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Farms: Yates' biggest economic engine

YATES COUNTY—Travel on any road in Yates County and chances are there will be at least one farm along the way. Agriculture is a key component in the local economy. Tuesday, Sept. 14, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Yates County provided a day-long tour of local farms. Prior to leaving Penn Yan, CCE Executive Director Peter Landre told legislators and members of the public, “When we think about the future we know we’re going to need food. Grow close. We have the capacity to produce tremendous amounts and diversity in soils, climate and water. We will always have diversity of types of operations. Another key is entrepreneurs; small businesses with lots of ideas.”
An organic dairy farm, hops farm, vineyard and high tunnel farm were stops for the day as was a farm that was recently accepted into the state Farmland Protection Program.
Tim Christensen and CCE Educator Nancy Glazier outlined the grazing plan that is needed on an organic dairy farm. Management techniques such as taking the water to the cows, rotating the pastures the cows are in and regular crop rotation are all essential for success. Erosion must also be carefully controlled. Regulations connected to organic farming require extensive record keeping as well.
Hops are one of the newest crops being farmed locally. At 11 Lakes Hops Farm partner Brian Karweck outlined work the three owners have done to establish the farm. This farm participated in a state agriculture support program Finger Lakes Economic Development Center Director Steve Griffin offered details of the loan program. Yates County received $750,000, however it took years from the time the program was approved until funds were available for local agriculture.
Wineries have been an important part of the agricultural community for close to 30 years. John and Peter Martini took the group on a tour of one of their vineyards. John spoke about establishing Anthony Road Winery decades ago. He said, “The good part is that it’s fun. It’s a black hole of dollars and dreams. The effort is to make money and have fun.” Peter said, “The competition between neighbors is not here. It’s a very sharing environment. You probably don’t find that in California.” Hans Walter-Petersen, CCE Educator with the Finger Lakes Grape Program said this area has about one third to 40 percent of wineries with 40 to 50 percent in this region. He said, ”The health of the industry translates to health of the economy.”
The importance of agriculture to the local economy was a theme throughout the tour including the final working farm on the tour. High tunnel vegetable and flower production is a relatively new practice in this area. Howard and Nelson Hoover showed peppers and tomatoes growing in one of the tunnels at their farm. They also manufacture the tunnels. The use of high tunnels extends the growing season by weeks at both ends. Planted directly in the ground, mulched with black plastic to heat the soil and watered carefully, yields are heavy with the added advantage of no diseases. The structures look rather delicate, but can tolerate winds up to 40 miles an hour with just some loss. The pepper plants in one tunnel were being grown as a test for a large seed company, again illustrating the economic impact of agriculture.
One farmer visited is no longer in the practice of farming. Eugene Wilson hs received a grant from the Farmland Protection Program that ensures his land will forever remain in agricultural use. He is free to sell the property if he wishes, but the Route 14 farm must be used for agricultural purposes and cannot be developed for anything else. Landre said a lot of farm families want to keep their farms in agriculture. It’s not about the money but more of a land ethic. The soils cannot be replaced. The owner continues to pay taxes on the farm.



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