February 23, 2012
Agrisummit spreads industry insight
About 75 area farmers attend annual conference on county’s agricultural industry
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Beef farmer Heather Birdsall spoke Wednesday at an agribusiness conference in Cortland about the growth of her farm. She stands Wednesday afternoon at the farm north of Homer in Scott.
Agriculture is still the dominant industry in Cortland County and the attendance at an agriculture summit showed it.
Over 75 farmers, politicians and others interested in agricultural economic development attended the 10th Annual Free Upstate Agri-Economic Development Summit at the Ramada Inn Wednesday morning.
Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corporation, said he was happy with the attendance, especially since there is a similar conference in Tompkins County on Friday.
“I thought it was very good,” he said. “It’s important for people who are producing goods to get them to market. We’re going to continue to work to focus on agricultural development.”
The Cortland County Business Development Corporation sponsored the summit. Rather than one overarching theme, the meeting brought together individuals with experience in farm safety, economic development, direct marketing and estate planning for a series of breakout sessions. Phillip Gottwals, principal at Agricultural & Community Development Services, was the keynote speaker. The company is a consulting firm providing marketing and economic development services to private, public, and nonprofit firms in the natural resources sector.
Gottwals spoke about his experiences with the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation and how working as a region helped redevelop and revitalize an agricultural community.County Legislator Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) went to several of the workshops, including one on agricultural development. Being a farmer and a county legislator, Arnold said she found plenty of helpful and interesting information.
“There’s always good information provided,” she said. “As a farmer, it is valuable to provide information on farm safety. Economic development and food processing topics are valuable to farmers but for public officials as well.”A workshop on direct marketing opportunities for farmers and producers drew interest from many who attended the summit.
Matt LeRoux, an agriculture marketing specialist from the Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension, is working with farms across the state to help them realize which direct marketing opportunity will help them the most.
LeRoux told the story of helping a couple cut eight hours out of their work week and aiding them to determine whether farmers markets or restaurant sales were more profitable.
“A lot of it depends on your lifestyle preferences,” he said of farming. “We want people to keep loving what they do for a living.”
Afterward, Heather Birdsall, co-owner of Birdsall Beef in Scott, told the audience how she and her husband built up their herd from 10 head to over 200, and explained the varies direct marketing opportunities the farm uses.
Instead of selling to just one outlet, the farm sells to stores, restaurants and individual customers.
Summits like this one and the lessons farmers can learn are key to succeeding, she said.
“They’re extremely important for farmers to learn about new opportunities, new technologies and issues,” she said.
That diversity can help farmers maximize their potential and minimize their workload.
Jason Tuning, a Cincinnatus dairy farmer, said the direct marketing information was probably the most helpful because he and his wife are considering expanding their business.
“My wife is taking cheese-making courses, so the direct marketing class really piqued my interest but I thought the economic development workshop was interesting from a political standpoint,” he said.
For Maureen Spann, who grew up on a dairy and beef farm in Cincinnatus, the marketing and network opportunities at the summit were extremely helpful.
“I’m thinking of reclaiming my family’s farm,” she said. “I’d like to keep the farmland we have. I don’t want to see it broken up in to housing. We have enough trailers and there’s plenty of housing in the city. There was a lot of resources and support here.”
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