Funding for research programs that help farms could be part of the next COVID-19 relief package, Rep. Anthony Brindisi (DUtica) said on Monday at a tour and roundtable at E-Z Acres dairy farm in Homer.
Brindisi announced he will co-sponsor the America Grows Act, which authorizes a 5% increase in annual funding — up to $2 billion — for the next five years to four U.S. Department of Agriculture research agencies: the Agricultural Research Service, Economic Research Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
“There’s no question that there are budget and financial issues in the state during the COVID-19 crisis,” Brindisi said. “The state has been hit pretty hard by the pandemic, and cuts in funding are going to go through it could affect a lot of programs we rely on in terms of agriculture.”
Farms across New York, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have struggled to keep up with profitability, sustainability and a high consumer demand, said Kathryn Boor, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, which also operates Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“We have rapid but uneven population growth, climate change, increasing weather experiences and ever-shifting consumer preferences,” Boor said. “Throughout this COVID-19 process, farm families, employees and CCE staff have all kept working straight through to make sure fresh food is available on our tables and in our grocery stores.”
Cornell recently spent $250 million for its cooperative extension programs, which help bring agricultural research to farms like E-Z Acres and the environment, Boor said.
“Today is a day to see the consequences of research and action, to see the effects of the work this farm has been doing with Cornell University,” she said. “It helps to improve not only general sustainability, but also financial sustainability.”
Michael and Edie McMahon’s E-Z Acres, said Boor, is a good example of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s effectiveness.
“Research from Cornell scientists’ right on this farm has improved the soil health, herd health and water quality over time,” she said.
The farm has 900 cows and 700 heifers and calves.
The cows each produce about 91 pounds of milk each day, about 11 gallons. That is 21 pounds more than the national average of 70 pounds, 8.6 gallons.
Mike McMahon said it recently invested in separate living space for the calves, which Cornell animal science Professor Mike Van Amburgh said provides greater comfort and helps calves develop better.
“The better you treat them as a baby, the more productivity they’ll have with milk,” he said.
McMahon and Amburgh have developed tools to keep the cows cool during the summer, too, including fans that provide airflow in the barn.
Tom Tylutski, a representative from Agricultural Modeling and Training Systems, worked with McMahon and the cooperative extension to improve their feed — 120,000 pounds a day — to provide a more environmentally friendly manure.
“This cuts down on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous gases that are seen in regular amounts of manure,” Amburgh said. “The less of those types of gases, the more environmentally friendly the manure is.”
To make sure the water is clean, McMahon said the farm and CCE have been taking well samples every three months since 1997. The farm has seen nitrates drop in those years, to 9 parts per million from 16.
“When we first became a Cornell University case farm in 1997, our business was struggling, but the team’s research really helped us turn things around,” McMahon said. “Expanded public support for the kind of research taking place at Cornell University is absolutely critical for the future of American farming, if we want to maintain our global leadership position in the years ahead.”