Extension supporters hope to save Dairy and Field Crops, Veg and Fruit Teams


By Patsy Nicosia

Supporters of Cornell Cooperative Extension's Dairy and Field Crops and Vegetable and Small Fruit Teams met last Tuesday to brainstorm ways to save what they see as essential services.
In January, the Board of Directors for CCE of Schoharie and Otsego Counties eliminated nearly $58,000 in funding for the agricultural teams, which provide services as varied as newsletters and emails, on-farm visits, workshops and classes, and after Hurricane Irene, "boots on the ground."
That cut, however, came with a stipulation, said Bill Gibson of Cooperstown, president of the Board of Directors:
That the Ag Program Advisory Committee-headed by Linda Cross of Carlisle-to everything possible to keep the programs going.
Losing the teams, Ms. Cross, said, would be a "double whammy' for farmers, who'll feel the wrath of Irene for years to come.
"Farmers weren't treated badly enough by Irene?" said Ms. Cross. "Now they face losing essential educational and scientific services that are only becoming more important."
The proposed cuts come as the result of cuts to CCE's own funding-even as a plan to expand some of the services to 13 counties is being floated-an idea that would make the local share more costly, Ms. Cross said.
Kevin Ganoe, who leads the Central New York Dairy and Field Crops Team, told about 25 people at an emergency meeting Tuesday that they help bring millions of back to the local community by helping dairymen increase both profit and efficiency.
"What gets lost is the hundreds of thousands of dollars of value to the industry," he said.
After Hurricane Irene, Mr. Ganoe said, he and Dave Balbian, the team's dairy specialist, came out to assess the damage and help locate hay for farmers who lost theirs to the flood.
Tim Cantwell, a Richfield Springs dairy farmer, said he saw firsthand the value of the Dairy and Field Crops Team when his barn burned in 2000.
"The advice they gave us not only helped us successfully rebuild, it helped us become more profitable, more efficient, and more sustainable," Mr. Cantwell said.
"And when they give you advice, they're not selling anything."
Mr. Ganoe pointed out taxpayer funding of CCE services is an investment in things like open spaces, tourism, mitigating development, and quality of life.
Mark Stolzenburgh, a Wright farmer, agreed.
"The economic development aspect of this can't be overstated," he said. "It doesn't take a very big farm to bring in $1 million..."
Chuck Bornt, who heads up the Capital District Vegetable and Small Fruit Team, said vegetables alone are a $5.4 million local industry annually; fruits add another $.4 million.
"All for $13,700," the county's bill for the team.
Teams are responsible for writing grants or otherwise coming up with a portion of their budget, Mr. Bornt said, and in 2010 they went to paid enrollment with subscribers able to access a wide variety of services.
Mr. Bornt said they had an especially tough time after the flood when it became their job to let farmers know that under federal regulations they wouldn't be able to sell or in many cases, feed, flooded crops.
They also helped uninsured farmers put together crop assessments in case any money became available later on, and spent several days sampling flooded farms for possible contaminants.
Jacob Hooper, farm manager for Barber's Farm, said he's taken full advantage of the services the Vegetable and Small Fruit Team offers.
I'm on the phone with Chuck at least four times a month," he said. "I can't wait for their informatio0n to hit my email."
Mr. Hooper said four years ago the farm began experimenting with reduced tillage "and Chuck held my hand all the way."
He's also been helpful, Mr. Hooper said, with their foray into using high tunnels-essentially no-heat greenhouses.
"From the standpoint of a young farmer, this has been invaluable to me," Mr. Hooper added. "And what does it say to young people interested in farming if we don't fund this?"
Included on the list of possible funding options:
• Reallocating existing spending after assessing programs.
• Grants.
• Emergency funding from CCE.
• Asking the teams for a short-term cut in costs.
• Dipping into general reserves-money set aside for emergencies.
• Seeking contributions from local businesses.
• Fees to farmers.
"We need to look at these and other solutions," Ms. Cross said. "We can't afford to lose either of these programs."