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Farmers cut costs thanks to 2013 research by NNY Agriculturural Development Program

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CANTON - Results from agriculture research projects conducted last year across the north country gave farmers an economic boost by teaching them ways to cut costs.

A 2013 economic report released this week by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, which serves six counties in the north country, shows farms that took advantage of research programs last year collectively saved millions.

Research conducted last year by the nonprofit, for example, helped identify inexpensive nutrition methods for feeding dairy cows; launch an online tool to determine ideal fertilizer usage on farms; and develop a primer for farmers seeking to combat the spread of alfalfa snout beetles. Other research helped benefit maple, apple and vegetable producers.

Canton dairy farmer Jon R. Greenwood, co-chairman of the farmer-led advisory committee that oversees the nonprofit, said farmers across the region benefit every year from research conducted by the state-funded program. The program received $500,000 from the state last year. It has requested the same amount for 2014-15.

Mr. Greenwood said that he knows firsthand how research is a boon for farmers who are seeking to reduce expenses. Crop research trials conducted last year, for instance, show the effectiveness of using different varieties and brands of corn, hay and soybeans. Collectively, that research saved increased the value of farmers’ crops by roughly $122.5 million, according to the report.

“A farmer can make selections on what kind of seeds to buy based on the research,” Mr. Greenwood said.

Some farmers have also benefited from an online tool developed by researchers that helps save money on nitrogen fertilizer expenses, According to the 2013 report, farmers saved an average of $125 an acre in fertilizer costs by using the tool in 2013.

The free service, “Adapt-N,” helps farmers accurately predict how much fertilizer they need by using a computer model that factors in current farm and weather patterns. The tool is available at http://adapt-n.cals.cornell.edu.

Farmers normally use the same amount of nitrogen fertilizer every year. Doing so is problematic, however, because rainy weather during the spring calls for more fertilizer than usual, while dry conditions call for less. That’s why the tool, which factors in weather data and growing degree days on farms, is so useful, said town of Philadelphia dairy farmer Michael B. Kiechle, who is on the nonprofit’s advisory committee.

“This particular program could save anywhere from $20 to $100 an acre, depending on results,” Mr. Kiechle said. “That’s going to vary from year to year. I might usually spend about $30 an acre for the second application of fertilizer in the spring, for example. I might conclude that it was a wet spring and that I should spend $80, but this tool might correct that and say that I need $20. So instead of using my own experience to go on, this gives me something more precise.”

Mr. Kiechle was among a group of farmers that has participated in ongoing research funded by the nonprofit since 2006 to combat the alfalfa snout beetle using predatory worms called entomopathogenic nematodes. The microscopic ringworms that were sprayed onto his alfalfa fields in 2006, when the research began, are now acknowledged as a proven method to combat the alfalfa snout beetle.

“For what this costs, and what this could save you as a farmer, it’s a huge benefit,” Mr. Kiechle said. “I think there should be more of them used by farmers.”

Mr. Kiechle said savings are realized by farmers from almost every research project led by the nonprofit.

“A lot of these projects are going to see a return of at least two to one, if not five to one, to farmers for every dollar of research spent,” he said.

View the report online at http://wdt.me/YrbeSo.

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