March 2, 2014

Farm briefs: March 2, 2014


Strawberry growers have new hope against weevils

PAUL SMITHS — New York strawberry growers are hearing about a promising treatment for their fruit crop based on the success of a Cornell University entomologist with applying microscopic worms to beat back a highly-destructive alfalfa-crop pest. Dr. Elson Shields expects to confirm the success of field trials with native-New York nematodes to control two species of weevils in Northern New York strawberry crops this year.

“Like alfalfa snout beetle, strawberry root weevil and black vine weevil are difficult to control with conventional pesticides, but they are very susceptible to attack by the biocontrol nematodes,” said Shields, who received an Entomological Society of America Award for Excellence in Integrated Pest Management in 2013.

Strawberry growers interested in learning more about Shields’s research, funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, will have the opportunity to hear him speak on “‘Using Native Nematodes as Biocontrol of Root Weevils in Strawberries” as part of the 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Advances in Field Strawberry Production Workshops set for Tuesday at Paul Smiths and Wednesday at the Cambry Court Activity Center in Gouverneur.

Shields estimates weevil damage at $20,000 to $30,000 of economic loss at the regional berry farm hosting the nematode research trials. The Shields Lab at Cornell will complete a series of soil tests this spring to confirm the effectiveness of the nematodes for controlling the berry pests.

“Based on our years of experience with biocontrol nematodes, we expect to document an excellent level of control in the berry fields in May 2014. We also expect the nematodes to persist within the soil of the strawberry-production environment for a number of years to continue to minimize the root damage by the root weevils,” Shields said. 

The workshops focus on new ways of growing strawberries in field soil, detecting and mitigating soil-borne pests, and utilizing biological controls such as Shields’s nematode application treatment. Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Program Berry Specialist Laura McDermott will present information on June-bearing and day-neutral growing systems, strawberry root problems and spotted wing drosophila.

For more information and to register for the $5 strawberry-production workshops, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension Horticultural Specialist Amy Ivy at 561-7450,

Pre-season farmers market training offered

KEESEVILLE — Cornell Cooperative Extension will present pre-season farmers-market training to help North Country growers develop their salesmanship, labor management, social-media skills and compliance with food-safety regulations.

Sessions from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with Cornell Cooperative Extension educators will help growers create a compelling personal story to connect to consumers. To grow to the next level, many farmers need to learn how to comply with legal requirements for adding a farm labor force. To expand beyond family labor, this is critical.

How to reap sales from Facebook and the latest information on how to meet federal Food Safety Modernization Act regulations for the prevention of food contamination are also on the workshop agenda.

The training will take place as follows:

March 15 in Keeseville at the AuSable Valley Grange, register with Laurie Davis, 962-4810,;

April 5 in Canton at the St. Lawrence County Cornell Cooperative Extension Learning Farm, register with Betsy Hodge, 315-379-9192,, and;

April 12 in Malone at the 911 Emergency Services Building, register with Rick LeVitre, 483-7403,

The $20 cost to attend includes lunch. The Northern New York region of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties has more than 37 community-based farmers markets. Consumers can find farmers markets in those counties on the Adirondack Harvest website at In August 2012, the New York State Comptrollers Office reported that the number of farmers markets statewide has doubled since 2000.

Effort to boost apple exports becomes law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a push by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Bill Owens, apple exports from New York State to Canada are now moving at a swifter, more cost-effective pace because of a measure included in the Farm Bill. Last week, the first shipment of apples that were not subject to inspection crossed the border without incident.

Gillibrand and Owens worked to exempt bulk shipments of U.S. apples to Canada from inspection required under the Apple Export Act, saving apple growers up to $300 per truckload and allowing growers to create their own distribution schedules, eliminating costly after-hours inspection procedures.

“New York State is home to some of the world’s finest apples and hardest-working growers,” said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “But this costly inspection was hurting our growers and holding our economy back. Now our apples can reach markets faster, help New York’s apple growers cut costs and help our economy grow.” 

“Trade with Canada and agriculture are essential parts of New York’s economy,” Owens added. “Exempting bulk shipments of apples from inspection is now saving farmers money and streamlining the flow of goods and people at the border.”

New York Apple Association President Jim Allen said that after more than two years of hard work, they finally have succeeded with the elimination of the inspection requirements.

“So far this year, over 650 truckloads have already paid the price, but we anticipate another 800 this season will be exempt,” he said. “This is a huge cost savings for our growers.”

The Apple and Pear Export Act of 1933 requires that all exported apples are inspected. But pears have been excluded from the law since 1999. The elimination of apples from this antiquated law would enable apple farmers to have more control over their work schedules and eliminate expensive after-hours inspection procedures. 

With nearly 1.5 million bushels of apples exported to Canada annually, this could save U.S. apple growers more than $550,000 annually. New York is the second-highest producer of apples behind only Washington State. On average, New York produces 30 million bushels of apples each year. That equals 1.26 billion pounds and generates more than $330 million a year for the state’s economy.

USDA releases look at agriculture census

ALBANY — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has released the 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary results providing a first look at state and national data.

The 2012 census report included information on farm numbers, land in farms and farmer demographics. In New York, between 2007 and 2012, the amount of land in farms in New York increased by

less than one percent, from 7.17 million acres to 7.18 million. This small increase reverses a long-term trend of acreage declines.

Also, principal farm operators are becoming older. The average age of a principal farm operator was 57.1 years, up almost one year since 2007 and continuing a long-term trend of steady increase.

New York had 35,538 farms, down 2 percent in 2012. In terms of farm size by acres, all categories declined except the largest category.

In 2012, the value of agriculture products sold totaled $5.42 billion, up 23 percent from 2007. Crop sales were $2.25 billion and livestock sales totaled $3.17 billion.

“One of the most important takeaways to remember about the Census of Agriculture is that the information is used for decision making by producers as well as all those who serve farmers, ranchers and rural communities — federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses, trade associations and many others,” said Blair Smith, state statistician. “When we look at the data for our state, we can all use it as a snapshot in time to see how New York agriculture is changing over time and how it compared to the rest of the country.”

Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. When available in May, the final report will provide even more detailed data on all farm operators and data down to the county level. The publication will also provide new insights into the agriculture industry reporting new or expanded data on Internet access, regional food systems, biomass production, agro-forestry and equine.

For more information, visit

Gillibrand urges help for stressed bee population 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to bolster its efforts to revive New York’s bee population after a year when beekeepers lost on average 30 percent of their hives to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) hurting New York farms’ ability to pollinate crops.

Earlier this month, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack directed $3 million to study bee losses in the Midwest. Gillibrand is urging the USDA to expand their investigation to New York and the Northeast. 

“New York’s farms rely on a strong and healthy bee population to pollinate our fruit and vegetable crops,” she said. “The alarming decline of the bee population comes at a steep price for our environment, our farms and our economy.”

New York State has an estimated 52,000 beehives, each of which produce approximately 51 pounds of honey, ranking the state 10th in honey production. Bee pollination supports blueberries, cherries, squash and other fruits and vegetables. Apple trees require two to three hives per acre to pollinate. Bee pollination adds an estimated $300 million value to a $4.4 billion agriculture industry in New York. 

Throughout the U.S., a staggering 45 percent of beehives were lost just last year.

The pollination initiative would be implemented by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), a branch of USDA, from their field offices in New York State. NRCS conservation experts would provide New York farmers with the technical and financial resources to provide honey bees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment. For example, planting certain cover crops provides a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife.