Thirty-five members of Cornell’s academic and administrative leadership got an up-close look at the agriculture industry’s impact on the New York state economy – and the significant role played by Cornell – during a daylong tour across upstate dairy country.
Kathryn J. Boor '80, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), hosted the Aug. 31 tour, which originated to welcome Lynn Wooten, the David J. Nolan Dean of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, who joined Cornell in July. The guest list grew as leaders from across the university wanted to meet agriculture leaders and tour businesses with close ties to CALS and Dyson School faculty, research and outreach programs.
The tour focused on dairy – the largest segment of New York’s agriculture industry – and Cornell’s intersections with it, which span multiple colleges and programs including animal health and science, nutrition, food safety, dairy marketing, economics and farmworker rights. Tour stops showcased innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability and attention to consumer market trends and the ways in which Cornell has impacted those operations.
“Agriculture is at the core of Cornell’s land-grant founding and mission,” Boor said. “There’s no better time for leaders across Cornell to see firsthand how today’s agribusinesses are contributing to the state’s economy with the help of Cornell and CALS.”
The first stop on the tour was Cayuga Milk Ingredients (CMI), a $101 million dairy processing plant in Auburn, New York, owned by 30 family-run farms – with 32 Cornell alumni among them. CEO Kevin Ellis ’96 said Cornell is an invaluable partner offering access to employee training programs, industry expertise and research.
At Noblehurst Farms in Livingston County, Cornell leadership toured the seven-generation, multifamily farm operation led by John A. Noble ’78. From a core dairy business that milks more than 1,800 cows, Noblehurst has grown to encompass eight business affiliates. Among them are an agricultural consulting and management company, a landscaping equipment dealership and an animal-feed buying group.
As the company has grown, Noblehurst has made significant investments in sustainability and renewable energy, like a $3.5 million digester that converts manure and food waste to energy that powers the farm. The company recently opened a creamery that is the first in the state dedicated to cold-milk separation, and in the fall will open a $58 million cheddar cheese plant.
Also this fall, the 42nd member of the Noble family entered the freshman class at Cornell.
The final stop was Wegmans cheese caves in Chili, New York, where artisan cheeses are ripened for peak flavor inside the 12,300-square-foot facility. Cathy Blodgett Gaffney ’89, vice president overseeing the specialty cheese operation, highlighted the longtime partnership between Wegmans and Cornell. It includes a training curriculum covering dairy microbiology and sanitation and advanced cheese-making techniques like molding, brining and curing.
During a dinner featuring regional farm-to-table dishes at Next Door by Wegmans, presentations from Bill Strassburg of Wegmans, Mike Kreher ’00 of Kreher Farm Fresh Eggs and Dan Rao of Assured Edge Solutions further highlighted Cornell’s far-reaching relationships across the food ecosystem – from complex agribusiness operations to innovative startups.
“Bringing together such a diverse group of Cornell leadership to see firsthand the power of partnering is a great example of collaboration that is needed to achieve our potential and to face pressing, new challenges in New York’s food industry,” said Brian Nicholson ’94, CEO of Red Jacket Orchards, who attended the dinner. “It will take our collective commitment, investments and ongoing partnerships to drive our industry forward.”
Julie Waters is senior writer and communications strategist for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.