Suffolk projects snag agriculture grants

Three Suffolk County projects are among 20 statewide efforts receiving funding this week from the New York Farm Viability Institute.

Through a competitive bidding process, the institute’s volunteer board of directors funded a cross-section of statewide agricultural efforts based on factors including relevance, budget and “farm-level impact,” the institute said in a statement. All told, the institute doled out more than $1.6 million through its 2016 grant program.

Included in that total is more than $212,000 for three projects being conducted by researchers at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead, including a $91,220 stipend to study the use of a controlled-release, nitrogen-based fertilizer in potato production.

Cornell's Rebecca Wiseman

Cornell’s Rebecca Wiseman

Other CCE-Suffolk projects receiving 2016 NYFVI grants include an effort to promote direct local seafood marketing through a community fisheries program ($65,000) and a study of fescues – stiff, narrow grass often used in soil erosion-prevention efforts – as a means of reducing production costs and environmental impacts at Long Island vineyards.

Work on each project has already begun or will begin soon. The institute’s annual funding program is designed to improve the average farm’s economic viability, according to board chair Jim Bittner, owner of Bittner-Singer Orchards in Appleton, a hamlet on the shores of Lake Ontario in extreme Northwestern New York.

“There’s a number of ways to help a farm’s finances,” Bittner said in a statement. “But overall, it comes down to identifying new ways of increasing yields while reducing costs, and supporting ideas that develop market opportunities.”

Individual awards bestowed through the NYFVI’s 2016 grant program ranged from a $148,570 stipend the ProDairy Program at Ithaca-based Cornell University will use to evaluate a fermented-corn fodder, with an eye toward improved efficiency at regional dairy farms, to a $33,186 award for the CCE’s upstate Harvest NY Regional Team, which will perform a supply chain analysis for the state’s burgeoning malting barley industry.

While the nitrogen-fertilizer study being conducted by CCE researcher Rebecca Wiseman was the most heavily funded Long Island project on the institute’s 2016 grants list, the most widespread economic impact could come from the development of Community Supported Fishery business models. Riverhead-based researcher John Scotti’s effort will educate consumers about the importance of local FISH, an acronym promoting “fresh, indigenous, sustainable and harvested” seafood.

Scotti’s goal: To ensure that 5 percent of the “landed value” of Island-harvested seafood – roughly 117,000 pounds of product with an annual market rate of $2.3 million – is consumed through CSF programs.

While the individual awards are not huge, they have enormous potential for New York’s agricultural industries, noted Mike Jordan, vice-chairman of the institute and owner of Old Chautauqua Farms in Portland, another Western New York hamlet.

That “modest investment” in the Harvest NY Regional Team’s malting barley project, for instance, “will make a real difference for crop farmers,” Jordan noted.