The New York State Berry Growers Association and Cornell Cooperative Extension have partnered on a survey to better understand the current status and future growth potential of New York’s berry industry, as well as to identify the best approaches to support and develop resources to help berry growers. Your responses to this brief survey will provide Cornell and the NYSBGA with critical information that will allow us to to obtain more funding from the state for research and extension efforts. We need input from all berry growers, regardless of berry type or size of plantings.
We’re experience a period of high insect activity this year, with rain, warm days, and cool nights providing an ideal breeding ground for three challenging pests: spotted wing drosophila (SWD), whose numbers began to explode in mid-July, summer beetles (especially Japanese beetles), and brown marmorated stink bug. Senior Extension Associate and entomologist Peter Jentsch of Cornell University’s Hudson Valley Laboratory recommends the following controls.
Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD)
With raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, and sweet and tart cherry all very susceptible to SWD, good management is a must. Follow these general rules:
- Traps are the best method for monitoring the population. Jentsch recommends making traps out of red plastic 16-ounce Solo cups and lids; get the directions here. Hang several traps in each crop.
- Sample fruit for infestation. Choose unripened fruit and look for evidence of egg laying and larval feeding: small holes with tiny white breathing tubes. When the berry is gently squeezed, it may leak juice. Infested berries may also leave a juice stain on their container when picked.
- Apply insecticide treatments from this Cornell-approved chart no more than seven days apart in blueberry, and every three to four days in cherry, raspberry, and blueberry. Reapply after rains. Rotate according to mode of action.
- Chill berries immediately after harvest—at 32 to 33 degrees F—to halt the development of larvae and eggs.
Japanese Beetles and Other Summer Beetles
Japanese beetles are considered one of the most devastating pests for 300 species of plant in this region of the country. Multicolored Asian ladybird beetle (MALB), the rose chafer (RC), adult plum curculio (PC) are also prevalent in the Northeast. Prevent them from feeding on foliage with:
- Carbaryl or Sevin, as a liquid XLR Plus, 4F or 80S powder.
- Leverage 2.7SE. According to Jentsch, this “should be reserved for those situations when the pest complex to be treated is appropriately matched to the combination of active ingredients and modes of action contained in the product.”
- Japanese beetle bag traps. These inexpensive traps, which use pheromones and floral scents, are very effective in luring and killing Japanese beetles. However, when placed near crops, they can encourage a large number of insects to move into the crop, causing even more damage. Jentsch warns, “If they are used, place the bags a considerable distance away from your orchard or vineyard so as to reduce the population in your crop. They will fill quickly and need to be emptied frequently.”
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
A year-round pest, the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) is a household nuisance in winter and spring and a serious agricultural pest in summer and fall. It has been observed feeding and reproducing in blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and caneberries. BMSB causes discoloration and sunken areas of green fruits at the feeding site, and softening and necrosis in mature fruits. Control them with:
- Pyramid traps baited with BMSB aggregation pheromone and methyl decatrienoate. Because BMSB prefers to live along the perimeter of a field, place traps is along a forested edge adjacent to your crops.
- Employ border sprays, according to this chart, especially on large fields. Because the insecticides that are most effective on BMSB also kills the insect’s natural enemies, use them only as needed. As the BMSB SCRI CAP Small Fruit Commodity Team cautions, “Management for BMSB in small fruit crops is difficult because the most effective insecticides for BMSB cannot be used during the period when there are repeated harvests of berry fields. Chemical control may be further complicated by the need to conserve insecticides for use against spotted wing drosophila, another disruptive invasive species, during the harvest period in order to observe requirements for maximum applications per season.”
For further reading, visit the Jentsch Lab blog:
If you’ve been growing berries for more than a couple of years, you’re no doubt aware that good growing and sanitation practices—such as keeping an open canopy, weeding regularly, rotating insecticides, harvesting frequently, and removing overripe fruit—are key to success in managing spotted wing drosophila (SWD). But maybe you’re not exactly sure just what makes this invasive pest tick, and how to educate staff about it. To help growers better understand and combat the threat posed by SWD, a national team of researchers led by the University of Georgia, and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agricultural Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), has put together a new guide to organic management of SWD, Management Recommendations for SWD in Organic Berry Crops.
Starting with details on how SWD builds populations, the guide covers pest identification and monitoring, preventive strategies like pruning and exclusion netting, sanitation, and IPM, including biological and chemical controls. The eight-page guide also features a handy summary of management techniques, which you can print out and post for staff on your farm.
Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list of “dirty” fruits and vegetables that consumers are supposed to avoid because they contain pesticide residues. For the third year in a row, strawberries were number one on the list. The list is misleading, having been created without consideration of several important scientific and social/cultural issues, but its popularity with the press forces growers to struggle with educating customers who have bought into the EWG’s misleading messaging.
Here are some talking points to share with customers to explain why the EWG’s “dirty dozen” list shouldn’t be used to guide their produce selection.
- Data used by the EWG counts the presence/absence of a residue, but does not consider the total amount of residue. This is not a valid method of assessing risk, since the amount of a residue is critical for determining if that residue is toxic.
- Pesticide residues in plants are miniscule and are not know to have any health effects in mammals, whether the mammal is a baby or a sensitive adult. Nearly all fruits and vegetables have levels far below (often a million times lower) levels known to cause physiological effects in humans. Just because a residue exists does not mean it is toxic at such low levels.
- Growers who rotate pesticides to reduce the risk of developing pesticide resistance will score more poorly on the EWG scale than growers who use large amounts of a single pesticide to control a pest.
- Residue data from crops vary greatly depending on where a crop is grown. For example, strawberries grown in the warm, wet climate of Florida receive far more pesticide applications than strawberries grown in the Northeast, yet strawberries are ranked number one for residues, regardless of how and where they are grown. This creates a major disadvantage for local growers.
- Plants produce natural pesticides so they don’t get eaten by pests. The amount of naturally produced pesticides is estimated to exceed human-applied residues by ten-thousandfold. The amount of synthetic pesticide residue is dwarfed by the amount of naturally occurring pest-deterring chemicals already present in plants.
- Plants not treated to manage pests often have higher levels of natural pesticides.
- Human systems have developed mechanisms to detoxify naturally occurring chemicals in the food we eat. These detoxification mechanisms work on both natural and synthetic chemicals, keeping us safe as long as these detoxification mechanisms are not overwhelmed.
- Organically grown food also may contain pesticide residues. Organic growers face the same insect, fungal, and weed pests as conventional growers, so they often will use chemical sprays to manage them. Neither the organic residues nor the synthetic residues have ever been shown to be harmful to humans.
- The health benefits of eating a strawberry—ranked number one on the “dirty dozen” list—far exceed any detriment from consuming a pesticide residue. For example, strawberries have more vitamin C than oranges by weight and are high in antioxidants and nutrients.
- The EWG list discourages consumers from eating healthy fruits and vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes, grapes, and apples, which also rank high on the list and are known to be extremely good for health.
- Consumers already eat far fewer fruits and vegetables than are recommended for good health. This is especially true for low-income populations. The EWG list can do harm to low-income groups by discouraging good eating habits.
- The EWG approach to ranking risk is not supported by any scientific organization, has never undergone peer-review, and has never been published in a scientific journal. Recommendations regarding a person’s ability to reduce pesticide-residue exposure by altering eating habits are not supported by the data
While it may seem tempting to let go of your e-mail marketing in favor of social media, especially during the busy growing season, there are several compelling reasons why you’ll want to stay on top of your e-mail list, and keep promoting your farm or farm store.
1. Most customers, including 71% of millennials, prefer to hear from businesses they follow through e-mail first. True, you’ll often hear people say they get too many e-mails, but studies have proven time and again that this doesn’t dissuade them from staying on their favorite business’s e-mail list. And with many social media channels—Facebook being the most prominent example—modifying their algorithms to make it harder for a business’s content to be seen in the news feed, you’ll get much more visibility from e-mail.
2. E-mail subscribers are your most loyal customers, and are several times more likely to spread good word of mouth to friends, family, and their community.
3. E-mail is “owned” media, which means you have complete access to your entire e-mail list at all times, and can put out any content you think will inform and entertain your audience. There are best practices for e-mail content, but on the whole, this offers much more freedom for you to tell the stories you want to tell—without being filtered out by a pesky algortithm.
4. E-mail provides the highest return on investment (ROI) of all types of digital marketing—104% compared to social media’s 25% and display advertising’s 13%. If the other three points didn’t convince you that keeping up with your e-mail list is important, this is one super-persuasive case.
E-mail marketing generally takes one of two forms: a promotional e-mail or a newsletter. Promotional e-mails usually highlight a specific product or service and are meant to inspire the customer to take quick action: buy a product, register for an event, or create an account, for example.
E-mail newsletters are informative in nature, and give customers something interesting or entertaining to read, such as gardening or cooking tips, or links to articles about the health benefits of berries. They may link to a product for sale, but their focus is on informing rather than selling.
It’s possible to send both newsletters and promotional e-mails to the same list of subscribers, though you’ll want to determine in advance how many of each you plan to send, to keep the best balance. You can also employ segmenting, or sending certain content to one group of customers.
How to Create a Marketing E-mail
Depending on your list size, the number of times per month you plan to mail, and the amount of bells and whistles you want, there are a variety of e-mail distribution services that fit the bill. Mailchimp and Robly tend to be the most user-friendly, and have a larger selection of attractive drag-and-drop templates that make it easy to design great-looking e-mails. Constant Contact, one of the original e-mail distributors, has a long history of consistency, but is not as intuitive to use and often has a less modern look.
No matter which one you choose, if you have fewer than 200 subscribers, you can start with a free version of the service. It takes only a few minutes to create and account and get started on creating your first e-mail. If you'd like to walk through the process on screen, YouTube has dozens of short videos dedicated to setting up an e-mail in Mailchimp or Robly.
What Should Each E-mail Include?
There are a lot of nuances to e-mail marketing, but in general, each e-mail you send should have:
- Your contact information
- Your logo
- Links to your social media
If you’re sending a newsletter, try including a brief article on a relevant topic, and 2 or 3 additional items you’d like to highlight—these could be products that are currently in stock in your store, a list of upcoming farmers’ market appearances, or a link to something interesting that’s happening in your community.
If you’re sending a promotional e-mail, focus on one item (e.g., strawberries) or one category of items (e.g., small fruits). Instead of simply selling the item itself, however, provide interesting related content that uses your product—for instance, a recipe for a summer cocktail that includes strawberries, or tips on how to freeze your bounty of U-pick strawberries. Don’t forget to mention that the item is in stock, and the hours when customers can buy it.
How Long Should a Marketing E-mail Be?
Considering that you have about 8 seconds to catch a reader’s attention, short and sweet is a good basic rule! Stick to 300 words or less for a featured newsletter article, and 100 words or less for secondary articles. Whenever possible, break up longer passages of text with visual elements such as bulleted or numbered lists, or boldface run-in heads, like the ones at the beginning of this post.
How Often Should You Send a Marketing E-mail?
Because most of your sales happen during a condensed period of time, it’s best to send e-mails to your customers weekly during the growing season, to keep them updated on what they can buy from you and where they can find you.
You can easily cut back during the slower seasons: consider biweekly mailings during the ramping-up period in spring, when you have just a handful of products in stock, and monthly e-mails during the off season. Yes, you should definitely keep sending e-mails even during the off season! Customers won’t expect you to have products in inventory, but they will appreciate hearing from you on topics like winterizing your home garden, how to incorporate different foods into holiday menus, and what’s going on at your farm—whether that’s a new barn being raised, a picturesque snowfall, or your livestock or pet mascots frolicking outdoors.
It’s okay to make these e-mails shorter; the point isn’t to write New Yorker-length features about farming, but to keep your farm top of mind for customers, and to cultivate the image that you’re a resource for more than just a pint of berries. The attention to serving your customers will pay off with increased customer loyalty and sales.
Sending marketing e-mails or newsletters isn’t as hard as it might seem, and it’s one of the best ways to keep in regular contact with customers and encourage them to spread the word about your farm to friends. Spend a little time up front on planning, and you’ll reap the rewards later.
Got a question about e-mail marketing? If you’re a current member, get in touch with our communications manager, Robin Catalano, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the growing season on the horizon, now is the time to look into opportunities to showcase your fruit outside the confines of your farm or typical farmers’ market appearances. Eighteen Taste NY market locations at service areas on the New York State Thruway will soon be open to visitors, and offer potential exposure to more than 200 million travelers who might not otherwise be able to try your products. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office reports that sales of food products at Taste NY markets topped $13 million in 2017.
On the value of participating Taste NY, State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball says, “Taste NY farmers’ markets give our regional Thruway Service Areas a unique flavor and provide our farmers with a great opportunity to connect directly with new consumers. I encourage New York’s producers to consider participating this upcoming season and give travelers a chance to taste our agricultural products that are among the best in the world.”
About Taste NY
The Taste NY initiative has seen steady growth and recognition since it was created in 2013 by Governor Cuomo. The program reported sales of $1.5 million in 2014, tripled those figures to $4.5 million in 2015, and $13.1 million in 2016. Taste NY, which is overseen by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, has created opportunities for local producers to showcase their goods at a variety of venues throughout the State and at large public events, such as the Great New York State Fair and the Barclays Tournament at Bethpage State Park. It has also helped the farms and companies participating in the program to reach more customers, increase online sales, and, in many cases, expand the processing capacity of their business. Taste NY’s food and beverage businesses also support the State’s farmers by using New York grown and produced ingredients in their products.
Today, New York products sold under Taste NY branding are available in more than 70 locations throughout the State as well as the New York State Office of Trade and Tourism in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
With a huge increase in applications to the H-2A guestworker program over the past few years an average processing time of 90 days, it’s critical for growers to submit their paperwork as early as possible, to avoid some of the delays we experienced last year in getting workers onto our farms. If you haven’t gotten started on your applications yet, now is the time to get moving. Here are some good guidelines to remember:
Review your farm’s work activities and rules, including related disciplinary policies (e.g., verbal warning, written warning, termination). Write them down; you’ll need them for your H-2A contract.
Create job descriptions for your H-2A workers. Be specific about the type of work and the physical requirements (e.g., bending, lifting, climbing a ladder, driving). Remember that, by law, your H-2A hires area allowed to work on only those tasks.
Determine whether you prefer to apply directly to the program, with or without the assistance of an agent, or hire a contractor to handle it. If you choose a contractor, clarify all responsibilities and fees up front, ask about compliance processes, and request references of previous customers, so you can make sure your money will be well spent.
Confirm that you can secure appropriate housing, including cooking facilities, if meals won’t be provided.
Create a plan for worker transportation, both to and from your farm at the start and end of the season, as well as daily transportation from worker housing to your farm and weekly trips to the grocery store. If you’re using your own van or car, make sure it’s up-to-date on maintenance and repairs.
For more considerations on the benefits and drawbacks of the H-2A guestworker program, read this overview from our neighbors at Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture.
And don’t start this season without checking out this downloadable PDF from Texas A&M on the difference between an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audit and a raid, and how you can be prepared for either.
The Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Program (ENYCHP), a regional program of Cornell Cooperative Extension, is excited to announce its first-ever Eastern New York Fruit and Vegetable Conference, February 20 and 21, 2018 at the Desmond Conference Center in Albany. The event features two days of programing on tree fruit, vegetable, and berry production, as well as agricultural business management.
Commercial growers won’t want to miss sessions on the most important issues impacting the industry in Eastern New York. Highlights include:
For apple growers—disease management updates, presentations on fire blight management, current rootstock technologies, and a look at new varieties from the Cornell Apple Breeding Program.
For berry growers—integrating low tunnels into day neutral strawberry production, spotted wing drosophila (SWD) control, and soil management.
For vegetable growers—new tools for bird control, utilizing biocontrols, managing sweet corn pests, and precision water and nutrient systems.
For business managers—resources for farmers with a Latino workforce, media relations on the farm, and CSAs in Eastern New York.
This is just a sampling of the topics that will be covered over the two-day conference. A large industry trade show will also take place throughout the event. All commercial growers are invited to attend, from beginning farmers, to farming veterans, organic farmers, and commercial growers! DEC credits will be available.
Preregister by February 13 for a discounted rate!
The new tax bill has been on many people’s minds, and none more so than farmers. The Farm Bureau endorsed both the House and Senate versions; however, as the New York Times reports, “Some of the president’s policies could actually harm the farm industry. New analyses of the tax law by economists at the Department of Agriculture suggest it could actually lower farm output in the years to come and effectively raise taxes on the lowest-earning farm households, while delivering large gains for the richest farmers.”
In a January 8 speech to the Farm Bureau convention in Nashville, President Trump stated that the tax overhaul will cut taxes by $5.5 trillion, and that most of those cuts will go to “working families, small businesses, and—who?—farmers.” In reality, individuals would receive $1.1 trillion, over 10 years, in tax cuts. According to the Times, “That falls to under $1 trillion when excluding tax cuts for businesses income from so-called pass-through companies, which are taxed through the individual code.”
Here are the major changes growers need to know about. The new tax bill:
- Lowers tax rates for pass-through entities, including sole proprietorships, LLCs, partnerships, and S corps. Some experts estimate that only farms with around $1 million in annual sales—about 4 percent of U.S. farms—are in a high enough tax bracket to benefit from the lower rate.
- Offers a new farm-equipment depreciation schedule: five years instead of seven.
- Eliminates the Section 199 deduction, which allows farm co-ops to deduct a portion of their expenses and. According to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, this deduction is responsible for saving farmers in co-ops $2 billion annually in tax liabilities. Mother Jones reports that following pressure from agricultural groups, Senator John Thune (R.-S.D.) inserted a provision into the bill that would give co-ops a 20% deduction, the same as pass-through entities, “though it wouldn’t fully offset the loss of Section 199.”
- Makes health care less affordable for many. Farmers relying on Obamacare for health insurance may lose or end up paying significantly more for health coverage. It’s estimated that 17.6 percent of farm households currently get their health insurance through the individual market.
- Puts federal farm spending in danger of being cut due to the budget shortfall created by the bill. As Mother Jones puts it: “The Congressional Budget Office calculated that the Senate version of the tax bill would likely add $1.4 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade.” These may affect farm subsidies and crop-insurance support.
- Increases the federal estate tax exemption to $11.2 million for individuals and $22.4 million for a couple. While this is an undeniable boon, experts note that it’s likely to affect less than 2 percent of farms.
- Eliminates deductions for state taxes and mortgage interest, as well as property taxes. It may be possible to make a property tax prepayment for 2018 early and deduct it on your 2017 bill, but regulations vary by county and municipality. Ask your town tax collector if this is an option that’s open to you.
We’ll keep you posted on changes to the tax bill and how they affect you over the coming months.
This summer, NYSBGA board chair Dale Ila Riggs was interviewed by Albany radio station WEQX about how she got her start in farming and why growing and selling healthy, happy berries has become such an important part of her work. Listen to the interview through the link below.
August 29, 2017
The Berry Patch
15589 NY-22, Stephentown, NY
If you’re unsure whether your berry crops have been affected by SWD, or even if you just want to learn more about growing happy, healthy berries, join us for this exclusive workshop, sponsored by Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension. Bring your own fruit, and test for SWD right here!
Then hear experts from Cornell University and Cornell CCE, New York State IPM, the NYS Berry Growers Association, and more on:
- Blueberry growing under netting
- Attract-and-kill baited spheres
- High-tunnel raspberries grown in excluded tunne
- Fall raspberries under netting
Weather Station Networks
- What is NEWA?
- How farmers can get their own RainWise weather station
- How applications that are part of weather data can assist farmers
- MesoNet, and how it works with NEWA
Climate Change and Protected Culture
- CICSS as a resource, and helpful tools for berry growers
- Soil health project, including how growers can get involved
Low-Tunnel Strawberry Production
- Overview of day-neutral production system
- Use of low tunnels on a diversified, direct-market farm
Wrap-Up and Q&A
This workshop is FREE to all berry growers, regardless of region or level of experience, so spread the word to your colleagues!
Blueberries Offer a Host of Health Benefits
It’s no secret that a colorful fruits, especially blueberries, offer a variety of health benefits. From reduced risk of debilitating diseases to improved complexion and hair, blueberries are a nutritional powerhouse that have significant positive effects on human health. And new studies are showing that blueberries can even enhance cognitive function. With summer—and fresh berries—due to arrive in farmers’ markets and on farm stand shelves in a little more than a month, there’s never been a better time to incorporate fresh, local blueberries into your diet.
Blueberries are chock-full of many health-promoting vitamins and compounds, including anthocyanins, a flavonoid that has been linked to protection against free radical damage and a decreased risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes. The blueberry is also known to support heart health, with high levels of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Likewise, this humble fruit’s high levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium all help to decrease blood pressure. Blueberries are also high in vitamin K, which improves calcium absorption—a low intake of which has been linked to an increased risk of bone fracture. Some studies even suggest that regular eating of blueberries can promote healthy skin and hair, increase energy, and contribute to weight loss.
Recent studies have demonstrated the blueberry’s positive effect on cognitive function. A pair of 2014 studies found that consumption of blueberries can improve short-term memory loss and motor coordination, and in patients with the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease, consumption of blueberries has been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline. Another study found that blueberries (in a freeze-dried powder form) may also have an effect on the onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. “The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts,” concluded lead author Robert Krikorian.
The latest study, published in March 2017 in the European Journal of Nutrition, provided more evidence that blueberry consumption improves cognitive function. The authors found that adults age 60 to 75 who consumed 24 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder (the equivalent of one cup fresh berries) daily showed significant improvement in verbal memory, repetition, and task switching over their placebo-group counterparts.
Blueberry Nutrition at a Glance
A 1-cup serving of blueberries contains:
- 84 calories
- 3.6 grams of dietary fiber (14% of daily requirement)
- 0 grams of cholesterol
- 1.1 grams of protein
- .49 grams of fat
- 21 grams of carbohydrate
- 24% of an adult's recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, 5% of vitamin B6, and 36% of vitamin K
- Iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, manganese, zinc, copper, folate, beta-carotene, folate, choline, vitamin A, vitamin E
- Phenolic compounds with antioxidant activity, including anthocyanins, quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin and chlorogenic acid
Member Spotlight: Abbott Farms
Ask most farmers what they grow and sell, and they’ll enumerate a list of fruits and vegetables. Ask Warren Abbott of Abbott Farms, and the answer is “Fun.”
Of course, the farm also sells other products, and lots of them—including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, sweet cherries, rhubarb, asparagus, sweet corn, pumpkins, Italian prunes, and apples, as well as beef, hard cider, and wine. But what Abbott Farms—located in Baldwinsville and in operation, in the same family, since 1866—focuses on most of all is the customer. “We really sell an experience,” Warren explains, noting that the farm has up to 85 employees seasonally each year, most of them in customer service–related roles.
Prior to 1964, Abbott Farms was a small subsistence dairy. They added grain and potatoes at that time, and a small store for some retail sales by the early ’70s. In 1993, with the addition of a new store, they shifted their focus toward retail, and by 2007 had left the grain market entirely. These days, under the management of their fifth generation of farmers, they sell wholesale only if there’s extra supply. Recently, they added hard cider and wine, to satisfy the customer demand for quality local products and the in-person touch.
Over the years, the Abbotts have found that in order to sell in volume, customers require that the products be grown right on the farm. “Every time we decide to grow an item we sell, we triple sales of that item instantly,” Warren says. “I would have never guessed it would be so dramatic. We would have made that change sooner [if we had known].”
Crop losses from SWD encouraged the Abbotts to walk away from growing fall raspberries and day-neutral strawberries, though Warren says they may restart those crops “if control methods are available and economical.” As a business, Abbott Farms’ bigger challenges have been expanding frequently to maintain income; labor rates and regulation; and finding, training, and keeping good employees in seasonal positions.
For now, they’re focusing on frequent shake-ups to their strategy to maintain consumer interest. “The cidery will take some time to dial in, but it’s the most exciting and promising change since 2007,” Warren says, adding that they’ll be introducing a hard-cider tasting room soon. Besides the many varieties of fruit and sweet ciders available for tasting, they also offer happy-making products like 10 flavors of fudge and more than 20 flavors of ice cream. And they try to emphasize to customers that they select berry varieties for flavor, and pick for flavor and sugar content—not shipping and storage hardiness—to bring audience back week after week.
On-farm events—such as foot races, berry festivals, pancake breakfasts, a weekly festival in the fall, weekly farmers’ markets, and birthday parties—have been a big success. These events keep Abbott Farms top of mind—and tops in word-of-mouth referrals—for customers, as does maintaining a regular e-mail and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter presence. They also advertise on billboards and in family and leisure guides in season.
Even though Abbott Farms is tech- and marketing-savvy, they still make sure the personal touch comes across in everything they do. Warren says, “We will continue to offer educational, family fun, while picking fruit and relaxing around the farm.” Maybe even for another 150 years.
How Overseas Research & Information Sharing Benefits Our Farms
By Marvin Pritts
Ever wonder what those Cornell professors do when they run off to another country? Oftentimes it’s to attend a conference, but occasionally we are asked to help a particular group of farmers with their production practices. Some may ask if we should be helping farmers in other countries—won’t they just end up competing with us in New York? And given that there are problems here at home, shouldn’t Cornell faculty just stay put and work on solving local problems?
In April, I had a chance to visit Chin State in the country of Myanmar. This country has been relatively isolated from the rest of the world, as it was under a military dictatorship for 50 years. Recently, it has had elections, so a democratic government is now in place. However, some of the outlying regions continue to have ethnic violence. Chin signed a peace treaty with the federal government in 2016, so it is now safe for foreigners to enter.
Although it is now safe to travel to Chin, this region has been cut off from the rest of Myanmar, and the world, for most of its existence. There is no real industry in Chin State. Travel to the capital city, Hakha, is an 11-hour drive on dirt roads from the nearest city with an airport (which has just one flight a day). Farming villages are even farther from Hahka. The roads in this state are one-lane, steep, and curved, with no guardrails and 1,000-foot dropoffs. During the rainy season, roads become impassable because of mud and landslides. Most of the country speaks Burmese and is Buddhist, while many different languages are spoken in Chin and Chin people are mostly Christian. All of these differences reinforce the isolation and makes education in this region difficult.
There is little to no flat land in Chin State. The hillsides are too steep for most grazing animals, except for goats. But having goats is risky, because they can escape through fences and eat valuable crops. The rain stops after the rainy season, so farmers then endure six months of drought. The capital city is too far to take goods to market, especially given the state of the roads.
People who live in villages in Chin are malnourished. It is estimated that 40 percent of the population suffers from protein, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies. Our task was to visit these villages, determine if anything could be done to help increase fruit and vegetable production and consumption, train extension educators, and advise about the curriculum used in the state agriculture institutes and the agricultural university at Yezin.
The people of Chin State were exceptionally friendly and open to new ideas. We shared information and techniques for drip irrigation, sources of nitrogen fertilizer, soil management, postharvest handling, and garden design, and I hope these will gain traction and be implemented. Farmers in the United States do not have to fear competition from a country that is struggling to feed itself.
Such activities in developing countries help spread Cornell’s reputation abroad. It also could pay dividends for us in the future. For example, apple and pear germ plasm grow wild in the hills. Developing a good relationship with Myanmar could give us access to new germplasm in the future. Establishing such relationships increases the probability that bright students will come to the United States to study. Also, when we can work with growers in another country to reduce their pesticide use and minimize environmental impacts, it benefits all of us. Myanmar is strategically located between China and India, so having friendly relations with them is politically beneficial. Finally, it is simply the right thing to do.
So while spending time in developing countries may not appear to benefit New York growers, we are laying the groundwork for future dividends to be paid.
Cornell has reported sustained SWD catches in several counties. Numbers are not high yet, but have been increasing. Be vigilant in your trap and fruit monitoring, weeding, and irrigation/drainage, and employ a spraying routine that works with your picking schedule. Follow this basic guide:
- Maintain an open canopy to increase sunlight and decrease humidity
- Eliminate weeds within rows to increase sunlight penetration and improve spray penetration into and deposition on the canopy
- Repair leaking drip lines and avoid overhead irrigation when possible. Allow the ground and mulch surface to dry before irrigating, and eliminate areas that encourage puddles.
- If you’ve set your own traps, check them regularly—daily, if possible. Females usually arrive first, but males are quick to follow.
- Check your fruit regularly. Pick groupings of 15-25 ripe fruit from different locations in your field, especially along the edges. Lightly squeeze each fruit. In a resealable bag, mix 1 cup salt and 1 gallon water. Add the fruit and mix well. After 30 minutes, check for small white larvae floating at the top. Repeat for each fruit grouping.
- Apply pesticides every 5 to 7 days; repeat if it rains.
- Rotate pesticides to prevent resistance.
The Berry Patch Pioneers Innovative Use of Exclusion Netting
to Combat SWD
The Berry Patch, in tiny, rural Stephentown, has pioneered an innovative solution to spotted wing drosophila (SWD) infestation. Since it arrived in the United States in 2008, SWD has made it virtually impossible to grow commercially acceptable, pesticide-free raspberries and blueberries, but the Berry Patch’s experiments with exclusion netting seek to end crop losses.
Spotted wing drosophila is native to Southeast Asia. It first appeared in California in 2008, and spread to Florida the following year. By 2010, SWD had migrated to the Carolinas, Louisiana, Utah, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Northeastern fruit growers first went to battle with the insect in 2012, when an average of 80% of raspberry and 30% of blueberry crops—and approximately $4.3 million in revenue in NY state alone—were lost due to infestation of the fruit during its early ripening stages. Dale-Ila Riggs, co-owner of the Berry Patch and NYSBGA board chair, says, “This pest is a game-changer for berry growers nationwide. There are no natural enemies for it in the U.S.”
In 2012, Riggs lost about 40% of her lucrative blueberry crop to SWD. After observing some early research on the use of exclusion netting at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, she obtained a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Farmer grant to test the use of the netting on her half-acre blueberry planting. Riggs adapted her existing bird-netting support system into a support system for the exclusion netting, with extra protections and anchoring to withstand thunderstorms, hail, and up to 60 mph winds. She then compared the fruits from the covered plot to the fruits grown in a control plot protected only with bird netting.
The results were startling. Riggs documented an infestation rate of 0.7% and 0.3% in 2014 and 2015, and last year had a 0% infestation rate—a rate virtually unheard-of in agricultural systems. Other farms around the country are taking notice, and have started to duplicate the Berry Patch’s successful growing system.
Riggs will set up her blueberry exclusion netting again in early July, prior to SWD’s summer activity. She also plans to experiment with the same exclusion netting for her high-tunnel raspberry planting for the first time this year. “With SWD, no one has been able to grow pesticide-free berries that are free from infestation,” Riggs notes. “The netting makes it possible. This is a highly effective method that brings new hope for growers.”
Doing "Nearly Everything Wrong":
A West Coast Farm with Northeastern Techniques
We’re always happy to see berries in the news, and we especially like to see stories that praise the growing and harvesting methods New York State growers have been using for decades. That’s why this April 17, 2017, story in the New York Times caught our eye.
The article, about Rick and Molly Gean, owners of the strawberry farm Harry’s Berries, near Los Angeles, touts growers who “do nearly everything wrong, at least according to the gospel of modern commercial berry farming.” The Geans started out with commercial strains of berries but now organically grow Gaviota and Seascape strawberries. They sell 500,000 pounds of berries per year, with 70 percent of their business at farmers’ markets; pints are priced at $8. The article states that Harry’s Berries are the preferred fruits of many West Coast chefs, and even a handful in the Northeast.
What’s most interesting about this article is the spotlight it shines on the Geans’ harvesting, which happens once every five days, to ensure peak ripeness. “Ripeness is all,” proclaims the piece. “When the berries run out, they run out, because the Geans would rather send a customer home empty-handed than with a berry that doesn’t meet their standards.”
While the article doesn’t acknowledge that New York’s independent berry growers have been harvesting only at peak ripeness for generations, this is a great talking point with customers. And while we may not have the advantage of year-round growing in a mild climate, our short season gives us the opportunity to highlight the berries as “limited edition,” available only for a few weeks a year. Keep a copy of the Times article in your farm store or at your market booth, and see if it sparks some important conversation.
Tomion's Farm market
Farming has been part of the Tomion’s Farm family for so long that co-owner Alan Tomion is stumped when asked when they first established the business. He laughs and explains, “My great-grandfather started growing strawberries, and my father added vegetables. Then I expanded it with raspberries, hay, rhubarb. So it’s definitely been over 50 years. The farm has always been in our family.”
Located in the Finger Lakes in Penn Yan, the 160-acre Tomion’s Farm and store is open year-round, and sells strawberries, red raspberries, and blackberries, as well as a variety of fruits, vegetables, and live plants. The operation is primarily retail, with wholesale strawberry sales in the summer. The store also offers fresh baked goods and a selection of gifts.
Alan’s wife and co-owner, Crystal Tomion, runs the farm market, and oversees a handful of year-round part-time employees. Two of the couple’s sons have also joined the business.
While SWD was an issue for the Tomions’ fall raspberries a few years ago, the farm’s proximity to the Geneva Experiment Station has allowed them to benefit from the expertise of Professor Greg Loeb, who has conducted research on the farm, and their strawberry crops have been unaffected. Instead, the biggest challenge has been finding summer laborers. Alan says, “There needs to be some kind of program for workers who aren’t citizens to be able to make a living and not be hassled,” and notes that tightening restrictions against noncitizen workers have reduced their seasonal prospects from 100 to about a dozen.
Another challenge originates closer to home. The local Mennonite community, with their larger families and tradition of training their children as the next generation of laborers, are able to sell produce at a much lower price than farms with higher labor costs. “They’re stiff competition,” Alan admits.
Also stiff competition: grocery stores that sell peeled and washed produce and prepackaged dinners, and that target their marketing toward busy families and career people. “Older customers know that local berries have a lot more taste and nutrition,” Alan says. “But we’re slowly losing our older customers. Eating habits among younger people have changed quite a bit. They go out to eat more and buy more premade meals. And they don’t buy extra to freeze, like our older customers do.”
Still, Tomion’s Farm, which benefits from its high-visibility location on the busiest highway in the county, has succeeded for more than half a century by sticking to its mission of providing high-quality local foods. Alan and Crystal used to do more marketing and advertising, but ultimately decided that the cost outweighed the extra revenue that was needed to cover it. They now rely on their website and Facebook page, a few ads in local newspapers and magazines, and the word of mouth of customers, to spread the berry gospel.
Although Alan loves seeing first-time customers turn into repeat customers, for him, it all comes back to getting hands-on in the earth. “Farming is in my blood,” he says. “I just enjoy watching my crops grow.”
The Health Benefits of Berries
Vitamin and Flavoid-packed Powerhouses
Beyond their ability to add flavor to and complement a variety of savory and sweet recipes, berries are vitamin- and flavonoid-packed powerhouses. Get to know more about each berry and how it can benefit your health.
- Consistently ranked as one of the top antioxidant foods—twice the concentration of spinach, and three times the amount found in oranges and grapes!
- High in vitamins C and K, and manganese
- Good source of fiber
- The newest research suggests that blueberries may reduce the risk of heart attack and be beneficial in halting age-related memory decline
- Packed with vitamin C (one serving has 150% of the recommended daily value)
- High in antioxidants
- Good source of fiber, folate, potassium, and manganese
- One of the earth’s strongest antioxidant foods, with high levels of polyphenolic compounds including ellagic acid, quercetin, and cyanidins
- High level of fiber
- High levels of vitamins C and K, manganese, and folic acid
- Packed with fiber
- High levels of vitamin C; vitamins B1, B2, and B3; magnesium, folic acid, and iron
- High levels of antioxidants, including catechins, salicylic acid, and anthocyanins
- Contain raspberry ketone, which some preliminary studies suggest may be helpful in weight control