine.

Taylor Walczak gets plates of paint ready at the pumpkin-painting station.

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Collins says federal program for farmworkers needs improvement

Posted 26 September 2017 at 12:52 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: Workers harvest cabbage on Route 98 in Gaines last month.

Congressman wants program streamlined, expanded to include dairy farms

Press Release, Congressman Chris Collins

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Chris Collins (R-Clarence) met with United States Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta today to discuss expanding the H-2A Agricultural Visa program. This program allows agriculture employers to hire workers on a temporary basis to fill seasonal jobs.

Under the current program, America’s agricultural employers that require year-round workers are met with challenges as it relates to finding a legal, experienced workforce. The H-2A visa program does not currently provide a category for year-round livestock workers, including dairy. Both crop and livestock farmers depend on affordable labor, yet an oversight in the H-2A program has put the latter at a disadvantage when it comes to obtaining workers.

“I’ve talked with hard-working farmers across Western New York who are struggling because they are unable to retain year-round workers,” said Collins. “Our dairy farmers especially are burdened with an H-2A program that does not allow them to hire the individuals they need to milk cows, feed livestock, and maintain the herd.”

The agriculture industry is vital to the Western New York economy. Collins’ Congressional District includes almost 5,000 farms which produce more than $1 billion of products sold each year.

Collins said one area of the H-2A program that needs improvement includes changing eligibility to include year-round agricultural operations such as dairy, nursery, and fresh cut operations. The meeting with Secretary Acosta was based on the fact that the Department of Labor (USDOL) has the ability to make rule changes that would immediately amend program guidelines.

“I urged Secretary Acosta to take action on this issue now. Western New York’s and America’s farmers can’t continue to be burdened by these ineffective rules and regulations while waiting for Congress to act,” Collins added.

Collins was joined by Members of Congress from across the United States who also discussed streamlining the H-2A application process. Recommendations presented would reduce redundancies and improve operating efficiencies.

“I am committed to working with President Trump, Secretary Acosta and my colleagues in Congress to make the necessary reforms that are good for our agriculture industry, and in turn, good for our economy.”

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