New extension ag teams aid N.Y.'s North Country
By R.J. Anderson
Home to rich soil, a large dairy presence and determined crop producers, New York’s North Country – which has more square miles than the entire state of Vermont – faces unique agribusiness challenges. Helping farmers navigate those issues are a pair of new regional agriculture teams fueled by Cornell University research and resources.
Now at full strength following its 2015 launch, the Northern New York (NNY) Regional Agriculture Team joins Harvest New York’s northern chapter as Cornell Cooperative Extension’s (CCE) latest additions to its network of regional agriculture programs.
NNY’s eight specialists collaborate with county-based extension educators, Cornell faculty and members of other CCE regional teams to solve agribusiness issues in Lewis, Jefferson, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Essex and Clinton counties. Using resources from outreach programs such as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ PRO-DAIRY and CCE’s Harvest New York economic development program, the team provides group-based educational programming and one-on-one technical assistance and conducts on-site research projects in the region.
“The farmers I’ve talked to are excited about our program because they haven’t always had access to all of the resources we provide,” says Kim Morrill, one of the team’s two regional dairy specialists along with Lindsay Ferlito. “And while our region’s producers are hungry for new information, they aren’t always able to travel to meetings in Syracuse or Ithaca. Plus, specialists from downstate don’t come to northern New York very often.
“On top of that, not every CCE association in the North Country had a dedicated dairy, field crops or ag business specialist for their county,” Morrill adds. “With the makeup of our team, every farmer in our six-county area has access to current, up-to-date research results and technology as well as experts on the cutting edge of new techniques.”
Morrill says that for many producers in the region, one of the greatest needs is farm business management expertise – a role now filled by NNY’s Kelsey O’Shea ’12, who started May 1. “Prior to Kelsey joining us, many farmers did not have access to this resource unless they paid a consultant who worked for a bank or lending agency,” says Morrill. “For many of our small farmers this was not financially feasible. Plus, they preferred a nonbiased approach to farm business management. Kelsey gives them that.”
Leading the team is Kitty O’Neil ’85, a field crop and soil specialist in St. Lawrence County, who, along with Watertown-based field crop specialist Mike Hunter, can often be found on farms providing research-based field crop production recommendations and resources.
“We are here to help farmers implement changes that will enhance farm prosperity and resilience through sustainable growth,” says O’Neil. “At the same time, we show them ways they can minimize environmental impact and maintain long-term soil health.”
Rounding out the team are regional dairy and livestock specialists Betsy Hodge ’84 and Ron Kuck ’73. Providing administrative and communications support is Tatum Langworthy.
Collaborating – and often working side by side – with the NNY team are three members of Harvest New York. Launched in western New York in 2012, Harvest New York’s recent expansion into northern New York represents CCE’s commitment to workforce development as well as expanding and increasing the profitability of the region’s agribusinesses.
As a dairy processing specialist, Anika Zuber ’14 works with regulatory agencies, suppliers, workforce development agencies, manufacturers and the food science team at Cornell to develop and improve dairy manufacturing operations in the North Country. Meanwhile, livestock processing and marketing specialist MacKenzie Waro ’07 partners with processors, producers and consumers to develop marketing opportunities and foster communication among industry stakeholders. The third member, recently hired Lindsey Pashow, is the team’s agriculture business development and marketing specialist.
“The Harvest New York specialists bring a different angle to our work of promoting and sustaining agriculture in northern New York,” says O’Neil. “Anika, MacKenzie and Lindsey are focused more on post-harvest needs and concerns of ag businesses while the traditional focus of similar extension teams has been exclusively on the production side of agriculture.
“They are beginning to help address new regulations and sanitation training within dairy processing plants, identifying bottlenecks and the potential of northern New York meat processing systems and connecting local food-promotional efforts with broader ‘cuisine trail’ projects across the region,” O’Neil continues. “Each of these efforts will have an impact on success and viability of North Country producers and marketers of raw and processed foods. Blending Harvest New York expertise with our crops, dairy and business management experience gives CCE the ability to assist farmers in nearly every aspect of the food production system.”
R.J. Anderson is a staff writer/communications specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension.