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  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Agriculture
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By Melissa Jo Hill
Whether navigating the complications brought on by a drought, a newly-introduced insect, or the myriad of hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, access to research-backed tools and best practice recommendations has never been more essential for farmers and communities in the Southwest part of New York state.

The five-county region of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Steuben Counties relies on an estimated $601 million in agricultural product sales to fuel the local economy. Eighty percent of those dollars come from the dairy, livestock and field crop sectors.

Connecting farmers in those commodities and those counties to cutting-edge resources from New York’s Land Grant Institution, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s new Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops (SWNYDLFC) Program. The program’s four specialists help farmers start or optimize their businesses, innovate their dairy or livestock operations, improve soil, and deal with invasive threats to their field crops, through both group educational programs and one-on-one on-site visits.

“We form a direct line between Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the commercial agriculture producers in the region,” says Business Management Specialist and Team Leader Katelyn Walley-Stoll ’14. “And because we each have our specialty areas, we each get to focus on the needs that are important to each individual farm.”

Adds Walley-Stoll: “Say a farmer is looking at changing how they manage their crop land to increase efficiency. Members of our team will go to the farm to learn what they’re doing and explore ways we can help them improve – from the production side and from the business side.”

The business side of farming is Walley-Stoll’s area of expertise. She consults and trains farmers on financial stability, “Whether that’s how we’re going to get through tomorrow or how we’re going to get through the next three generations of farmers in that family,” she says.

In role that is cross-disciplinary and collaborative, Walley-Stoll relies on her team and Cornell’s resources to shape the recommendations she makes. For example, she works with Agricultural Workforce Development Specialist. Richard Stup, PhD, to help with tools and guidance for farmers as they manage and implement the new Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act.

In Southwest N.Y., dairy is still king. The region’s 680 dairy farms produce enough milk to meet the dietary of needs of more than 2 million people. Working with those farms on the production side is Alycia Drwencke, Dairy Management Specialist. Drwencke consults on milk quality, improving overall efficiency, facility planning, calf management, and helps farmers navigate the FARM program—animal care standards that reflect the latest science-based best practices. She collaborates with Kathy Barrett of Cornell PRO-DAIRY on the Modern On-Farm Preparedness series, a state-wide programming effort focused on pre-planning for emergencies on dairy farms.

Joshua Putman, Field Crops Specialist, helps farmers optimize and troubleshoot the 641 thousand acres of crop land in the region. He works with Gary Bergstrom, PhD, professor in the Section of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology in the School of Integrated Plant Science, to help with disease identification and management in field crops. Assistant Professor of Weed Ecology and Management in Specialty Crops Lynn Sosnoskie has been working with Putman on strategies to combat the highly problematic weed species Palmer Amaranth.

Amy Barkley, Livestock and Beginning Farms Specialist, focuses on beef, sheep, goat, and poultry production. She works with farmers to improve product quality, pasture management, nutrition and ration balancing and maintains an open dialogue with Dr. Mike Baker, Dr. Mike Thonney, and Dr. tatiana  Stanton in the Animal Science Department to provide research-based recommendations to producers across the region.

As the newest of CCE’s 11 regional agriculture programs, the SWNY Program specialists are currently focused on getting out and building relationships as they get the lay of the land. Since the program began nearly a year ago, the team has completed over a hundred such consultations.

“We’ve been taking our time to get to know what the needs are in the region and getting to know the agriculture community and building out our team with that long-game perspective,” says Walley-Stoll. “At the same time, we’re working closely with folks on campus and across the state collaborating on research opportunities that will affect agriculture in our five counties and farmers across the state for years to come.”

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