Oakes brothers emerge as leaders for NY Apple and Cider associations

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 1 March 2023 at 9:34 pm

Provided photo: Jonathan Oakes, left, and his brother Christopher stand in the State Capitol in Albany on the Million Dollar Staircase with steps made of Medina Sandstone. The brothers were in Albany for meetings of the New York State Apple Association and New York State Cider Association. Jonathan is president of the New York Cider Association and Christopher is vice president of the NY Apple Association.

LYNDONVILLE – There’s no mistaking Christopher and Jonathan Oakes passion for their family business.

The brothers are not only heavily involved in LynOaken Farms, but Christopher is vice chair of the New York Apple Association, while Jonathan is president of the New York Cider Association.

They recently attended annual meetings of their respective organizations in Albany, which they feel is important in urging lawmakers to make laws and provide funding for programs beneficial to farmers.

In addition to Christopher’s and Jonathan’s involvement in their agricultural organizations, their aunt Wendy Oakes-Wilson is a member of the New York Grape and Wine Foundation.

Jonathan has been a member of the New York Cider Association since its founding in 2015. He was elected president last June. He is the winemaker for Leonard Oakes Estate Winery.

Christopher has been on the New York Apple Association board since 2020 and was elected vice chair a year ago.

“Our involvement in agricultural goes back to our grandfather Jim,” Jonathan said. “He was active in many agricultural agencies, specifically apple organizations.”

Jim’s father Leonard founded the family farm in 1919, raising poultry and vegetables, continuing through World War II. After Leonard died in 1951 and Jim took over, he moved more into fruit and vegetables, Jonathan said. By the 1980s, the farm was mostly a fruit farm. Christopher’s and Jonathan’s dad Darrell heads the farm today.

File photos by Tom Rivers: Chris Oakes, orchard manager at LynOaken Farms and the fourth generation to work on the farm, holds a Redfield apple, a variety that was developed in 1938. The apple has a red flesh and pink seeds. It’s one of the heirloom varieties in a U-Pick orchard at the farm.

Farming has become more challenging in recent years, with all the rules and regulations being enacted in Albany, Christopher said, which is why the Oakes brothers know how important it is to support the Apple and Cider organizations.

Jonathan has always had a penchant for cider and started fermenting in 2003. Their tasting room was opened in 2008 at the winery on Ridge Road in Medina.

He said cider was one of original key beverages in our nation, and since LynOaken Farms had a lot of apples, it made sense to start making cider.

“Then we have a school like Cornell in our back yard,” Jonathan said. “It’s nice for us to collaborate with each other and assure we stay on the front end of things.”

He said the Cider Association is young as an organization, kind of running on the shirttails of the Apple Association.

“It’s been a good relationship so far,” he said.

LynOaken Farms currently grows 250 acres of apples, 16 acres of peaches and 15 acres of wine grapes. The major apple orchards are on their home farm on Platten Road in Lyndonville, while the winery is located at 10609 Ridge Rd., Medina. Commercially, they raise 14 varieties of apples, but their U-pick orchard offers more than 350 varieties. One of these is an ancient type called Ben Davis.

“This was a big variety when the canal came through,” Christopher said. “You could put them on a ship to England and they would still look like an apple when they got there. Of course, they were like shoe leather.”

Christopher said every apple grower in the state is automatically a member of the New York Apple Association. One thing which they advocated for was for a portion of every apple sale to go to the Association for marketing. Currently, 16 cents of every bushel sold goes to fund marketing of New York state apples. The Apple Board meets three times a year – in February, June and November. Meetings are in Albany at budget time and in different locations the other two sessions. The state has 550 apple growers.

Jonathan Oakes, the winemaker at Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina, serves wine during the third annual Farm-to-Table dinner on Aug. 2, 2018 in downtown Medina.

The Cider Association is member driven and their funding comes from membership dues. The organization are hoping to convince Albany to increase the line item in the budget for state funding of the Cider Association.

Their requests include funding for a New York Cider Mark Promotion campaign (resulting in full activation on cider labeling indicating 100 percent use of New York apples); Cider Week New York; a New York Cider Trail app to inspire visits to tasting rooms and orchards; and update of the website, social channels and collateral to increase tourist attraction.

The Cider Association has a state director in Hudson Valley and a board of 11 members. They meet every other month, with one general membership meeting in March. Smaller committees meet regularly.

Since growers have started making cider in New York state, it has had a tremendous economic impact, according to information provided by Jonathan. From five licensed producers in 2011, the industry has grown to more than 125 in 2023, employing 6,148 and resulting in $520 million in wages.

The New York Cider Association says the cider industry has a $1.7 billion total economic impact in the state.

The state will celebrate Cider Week New York May 5 to 14 and Oct. 6 to 15. More information can be found on their website at

State DOL finalizes phase-in for reducing OT threshold on farms

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 February 2023 at 10:34 am

First phase starts Jan. 1, 2024 with OT cap at 56 hours a week

Photo by Tom Rivers: A farmer works a field by an orchard on Route 31 in Ridgeway in May 2016.

ALBANY — The overtime threshold for farm workers will be 56 hours a week starting Jan. 1, 2024 – down from the current 60 hours a week.

After 56 hours, farm workers will be paid at an overtime rate. It is part of a phased-in plan to bring the OT threshold to 40 hours a week in 2023.

The threshold will be reduced by 4 hours a week every two years until it is at 40 hours.

“These new regulations ensure equity for farm workers, who are the very backbone of our agriculture sector,” New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said on Wednesday when she announced the changes have been finalized. “By implementing a gradual transition, we are giving farmers time to make the appropriate adjustments. These new regulations advance New York State’s continued commitment to workers while protecting our farms.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature enacted new tax credits to assist farm employers to ease the implementation of the lower overtime standard. The DOL said those include:

  • The Investment Tax Credit was increased from 4 percent to 20 percent for farm businesses, providing an encouragement for potential automation of farm production.
  • The Farm Workforce Retention Tax Credit was increased to $1,200 per employee to provide near-term relief to farmers.
  • A refundable tax credit was established for overtime hours paid by farm employers at the level established by the new regulation up to 60 hours.

State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said the change will drive up cost for farmers who are already struggling with soaring operating expenses.

“Our family farmers are already struggling with skyrocketing inflation, high unemployment insurance taxes, and a severe worker shortage,” Ortt said in a  statement on Wednesday. “This is one more burdensome mandate passed on by unelected bureaucrats that will cause more harm. Instead of working to make New York more affordable, One Party Rule continues to impose anti-business policies that drive up costs for our small businesses and family farms.”

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney said the decision from the state will make it more challenging for farms to be successful in New York.

“Kathy Hochul, her Department of Labor, and Democrats in Albany have turned their backs on New York’s family farms,” Tenney said in a statement. “This gravely misguided decision deliberately ignored input from important stakeholders and will worsen the already difficult headwinds for New York’s agriculture sector. No farms, no food isn’t just a slogan; it will become the new reality if Albany Democrats continue to treat New York’s family farms with such disdain. I will continue my fight in Congress to assist our farm businesses and hold Albany Democrats accountable for this disastrous decision.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley issued this statement: “For the past three years, my colleagues and I have advocated for the family farmers of New York who have told us time and again that any changes to the overtime threshold would severely impact their economic security. I’m deeply disappointed that the DOL and Commissioner Reardon have ignored those pleas.

“Agriculture is the largest industry in New York, and its workers are the best in the nation. But for these smaller farms trying to get by, the costs just skyrocketed, and the burden of this mandate will unfortunately cause many farmers to fall by the wayside. With this reality in mind, I can’t help but wonder who the DOL thinks it is helping.”

Company in Ridgeway that uses bugs to control plant pests is expanding

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 February 2023 at 3:27 pm

Sierra Biological has new building, growing workforce

Photos by Tom Rivers: Casey Decker recently sold his company, Sierra Biological, to Beneficial Insectary. Decker will stay on as leader of Sierra Biological on Swett Road in Ridgeway. The company distributes nematodes and other insects to control pests that can damage or destroy plants that produce vegetables, flowers, fruits and cannabis.

RIDGEWAY – A company on Swett Road in Ridgeway has built an army of tiny insects that are used for pest control to help farmers and greenhouse operators produce crops – flowers, fruits, vegetables and cannabis.

Sierra Biological moved its operations to Ridgeway in May 2016. Casey Decker, the company’s CEO, founded the company in California. He was operating it in an out building at his home with his wife Nina.

They needed more room for the business. But real estate is very expensive in California. Decker had a big client at a greenhouse in Canada just over the border from Western New York. He also had a customer in Buffalo.

Decker scouted sites in WNY and settled on a former collision shop on Swett Road in Ridgeway.

The business has steadily grown since then, and currently has 10 employees. Decker put in climate-controlled rooms and has maxed out the space.

Sierra Biological is set to grow more. It has a new 10,800-square-foot facility next door and last month closed a deal with Beneficial Insectary Inc., where that company now has 100 percent equity of Sierra. Decker will stay on overseeing Sierra Biological.

Tyler Palmer, manager of Sierra Biological in Ridgeway, examines aphids that are growing on oat plants. These plant with aphids that don’t harm the plant will then be introduced to parasitic wasps that will wipe out other aphids threatening the oats. Sierra Biological offers an alternative to using pesticides and other chemical sprays that Palmer said can be costly and sometimes damage the plants as well as the targeted insects.

Decker said the deal with Beneficial Insectary consolidates a long-standing and successful collaboration between the two companies, and gives Sierra Biological access to more products and technological to grow the business in Ridgeway.

“It is a logical and mutually beneficial way to give our excellent collaboration with Beneficial Insectary a more structural and permanent character,” Decker said. “I will continue to lead Sierra Biological and will further operate as an independent distributor with a regional focus in the Northeast. My clients value our quality, reliability, and personal service. The logistical and administrative benefits of a closer relationship with Beneficial Insectary will mean I can dedicate more of my time to serving their needs.”

Cliff Noorlander, CEO of Beneficial Insectary, issued this statement: “I look forward to continuing my excellent working relationship with Casey within this new setting. It consolidates our long-standing relationship with Sierra Biological.

“We’ll be able to realize many operational synergies which will allow Casey to focus even more on serving his customers,” Noorlander said. “As part of the Biobest Group, I value the independence with which Beneficial Insectary can continue to operate and grow. I firmly intend to work in the same spirit with Sierra Biological.

“In addition to operational synergies, Sierra Biological brings certain in-house production and research programs. We look forward to the opportunity to further develop these relying on the resources and know-how of the group. Sierra’s technologies include nematodes and new technologies to control cannabis pests, which we will aim to leverage as part of our offering to this important market segment.”

Casey Decker and Tyler Palmer are shown inside a new facility on Swett Road with two floors of climate-controlled rooms. The space triples the size of Sierra Biological in Ridgeway.

Decker said he is thankful for his career working to control insects to help his customers grow more vibrant crops with bigger yields.

Sierra Biological can help farmers and greenhouse operators scout pests that are damaging plants and crops, and develop a strategy to reduce or eliminate those pests, and do it in a way that is natural without any pesticides.

“It’s mentally stimulating and not mind-numbing,” Decker said. “There is something every day that is different and each problem has 20 possible solutions.”

Decker said he was fortunate when not long after moving to Ridgeway he got a knock on the door from Tyler Palmer, who was then a recent graduate of Morrisville State College with an associate’s degree in diesel technology and a bachelor’s in renewable energy.

He had worked for a wind turbine company and then Western New York Energy in Medina.

Nematodes will be introduced into these wax worms, and then released by customers to target a predator, which could be grubs. Many customers use these nematodes on their lawns in Canada. Sierra Biological has insects that will destroy thrips, spider mites, aphids and fungus gnats, as well as other plant pests.

Palmer, a Lyndonville native, welcomed the chance to help grow Sierra Biological and help the customers grow their crops in a very earth-friendly approach.

He has been a manager at Sierra Biological for six years. He likes the science behind the job.

“We replicate nature in a lab,” he said. “We’re just bringing what Mother Nature did inside.”

Sierra is sought after by organic farms and greenhouses, as well as conventional operators. They’re approach – introducing pests that prey on insects damaging plants – has saved customers from costly pesticides and sprays, and resulted in more robust yields.

“We’re an alternative to pesticides,” Palmer said.

Farm operators with revenues above $1K urged to complete Ag Census by Feb. 6

Posted 31 January 2023 at 7:43 am

Press Release, National Agriculture Statistics Service

File photo by Tom Rivers: Apples are outside the Lake Ontario Fruit packing facility on Ridge Road in Gaines.

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reminds our nation’s farmers and ranchers that the deadline to respond to the 2022 Census of Agriculture is Feb. 6. Producers can respond online at or by mail.

Last month, NASS mailed the Census of Agriculture questionnaires to every known ag producer in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Conducted just once every five years, the ag census provides a complete account of the nation’s farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Responding to the Census of Agriculture is required by federal law under Title 7 USC 2204(g) Public Law 105-113.

The same law requires NASS to keep all individual operations’ information confidential, use the data for statistical purposes only, and publish the data in aggregate form to prevent disclosing the identity of any individual producer or farm operation.

“By participating in the 2022 Census of Agriculture, producers show the value and importance of American agriculture,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “This nation owes a lot to our farmers and ranchers for providing safe and abundant food, feed, fiber, and more. To tell this story, we need to hear from all of our farmers and ranchers, no matter how big or small their part of agriculture. If you have already responded, thank you. If not, I encourage you to respond today.”

The Census of Agriculture remains the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every state, county, and U.S. territory. U.S. farm operations of all sizes, urban and rural, which produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products in 2022, are included as well as Puerto Rico farm operations which produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $500 or more of agricultural products in the ag census year.

“It is important that every producer respond to the 2022 Census of Agriculture so that they are represented and reflected in these influential data,” said Hamer. “These statistics will directly impact producers for years. Without their input, our hardworking ag producers risk being underserved.”

Producers who have submitted their completed ag censuses may disregard any additional ag census letters and forms. Whether producers responded online or by mail, they can verify their reports were received by going to, entering their survey codes, and checking the submitted date under the status column of the My Surveys tab. The status update is not always immediate. The update can take a few minutes up to several days, especially if the questionnaire was returned by mail.

NASS will release the results of the ag census in 2024. Visit, for more information.

Editor’s Note: The 2017 agricultural census showed farm revenues in New York totaling $5,369,212,000 in 2017. That was down slightly from the $5,415,125,000 in 2012.

In Orleans County, farm products sold for $155.3 million in 2017. That was up 3.3 percent over 5 years from the $150.3 million in 2012 for sales of fruit, vegetables, milk, livestock and other farm products. The 2012 figure was a 48.8 percent jump from the $101.0 million recorded in 2007, according to the Agricultural Census.

Agriculture is Orleans County’s leading industry. The 2017 Ag Census counted 498 farms in the county, which was up from the 487 in 2012. (It was 554 in 2007.)

Heartland Organics founder enjoying new career growing mushrooms

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 30 January 2023 at 9:04 am

Elaine Barnett touts mushrooms for nutrient, medicinal powers

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Elaine Barnett, founder of Heartland Organics at Johnson Creek, holds a bag of yellow mushrooms in the colonizing room where she grows a variety of mushrooms. On the left are black pearl mushrooms, with blue oyster mushrooms below. Her business is a favorite at Medina’s Canal Village Market, where she sells her wares every Saturday.

GASPORT – Elaine Barnett, 63, has always been a proponent of healthy living, leading her to a career as a holistic vet technician.

After inheriting her parents William and Helen Fink’s property at 8999 Ridge Rd. in Johnson Creek, she knew just what she wanted to do with it.

Elaine Barnett holds an agar plate where mushroom spores are placed to start growth before being placed in a jar of sterilized oats to continue the process.

The property in Niagara County had greenhouses, and although the buildings needed repair, she decided at the age of 58 to embark on a new career – growing mushrooms.

Barnett had married and raised six children, but after she and her husband separated, she went to work for a vet technician in Colden, where she still works several days a week.

“By growing mushrooms I saw the potential to re-build this property where I grew up,” she said.

She enrolled in Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Small Farm program online and learned how to grow mushrooms. She incorporated as a 501c3 because, as she put it, there aren’t enough places available for youth to come and learn.

Families, school children and Master Gardeners are all encouraged to come to Heartland Organics for a tour and learn how mushrooms grow.

It starts with a bag of oats, which are put in a quart jar and water added. A clone is taken from a mushroom and placed on an agar plate. When it starts to grow, it is transferred to the jar of sterilized grain, where it roots, or mycelium form. That, then, is transferred to five-pound bags of oats where colonization begins. The bags are placed in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room, where in two to three months, mushrooms are ready to harvest.

Barnett grows a variety of mushrooms, including Lion’s mane, black pearl, blue oyster, yellow oyster, maitake (known as Hen in the Woods because they grow wild under oak trees), shiitake and chestnut.

Chestnut mushrooms are sold to Harvest Restaurant at Bent’s Opera House in Medina, where chef Lionel Heydel uses them in his menus.

Besides being delicious to eat, mushrooms have wonderful medicinal value, Barnett said. She said they lower cholesterol and can raise or lower blood pressure.

Elaine Barnett looks over mushrooms growing in the colonizing room at Heartland Organics, 8999 Ridge Rd. in Johnson Creek. The room is temperature controlled and humidified.

She said Lion’s mane is known to repair and renew the neurons in the brain and there is some success in giving it to Parkinson’s patients and Alzheimer’s patients.

Barnett makes and sells a powder made from ground Lion’s mane, which can be added to coffee or any food. She sells one-pound bags of coffee with the Lion’s mane in it, and it cannot be detected.

When bags of mushrooms are fully colonized, they are cut from the bag and the mycelium becomes mulch in her organic garden.

Barnett has a small store on her property, where she sells locally made honey, soaps, beeswax mats, jewelry, coffee and, of course, mushrooms. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

She also sells her products every Saturday at the Canal Village Farmer’s Market in Medina and the Lockport market every other week.

Excess mushrooms are dehydrated and made into jerky or powder to use in coffee or recipes.

A mushroom breathes, just like a human, taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide, Barnett said. That is why the colonizing room where they grow has to be ventilated to keep the air clean.

Heartland Organics welcomes volunteers to do hands-on work. They can be reached at

(Left) A black pearl mushroom is ready to be harvested Heartland Organics in Johnson Creek.  (Right) A maitake mushroom, also known as “Hen of the Woods,” has amazing health benefits, according to Elaine Barnett, who owns Heartland Organics in Johnson Creek.

NY Farm Bureau lists legislative priorities for 2023, with ‘skyrocketing labor costs’ among top concerns

Posted 25 January 2023 at 8:11 am

Organization backs Nourish New York which brings produce to food pantries, community distributions

File photo by Tom Rivers: Volunteers get food ready for a large distribution in Albion on Sept. 11, 2020. Each of about 300 vehicles received boxes of food from the Nourish New York program which has been going for about three years now since soon after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. On this distribution, people received Most of the people received grapes, strawberries, peppers, Brussels sprouts, apples, blackberries, raspberries, radishes and oranges.

Press Release, New York Farm Bureau

ALBANY – New York Farm Bureau released its 2023 state legislative priorities on Tuesday that addressed the needs and challenges of the state’s diverse agricultural community. NYFB President David Fisher and Public Policy Director Jeff Williams highlighted the major issues based on member approved public policy positions.

Farm Labor Needs

The first priority is asking New York State lawmakers to replenish the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. This has been a big issue for NYFB members who have been saddled with assessment charges on their quarterly contributions to the unemployment insurance fund.

New York State borrowed billions from the federal government during the pandemic to cover increased UI costs. New York has been the only state that has not begun to make payments on the debt or interest, instead its passing those costs on to employers.

“This is inexcusable. New York must pay its own debts. There seems to be great interest in the legislature to make this happen, and we will continue to make this a priority,” said President Fisher.

NYFB is also concerned about efforts to raise the minimum wage once again. It just climbed a dollar an hour at the end of the year in upstate New York and will likely hit $15 by the end of this year to match what it is in New York City and on Long Island.

The farm overtime threshold will begin to drop as well next year, further increasing skyrocketing labor costs. New York State cannot keep making it more expensive to do business in this state, especially when other states are far behind New York’s wage rates. Like all consumers, farms are facing high inflationary costs.  Inputs are up across the board for energy, transportation, labor, fertilizer, and supplies.

“Let’s press pause on these annual income hikes and let things settle for the business community. Now is not the time to make it worse,” said Fisher.

State Budget

Another NYFB state priority is securing proper funding in the New York State budget. The governor’s spending plan will be released soon, and NYFB is looking to maintain funding for important animal health, promotion, and research programs along with full funding for the Environmental Protection Fund. The EPF is responsible for helping farms implement best management practices that include soil health and nutrient management programs that protect our land and waterways. This also includes efforts to help our farms meet the state’s climate goals.

NYFB is also hopeful the governor’s proposal for a refundable investment tax credit is included in the final budget. This will incentivize investment, especially coming off of challenging years of low commodity prices and then the pandemic.

“The state budget is an investment into our state’s farms and local food production.  We all benefit when we have a strong farming community,” said Fisher.

Support for Increased Markets for New York Grown Products

NYFB would like to continue funding for the Nourish New York program. It has proven to benefit both farms and people in need. It redirects fresh, locally grown food into regional food banks and emergency food pantries while also helping farms offset the costs to produce, harvest, package, and transport the healthy food.

“Nourish NY served as a lifeline during the pandemic, and we must maintain the program that ensures all new Yorkers have access to New York produced food,” said Jeff Williams.

NYFB is also supportive of the governor’s effort to increase state procurement to 30% for New York farm products. It makes sense for New York to support its own farms when purchasing food for its state agencies and institutions. But we also want to make sure that the regulations are not exclusionary or enforce value-based purchasing requirements that are not currently required by state or federal laws.

Extended Producer Responsibility Legislation

NYFB is concerned about the Extended Producer Responsibility legislation. This bill looks to pass the cost and responsibility of recycling packaging away from the consumer and to the source of the product, in this case, farms and food processors who need things like milk containers, wine bottles and food packaging to sell what they produce. This puts an extraordinary financial burden on to the state’s farms and businesses. This would eventually increase the cost of doing business and further drive-up consumer prices.

Direct Sales for Farm Beverages

NYFB is prioritizing legislation allowing for direct-to-consumer shipping for all New York produced farm beverages, including beer, cider, and distillates. Providing direct-to-consumer sales for craft spirts, hard cider and beer would be a new market opportunity for the industry and put craft beverage makers on parity with the state’s wineries that already have the ability to ship to consumers.

“It is imperative that we all work together to expand opportunities and capitalize on what we do well in New York,” Williams said. “We have one of the most diverse agricultural sectors in the country. It is worth it to each of us to maintain that strong connection to food and farm production. This benefits our food system, local economies, and overall quality of life in the state.”

Other priorities include:

  • Support the development of solar energy that balances private property rights and the current and future land needs of agriculture in the state. Whenever possible, prime soils and actively farmed lands should be avoided in favor of previously disturbed or fallow lands and rooftop development for distributed generation.
  • Support critical funding for current agricultural animal health (such as the Avian Disease Program), promotion, research, and environmental programs in the final FY 22/23 state budget.
  • Solar development and the aggregate value of solar lease payments should be utilized as potential development value when property is appraised for PDR values or similar farmland preservation programs.
  • Oppose any alteration to Soil and Water Conservation District laws that would change the make-up, mission and function of the State and County Soil and Water Conservation Districts without the statutorily-required inclusion and input from County Boards of Supervisors, or county legislatures, New York Farm Bureau, the New York State Grange, NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, and the four-way partnership (NRCS, NYACD, the State Committee, and the Employees Association) of the Soil and Water District system.
  • Oppose legislation that prohibits the use of agricultural chemical protectants and support strong DEC’s regulatory authority over pesticide registration in accordance with sound science.
  • Oppose Extended Producer Responsibility legislation that doesn’t require consumer responsibility for packaging they receive and doesn’t unduly burden New York’s food and wine manufacturing businesses.
  • Target federal and state infrastructure funding for rural roads, bridges and broadband.

Niagara County Farm Bureau honors 3 state legislators as ‘friends’

Posted 26 December 2022 at 3:27 pm

Press Release, Niagara County Farm Bureau

Provided photo: Assemblyman Angelo Morinello (left), R-Niagara Falls, accepts his award from Niagara County Farm Bureau President Kevin Bittner

Niagara County Farm Bureau is recognizing three state legislators with its Circle of Friends award. Formally given by New York Farm Bureau, it recognizes state elected officials who support the legislation it promotes.

Niagara County Farm Bureau President Kevin Bittner explained it this way. “At our recent board meeting we looked at a number of factors. The voting record was important. However, we also took into consideration other efforts our elected officials made. Our concern with the various newly imposed labor regulations was part of the discussion. In addition, we wanted to acknowledge the willingness of our local representatives to meet with us and discuss these issues. They were always just a phone call away.”

Bittner then presented a certificate to Assemblyman Angelo Morinello. Senator Rob Ortt and Assemblyman Mike Norris could not attend. They will receive their certificates at lobbying days in Albany.

“This has been a stressful year for the agricultural industry,” said Morinello when he accepted the award. “I appreciate your taking the time to teach me about it. There are so many challenges. People from other areas of the state who have no concept of what farming is. The Farm Labor Bill that was meant to appease some people, but then offer farmers a tax credit to lessen the impact. Farm preservation is important. I am concerned about the number of solar farms taking land away from agriculture. I don’t want to rely on foreign countries for food.  I have deep routed support for your industry. I know what it takes to get up before dawn and face the many issues whether planting, harvesting or caring for your farm. I will stand by you and continue to fight to overcome these challenges.”

Membership in Farm Bureau is open to all who are involved in agriculture. Whether you are active in production agriculture, support it through a business that provides resources or sells the products from the farms or consume the products, you are eligible to join.

Check for more information about Farm Bureau and its member benefits.

Governor announces working group to strengthen NY agriculture

Posted 21 December 2022 at 9:25 am

WNY farmers among leaders looking to boost food production in the state

Press Release, Gov. Kathy Hochul

File photo by Tom Rivers – Honeycrisp apples are pictured in October 2016 at the Roberts Circle R fruit stand and farm market on Route 18 in Carlton. NY Farm Bureau says apples face retaliatory tariffs in trade disputes.

Governor Hochul announced that a special working group of state agencies and agricultural community stakeholders will collaborate to support New York farmers and help boost the agricultural industry.

This summer, Governor Hochul and Lieutenant Governor Delgado held a series of roundtable discussions with a diverse group of farmers and industry stakeholders on Long Island, in the North Country, the Hudson Valley, and in the Finger Lakes to hear their concerns about the agricultural industry in the state.

This Strategic Interagency Task Force Lessening Obstacles to Agriculture Working Group, as directed by the Governor in response to the concerns of farmers and industry stakeholders, will be chaired and convened by Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball.

“We are working hand in hand with the agricultural community to support the needs of both workers and employers and ensure the prosperity of farming in New York State,” Governor Hochul said. “This working group will be critical to tackling several challenges within New York’s agricultural industry, and my administration will continue to work with farmers to address their needs and reimagine farming in our state.”

The group will work alongside representatives from commodity sectors of agriculture to identify challenges and to ensure agencies that interface with the state’s farmers communicate clearly, interact efficiently, and reduce burdensome requirements by focusing on future development.

Feedback received from the sessions, which includes but is not limited to, getting more dairy into our schools, challenges with transportation and finding certified drivers, and the need to have access to new markets around the State’s climate change efforts, will be reflected in the group’s final recommendations. The emphasis will be on administrative actions that can be taken by the Governor and state agencies to provide an immediate and timely response to important issues around supporting and expanding food production in New York.

Based on the conversations, and feedback received through the four roundtable sessions, the Task Force will initially focus on, but not be limited to, the following topics:

  • Transportation – address challenges involving the movement of agricultural commodities and products while understanding the needs for investment in roads, bridges and other vital infrastructure to bring products to market.
  • Labor – identify and build the next generation of farmers and farmworkers to support a diverse industry with the skills and workers required to operate modern farms.
  • The environment – address and remove obstacles to capital investments in manure management, on-farm energy production, and the transition to alternative fuel sources that limit the ability of some farms to meet the State’s climate goals and become carbon neutral.
  • Housing for workers – increase worker housing to provide workers with a safe living environment that is close to farms and assures for sustained and daily production.
  • Taxation – provide clearer guidance on property tax administration and improve access to existing tax relief programs.
  • Farmland protection – review existing programs and identify ways that the State can ensure that productive farmland remains accessible, in production, and continues to feed New Yorkers.
  • Expand procurement – of local food products by various state agencies to build local food supply chains and better connect with New York farms.

A final report will be provided to the Governor’s Office and will identify actions, as recommended by the working group, that state agencies can take to help streamline business for New York’s farmers.

Members of the working group include representatives from a number of state agencies, including the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; Department of Labor; Department of Transportation; Department of Environmental Conservation; Department of Health, Department of Public Service, Department of Taxation and Finance; New York State Energy Research and Development Authority; Empire State Development; and the State Liquor Authority, as well as the following members of the agricultural industry:

  • Jim Bittner, Owner of Bittner Singer Orchards in Appleton and Interim Director New York Horticulture Society
  • Kama Doucoure, Owner, Big Dreams Farm
  • David Fisher, Owner, Mapleview Dairy and President New York Farm Bureau
  • Jeffrey M. Fetter, President, Scolaro Fetter Grizanti & McGough, P.C.
  • Susan Jaffe, Owner, Snowdance Farm
  • Maureen Torrey Marshall, Co-Owner, Torrey Farms based in Elba
  • Sarah Dressel Nikles, Owner, Dressel Farms
  • Brian Reeves, Partner at Reeves Farms, and President New York Vegetable Association
  • Tonya Van Slyke, Executive Director, Northeast Dairy Producers Association
  • Oscar Vizcarra, Partner, Becker Farms based in Gasport
  • Kim Wagner, Owner, Stoutridge Vineyard
  • Jeff Williams, Director of Public Policy, New York Farm Bureau

New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “We have made a lot of progress over the years when it comes to supporting our farmers, but we have a lot more work ahead of us, especially when it comes to workforce development, agricultural education, and ensuring a strong, vibrant industry for the future. We have an opportunity today to work together with our fellow state agencies and our partners in agriculture to tackle some of the challenging issues before us and find tangible solutions, ensuring New York State continues to lead the nation in agricultural production.”

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said, “New York farmers face a number of regulatory, labor, and market challenges that limit the ability to grow our businesses in this state, many of which we spoke about with Governor Hochul when she visited my family’s dairy farm this summer. I look forward to continuing that conversation with the SILO Task Force. It is an opportunity to identify common sense approaches to break down barriers and support our state’s food system.”

Brian Reeves, President of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, said, “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the agricultural sector and at the Department of Agriculture and Markets to find ways to reduce the regulatory burden on New York farms and improve the efficiency of how our state government interacts with those of us in agriculture. A strong farming industry in New York will help ensure that all of our citizens will have access to nutritious, fresh, locally produced food at all times and under all circumstances. In light of the recent pandemic, this is as important as ever.”

Tonya Van Slyke, Northeast Dairy Producers Association Executive Director, said, “As the organization that serves as the voice of dairy farms in New York, the Northeast Dairy Producers Association values the reconvening of the SILO Task Force as an important step toward removing barriers for farmers, processors, and haulers and to facilitate opportunities that strengthen New York’s ag economy. Farmers participated in roundtables and listening sessions to share their concerns directly with state leadership, and we’re appreciative that their feedback is being heard. Labor and environmental stewardship are top priority areas for our family farms. It is critical that we work collaboratively to address the challenges that farmers are facing to maintain a viable agriculture industry for generations to come. New York’s food supply depends on it.”

Jim Bittner, owner of Bittner Singer Orchards and Interim Director of the New York State Horticulture Society, said, “The SILO committee offers those of us in production agriculture a unique opportunity to interact with many departments throughout state government. As a result, we can work together so that the rules and regulations that need to be in place to protect all citizens in New York also take into account the realities and challenges of agriculture. I look forward to dialog that will enable agriculture to continue its role as an economic engine in New York.”

Agriculture is a critically important sector of New York’s economy. The state is home to over 33,000 farms producing some of the world’s best food and beverages. Approximately 20 percent of New York State’s land area, or close to 7 million acres, is farmland. New York is first in the country in the production of major dairy products, such as yogurt and cream cheese, second in the country in the production of apples and maple, and third in grapes and cabbage.

FFA in Albion, local farms deliver nearly 50,000 pounds of produce to Community Action

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 December 2022 at 12:30 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Max Bentley, a member of the Albion FFA, moves boxes of ham that were donated by the Orleans County Farm Bureau for the Albion FFA’s annual food drive.

The FFA delivered 47,236 pounds of food this morning to Community Action of Orleans and Genesee.

Community Action will share that produce with 10 local food pantries, as well as at least 200 families served by the agency for the annual holiday food boxes.

FFA members Bryce Wilson, right; FFA President Sam Basinait, second from right; Daisy Reyes, and FFA alumnus Barry Flansburg help unload the food this morning.

Basinait, a senior, has been part of the food drives since she was in sixth grade. The local chapter looks forward to working with the farm community each year to bring healthy food to people in need.

Basinait said many families feel the financial pinch during the holidays and the food will take some pressure off of them.

Scott Oldenburg, Albion FFA advisor, said the chapter has a dedicated team of leadership that made calls to local farms and organized the food drive. Two of the members, Thomas Bentley and Bryce Wilson, picked up many of the boxes from local farms.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, right, has been a reliable volunteer for many of the food drives. The FFA started the food drive in 2010 and there were 3,000 pounds the first year. In recent years, the total has consistently topped 40,000 pounds.

David Bertsch, parent of FFA member Natalie Bertsch, helps in lugging some of the heavy boxes of eggs donated by Kreher Farms. FFA members Daisy Reyes, center, and Adele Mathes.

William Plummer, front, works with Oliver Beach to unload a pallet of canned vegetables.

FFA members and Community Action staff and volunteers pose for a quick photo before unloading a truck and trailers of food.

The donations from local farms include:

  • Torrey Farms, 500 pounds of onions and potatoes
  • Intergrow Greenhouses, 1,600 pounds of tomatoes
  • My-T Acres, 3,500 pounds of cabbage and potatoes
  • Kludt Brothers Farm, 5,000 pounds of butternut squash
  • Orleans Poverty Hill Farm, 36 pounds of cheese
  • Starowitz Farms, 7,300 pounds of onions, potatoes, cabbage and squash
  • Orchard Dale Fruit Company, 5,000 pounds of apples
  • Kast Farms, 2,000 pounds of apples
  • Orleans County Farm Bureau/Save-A-Lot, 1,000 pounds of ham
  • Triple G Farms, 4,000 pounds of onions and potatoes
  • Nesbitt Farms, 4,000 pounds of apples
  • Lynn-Ette & Sons, 500 pounds of cabbage
  • Root Brothers, 4,000 pounds of cabbage
  • Panek Farms, 3,400 pounds of squash
  • Martin Farms, 3,000 pounds of squash
  • Kreher’s, 1,350 pounds of eggs
  • Stymus Farms, 50 pounds of potatoes
  • Lake Ontario Fruit also donated boxes and plastic to wrap the boxes

Jim Bittner presented with NY Farm Bureau’s ‘Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award’

Posted 9 December 2022 at 8:03 am

Provided photo: David Fisher (left), NY Farm Bureau President, presents Jim Bittner with the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award.

Press Release

BUFFALO – At New York Farm Bureau’s annual convention in Buffalo, Appleton fruit farmer Jim Bittner Received their highest honor, the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award.

NY Farm Bureau President David Fisher spoke about Bittner’s numerous ways he’s been involved in Farm Bureau and other organizations. In addition to working on the resolutions committee and participating in the annual grassroots policy making discussions, he has served on the labor committee and fruit committees on both the state and national levels.

In addition, he served as Niagara County President twice, the second time for 12 years. Bittner has aided Farm Bureau efforts with lobbying both in Albany and Washington DC, participated in numerous media interviews and helped with Grow NY.

However, Bittner’s involvement isn’t limited to Farm Bureau. He served on the New York Farm Viability Board, New York Apple Association, and the New York Horticulture Society Board.  Currently, he is the director for the New York Horticulture Society, and serves on the Cornell University Ag and Life Sciences Dean’s Advisory Committee, Niagara County Soil and Water Board and is treasurer of the Barker Lions Club.

Local farmer Pete Russell praised Bittner for his thoughtful leadership, big picture thinking, and cooperative nature.

“His office door is always open for a discussion, is willing to loan equipment, and sometimes even his sons to run the equipment,” Russell said.

Niagara County Farm Bureau President Kevin Bittner talked about how much he’s learned from his father.

“He encourages us to grow, to be involved with the community, to use all our skills to improve our farm and help those around us,” Kevin said. “Those values he instilled in us are inspiring.”

While thanking the group for this honor, Bittner credited his parents for their encouragement, his wife for her support and all those who work to improve agriculture.

Ag & Markets looks to boost county fairs statewide

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds draws about 25,000 to 30,000 people for its six-day run in late July each year. The food vendors and amusement rides are a popular part of the fair.

Posted 30 November 2022 at 3:18 pm

Press Release, NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets

ALBANY – New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball announced that the state will convene a series of roundtable discussions with county fair representatives from across New York to further strengthen these community events.

Stakeholders will meet twice annually, in the spring and fall, with the initial dates to be chosen at the annual meeting of the New York State Association of Agricultural Fairs (NYSAAF) in January 2023.

Representatives from NYSAAF and additional stakeholders will be invited to participate in the discussions, which will generate ideas to further the fairs’ growth. This announcement comes as a part of Governor Hochul’s commitment to evaluating ways to increase the marketing and promotion of county fairs, as well as opportunities to improve youth and agricultural programming initiatives at all fairs statewide.

“County fairs are the foundation of agricultural education and tradition for families across New York State,” said Commissioner Ball. “The more we can work together to grow these important cultural and educational touchstones, the better off our state will be. These roundtable discussions will be a great opportunity to continue coordinating and strengthening our fairs’ agricultural initiatives statewide.”

Participants will be the NYSAAF’s Board of Directors, which includes managers from county fairs across New York State of all sizes, as well as vendor representatives and members of agricultural groups that have experience and insight into the operation of exhibits at fairs.

Topics for the first roundtable discussion will include:

  • how to enhance fair marketing and promotion through existing programs such as Taste NY and I Love NY, as well as the creation of new programs to increase awareness of fairs statewide;
  • plans for enhancing agricultural competitions at fairs, including ways to encourage county fair winners to participate at the Great New York State Fair; and
  • other initiatives, including capital planning, emergency management, and commissioning an updated economic impact study.

“The NYSAAF Board looks forward to participating in a series of round table discussions,” said NYSAAF President Ed Rossley. “We will continue to promote agriculture at the county and state levels. Open communication is necessary to expand the county fair’s promotion, infrastructure, and financial stability. All these areas are necessary to provide a venue for youth and agricultural programming initiatives in New York State.”

In 2021, Governor Hochul directed a review to assess support, growth, and revitalization opportunities for all fairs in New York. As part of this initiative, the State created a new position, Agricultural Fair Development Director, which was a significant step forward in streamlining the State’s work with county fairs and facilitating increased opportunities for funding and growth.

In addition to the Great New York State Fair, New York is home to more than 50 county and youth fairs that operate from July through the middle of September, with the Long Island Fair closing out the season.

Local fairs provide visitors with family-friendly fun, great music, and delicious food. They also offer a unique opportunity to learn about local agriculture, including where our food comes from, and how it is grown, harvested, and marketed to the public. According to a 2013 economic impact study, the State’s fairs generate $6 million in economic activity and over 4,000 jobs in New York each year.

Kaitlin Bennett, left, gets ready for the dairy show on July 27, 2022 with other 4-Hers. Zack Welker, one of the dairy leaders at the fair, helps to get everyone organized.

Farm Bureau: Thanksgiving dinner prices up 26%, nearly $14 from a year ago

Posted 20 November 2022 at 6:12 pm

Press Release, New York Farm Bureau

File photo by Tom Rivers: Two turkeys roams along West Bacon Road in Gaines.

New York Farm Bureau’s 2022 Market Basket Survey shows the price of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner saw a double-digit price jump from last year’s meal.

The average total price, which includes a 16-pound turkey and other common items found on a holiday dinner table, is $66.39, about a 26% increase over last year’s price of $52.59.

Our volunteer shoppers found turkey prices to be about $1.89 per pound in New York State, which is 43 cents per pound over last year’s average price in this informal survey. This price is slightly above the national average of $1.81/lb. As we move closer to Thanksgiving, turkey prices may drop in the stores, reflecting sales in the final days before the holiday.

The New York numbers revealed price increases over last year in nearly every category, except for fresh cranberries which saw a 30-cent decrease. The most notable increases were for stuffing mix, brown-and-serve rolls, and frozen pie crusts.

This year’s survey also includes a similar increase for an expanded menu that includes a four-pound ham, five-pound bag of russet potatoes and a package of frozen green beans. When those prices are included, the total meal price jumps to $82.16 or a 22% increase over last year’s number. New York shoppers found bargains on hams compared to the national numbers, with a four-pound ham costing $10.08 or $1.56 less than the national average.

There are several reasons for the increased costs of this year’s meal. They reflect the continued supply and demand issues, higher commodity prices because of the war in Ukraine, as well as the increased costs for packaging and transportation. Despite those increases, most of those higher costs do not trickle down to the farmer who receives only about eight cents of each dollar consumers spend on food at the store. The rest goes to pay for things like marketing, processing, and transportation of the food.

This dinner price represents the greatest increase since the survey began more than three decades ago and will undoubtedly make it more difficult for some families to afford a big holiday dinner. But it is important to put the cost into context: at just under $6.64 per person for a family of 10, New Yorkers still enjoy one of the most affordable food supplies in the world.

This survey is one of the responsibilities of the NYFB State Promotion and Education Committee and is part of the national effort with the American Farm Bureau Federation. AFBF’s 37th annual informal national price survey found the average national cost of this year’s feast is $64.05, or $2.34 cents less than New York’s number. That is in part attributed to the competitive nature of grocery store markets and perhaps better promotional pricing in other regions of the country. More information on the national survey can be found at

“New Yorkers continue to face challenges at the grocery store, but the supply of food remains strong in this country thanks to our farmers and farmworkers who continue to produce amidst their own price and labor challenges. The best plan of attack for shoppers is to do comparison shopping to find the best deals near you. We expect more people to purchase store brand and frozen food items compared to years past because of the ongoing inflation,” said Darleen Krisher-Meehan, chair of New York Farm Bureau’s Promotion and Education Committee.

New York Farm Bureau’s volunteer shoppers sampled prices at more than a dozen different supermarkets throughout the state between October 18 – 30, trying to get the best prices available, but they did not use promotional coupons or special deals such as “buy one-get one free.”  They were also encouraged to use online shopping. The shopping list includes 15 common Thanksgiving food items ranging from turkey and rolls to stuffing and celery to pumpkin pie mix, enough to feed 10 people around the dinner table. An average for miscellaneous ingredients, like flour and butter, is also included.

The numbers below reflect the overall average of the volunteer shoppers and is not meant to be a true scientific survey, but rather a snapshot of what shoppers may find leading up to the holiday.

Census of Agriculture, done every 5 years, will soon be mailed to farmers

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 November 2022 at 9:29 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: These bales of straw shown in mid-July are in a field by East Shelby Road in Shelby near the Millville Cemetery.

The 2022 Census of Agriculture will soon be sent to millions of producers across the 50 states and Puerto Rico. The census is done every five years to provide comprehensive and impartial agriculture data for every state, county and territory.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, says the census will be mailed in phases, starting with an invitation to respond online in November followed by paper questionnaires in December.

Farm operations of all sizes, urban and rural, which produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural product in 2022 are included in the census.

The census has been collected since 1840 and conducted every five years. The census highlights land use and ownership, producer characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures, among other topics.

Revisions to the questionnaire document changes and emerging trends in the industry. Changes to the 2022 questionnaire include new questions about the use of precision agriculture, hemp production, hair sheep, and updates to internet access questions. The census data is expected to be released in the spring/summer 2024.

To learn more about the Census of Agriculture, visit or call 800-727-9540.

The 2017 agricultural census showed farm revenues in New York totalling $5,369,212,000 in 2017. That was down slightly from the $5,415,125,000 in 2012.

In Orleans County, farm products sold for $155.3 million in 2017. That was up 3.3 percent over 5 years from the $150.3 million in 2012 for sales of fruit, vegetables, milk, livestock and other farm products. The 2012 figure was a 48.8 percent jump from the $101.0 million recorded in 2007, according to the Agricultural Census.

Agriculture is Orleans County’s leading industry. The 2017 Ag Census counts 498 farms in the county. The number of farms in the county is up from the 487 in 2012. (It was 554 in 2007.)

The top 15 counties in NYS for farm revenue in the 2017 census include:

1) Wyoming, $307.5 million

2) Cayuga: $287.9 million

3) Genesee: $234.9 million

4) Suffolk, $225.6 million

5) Wayne, $221.3 million

6) Ontario, $205.2 million

7) Steuben, $196.0 million

8) St Lawrence, 191.1 million

9) Livingston: $183.7 million

10) Onondaga, $178.4 million

11) Clinton, $167.8 million

12) Jefferson, $165.1 million

13) Chautauqua: $161.0 million

14) Orleans $155.3 million

15) Lewis, $153.1 million

Source: U.S. Ag Census

Niagara County Farm Bureau elects Kevin Bittner as new president

Posted 30 October 2022 at 9:38 am

Press Release, Niagara County Farm Bureau

Provided photo: Niagara County Farm Bureau President Kevin Bittner, left, is congratulated by NY Farm Bureau District 2 Director Pat McCormick.

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Farm Bureau held its annual meeting at the Farm and Home Center. It focused on the grassroots foundation of the organization.

In reviewing the past year,  President Jeannette Miller recapped the year chronologically.  She talked about the lobbying efforts, the Corn booth at County Fair, Ag Literacy month and other efforts to influence the political issues during the year.

Pat McCormick, District 2 State Board Director, spoke about the state efforts. Although the Wage Board recommendations did not go the way the members hoped (with the overtime threshold to be lowered in agriculture), he encouraged those present to keep up the efforts to explain the issue to Governor Hochul.

He focused on the success of the Taste NY event in Queens. Many political and business leaders attended this educational event. There is another event planned and he encouraged county leaders to participate in the next event. In addition, there are new programs to encourage membership in the state organization.

The evening concluded with officer elections. Those elected are President Kevin Bittner, Vice President Mark Russell, and board members Kassidy Voelpel, Jeannette Miller, Kelly Raby, Trevor Ganshaw and Max Russell.

Bittner is the orchard specialist for Bittner-Singer Orchards in Appleton. His father, Jim Bittner, is a past president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau.

When asked about his plans for the coming year, Bittner stated, “My goal is that Farm Bureau will represent all farms, large and small. Anyone who wishes to become a member please contact any current member for an application. Any member who wishes to get involved in our policy development or events please contact me or any board member.”

For more information about Niagara County Farm Bureau, its projects and events, email or call 716-735-7791.

Harvest season kicks into high gear

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 October 2022 at 6:26 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

A farmer works in a corn field on Peter Smith Road in Kendall near Route 18 late this afternoon. Farmers have been working at a frantic pace to bring in the crops. They have benefitted from a recent string of sunny days in the 70s, which continues on Tuesday.

These bales of corn stalks are shown this afternoon on Harrison Road in Shelby.

These bales cast a long shadow late this afternoon on Harrison Road.