From Apples to Milk: Vital Investments in the Sustainability of New York Agriculture
Rolling hills dotted with red barns and dairy cows are more than just an iconic vision of the New York countryside. Milk is the state’s biggest agricultural product, the state is one of the top producers in the country, and behind the pastoral landscapes, dairy farmers struggle every day to control costs and protect the environment.
To better ensure the long-term sustainability of New York’s dairy industry, a team of Cornell University Cooperative Extension researchers is helping farmers across the state make more efficient use of fertilizers with a suite of nutrient management tools. Improving the collection and analysis of nutrient information on the farm has led to smarter management decisions, with impressive results: Fifty four participating farmers each cut their use of nutrients by 30-50 percent, and some reported saving up to $10,000 on their fertilizer bill.
This research and education effort is benefiting large swaths of the dairy industry in New York, and SARE has supported it through four grants awarded to members of the Cornell University Nutrient Management Spear Program since 2008 (see SARE projects LNE08-271, ENE09-112, LNE11-307 and ONE12-162).
This is just one example of how SARE grants—and the long-term investment in research and education they represent—are making a big impact on key segments of New York agriculture. Others include:
- Increased planting densities and the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds are posing new weed-control challenges for New York apple farmers, who are the second-largest producers of apples in the country. Supported by two SARE grants, Cornell Senior Extension Associate Deborah Breth is partnering with farmers to evaluate different combinations of ground covers and herbicide regimes, to identify the most sustainable solutions (see SARE projects ONE11-138 and ONE12-156).
- High tunnels—unheated structures similar to greenhouses—have emerged as a cost-effective way for farmers to extend their growing season and on-farm income while meeting consumers’ growing demand for local food. A Cornell high tunnel team has received six SARE grants since 2004 to conduct on-farm research related to crop variety trials, pest management and other key aspects of high-tunnel production (see SARE projects ONE04-028, ONE05-046, ONE05-047, LNE07-262, LNE10-302 and ONE10-125).
- Onions are one of New York’s most valuable vegetable crops, and Cornell Extension Vegetable Specialist Christine Hoepting, supported by six SARE grants since 2006, has worked extensively with onion farmers to find better ways of fighting bacterial rot, protecting soil from erosion and improving their yields (see Research Leads to Profitable, Sustainable Approaches to Onion Production).
- Soil is the foundation of all agriculture, and a team of Cornell scientists has used three SARE grants in 10 years to share with thousands of New England farmers the Cornell Soil Health Test, a comprehensive tool for assessing and improving soil conditions. Most recently, Cornell researcher Thomas Bjorkman is working with dozens of farmers to show how test results can inform cover crop decisions (see projects SARE LNE03-175, LNE06-235, ENE09-110).
To learn more about SARE’s involvement in New York—including education initiatives to improve energy sustainability—visit the New York state program page of Northeast SARE. Also, consider visiting these Cornell University websites: the Nutrient Management Spear Program, the High Tunnel Team and the Soil Health Team.