April 24, 2007

Father, son say goodbye to dairy farming

Taylor family forced to sell its dairy herd as milk prices remain low, expenses high


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer    
Former Cortland County legislator and farmer Ted Law Sr. watches through a fence as his cattle are auctioned Friday afternoon. Law and his son decided to end their farming business on Telephone Road after 46 years.

Staff Reporter

TAYLOR — As crowds of farmers sat beneath a tent eyeing the cows for sale in front of them, Donna Law shook her head, amazed the day had finally come.
Tears welled up in her eyes when asked if she knew all of the cows individually.
“No, but they do,” she said.
Law was referring to her husband, Ted, and her son, Ted Jr., who until Friday’s auction were partners in their 120-cow dairy farm. Low milk prices and rising costs forced them to sell off the cows, a trend that is impacting more and more farmers.
Ted Law Sr., a former Cortland County legislator, has farming in his blood. He was born on a farm in Chenango County, worked on another one in the same county later on, and bought the 500-acre farm he now lives on at 5020 Telephone Road in Taylor 46 years ago.
“I’ve been on a farm my whole life,” said Law, 75.
He saw promise at the Taylor farm, adding on to the farm’s barn in 1970 and doubling the number of mature cows to 80. For many years the farm produced a decent living for Law and his family, but the last couple of years, the farm has lost money.
Milk prices have dropped from $17.30 per hundredweight, or 100 pounds, in January 1999 to $15.40 per hundredweight last month, while diesel prices have jumped from 84 cents a gallon to $2.60 a gallon during that same time. Fertilizer and energy prices have jumped similarly, he said.
“Our income is regulated by the federal government, and our expenses are regulated by supply and demand,” he said. “It’s just too lopsided.”
Federal and state subsidies have been welcomed, he said, but those have just been a drop in the bucket. He said the farm received $7,700 in subsidies in 2006.
Law said he considers them incentives politicians dangle in front of farmers to keep them hanging on.
Ted Law Jr., 33, and the only one of Law’s eight children who chose to follow in his father’s farming footsteps, said it kills him not to be able to keep the farm going, but he had to be realistic.
“Maybe I’m wrong that I’ve been doing it for this long,” said Law Jr., who grew up working on the farm and partnered with his dad in 1998. “When all these farms are done, these areas are going to hurt real bad.”
Law, who is married and has three children, said he’s looking for a job in another field, since he could not go from owing a farm to working for someone else on a farm, but he has no idea what field that will be. He’s only known farming, he said, and has no college degree.
The number of dairy cows in New York state has dropped from 702,000 to 652,000 since 1999, and the number of dairy cows in Cortland County has dropped from 15,500 to 14,500 during that same period, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Farmers at Friday’s auction acknowledged that times are tough, but they say they are not ready to give up their cows yet. Farming is a way of life, some said, that cannot be given up easily.
“It’s a disease,” said Rex Miller, a Norwich farmer who has sold his cows, only to buy cows back, six different times. He said he could not bear to leave farming.
Richard Tillotson, 23, has a 180-cow farm in Harford with his father, Ward, which has been in the family for six generations. He agreed it would not be easy to let go of the farm.
“I guess I liked it because I wasn’t as smart as the rest of them, I liked to get up early and I didn’t have to have a boss,” he said.
He said he gives a lot of credit to the Laws for doing what they had to do.
Ted Law Sr. said he, his wife and his son’s family won’t be giving up their way of life completely — they intend to keep living on the farm. They may eventually decide to subdivide part of it and sell it, he said.
“Everyone knows that when a farm is subdivided it takes the land out of production, as far as producing food,” he said. “I think some day someone is going to regret doing it, but I can’t afford to live and keep the farm in tact and not have any income.”
Law said this morning that Friday’s auction was a success, with all 120 cows being sold for good prices. The average cattle price was $1,280 a head, he said, with the highest-selling cows bringing in $2,675.
He said buyers told him they paid good prices because the cattle all came from a closed circuit — which means they had all been raised on his farm. He said they also told him they were buying cattle because they are short, not because they see a good future in dairy farming.
“Most of them agree that prices aren’t going to change,” he said.


Dryden man gets 25 years to life for abusing two toddlers

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — A Dryden man could spend the rest of his life behind bars after a judge sentenced him Monday to 25 years to life in prison for the assault, rape and sexual abuse of two children he was babysitting over New Year’s weekend.
District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson and the victims’ mother said after the proceeding that they were disappointed with Tompkins County Court Judge John Rowley’s decision, which will make Jacob Carter eligible for parole in 25 years.
“It will never be enough,” the mother of the 3-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl who were abused said of the sentence. “I have spent many sleepless hours wondering what type of pain he has inflicted on my children.”
While standing outside the courthouse, the children’s mother read a statement for the news media in which she described the horror her family has endured since Carter assaulted and molested her children. With her attorney, Jim Hickey, present, she declined to give her name, saying she has moved out of the area to be closer to family.
Hickey also said he was disappointed with the sentence, calling it “less than adequate.”
The mother said her daughter does not understand what happened, but that her son remembers Carter and remembers what Carter did to him.
“He voices his concerns,” she said of her son. “He says he wished he could punch him.”
Rowley sentenced Carter to 25 years to life for predatory sexual assault against a child, 25 years for first-degree assault and five years each for two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, all felonies. The sentences will run concurrently, making Carter eligible for parole in 25 years.
“I was really hopeful for a higher minimum sentence,” Wilkinson said. “I believe that the crimes committed deserve that kind of punishment.”


Apartment, hotel projects draw objections

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Potential neighbors objected Monday to what they felt would be negative impacts from the development of an apartment complex on West Court Street and a Holiday Inn Express on Locust Avenue.
Public hearings for the projects were held prior to the city Planning Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday night, and about 60 people packed into the Common Council chamber in City Hall, many staying the duration of the nearly four-hour meeting.
Both projects were put on hold, but the commission indicated that it would be willing to review the proposed hotel during a special meeting, if necessary.
The next scheduled meeting of the Planning Commission is May 29.
The redevelopment of the George Brockway mansion at 19 W. Court St. by local developer John Del Vecchio drew the most comment during the public hearings.
The public was mainly concerned about the effect of a 10-unit apartment complex on a neighborhood that is predominantly single-family homes, despite a swath of zoning at the bottom of the street that allows for multi-family apartments.
The building houses three apartments and office space, which would be converted to a fourth apartment. A garage at the back of the property would be demolished and replaced by a three story, six-apartment vinyl-sided structure. The complex would have 24 bedrooms.
Residents lamented the proposed loss of the historic carriage house/garage, the surge in density that would result from the site’s further development, and often drew attention to problems with other properties owned by the Del Vecchio family.
However, the commission was restricted to discussion of the site plan that is up for consideration, and repeatedly asked the public to refrain from referencing other sites.


Clock tower plans to undergo revisions

Staff Reporter

The city Historic District Commission has sent local developer John Scanlon back to the drawing board to rework the design of the proposed clock tower building at Tompkins Street and south Main Street.
As a result, the Planning Commission has also put its review of the project on hold.
The Historic District Commission decided Monday morning that some of the exterior features do not fit within the context of the city’s Historic District, and has asked Jeff Taw, of the Syracuse-based architectural firm Holmes King Kallquist & Associates, to revise the plans.
Monday evening the city Planning Commission was hesitant to move forward without the Historic District Commission’s approval of the project, and also wants more input from the state Department of Transportation regarding traffic and curb cuts.
The building’s rounded “corner,” facing the northeast, was the Historic District Commission’s biggest concern — under the current plan, the second, third, and fourth floors of the four-story steel structure have balconies looking over the intersection; the corner is topped by a rounded clock tower with a slate roof in the shape of a shallow cone.
The commission asked for a rendering of the view of the northeast corner of the building, looking southwest, and also depictions of the rear façade and landscaping design.
The arrangement of the windows on the building also needs to be addressed, the Historic District Commission decided. Also, bulkheads along the ground floor windows should be raised from 2 feet high to 3 feet high, and the canopy of a proposed bank drive-thru on the southwest corner should have slate shingles, rather than stamped steel roofing.
Historic District Commission member and city historian Mary Ann Kane said she liked “the building, but not the tower,” and specifically, the shallow, slate-shingled cone that would top the clock.
Planning Commission member Bill Kline pointed out that the rest of the building has straight lines and that the “clock tower umbrella” would be inconsistent.
That had also been a concern of his own, Taw said, and he would look into making the “steeple” steeper.


Supporters object to city teacher dismissal

Staff Reporter

About 30 fellow teachers, parents and neighbors came to the city Board of Education meeting Monday night to support Melinda “Mindy” Young, a first-grade teacher at Smith Elementary School.
Young’s contract is not being renewed for the 2007-08 school year, said her husband, William Young.
“I can’t comment on the employment status of any employee,” Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring said this morning.
Each new teacher is hired on a three-year probationary period, Spring said, and at the end of each year the district decides whether “to invite” each teacher back. After the third year, a decision is made on tenure.
Spring said the board has not taken action on Young. He said the customary process is for two different administrators to evaluate teachers — usually the building principal and the director of curriculum and instruction but a special education supervisor or pupil personnel administrator might be part of the process in some cases.
The information is shared with a review team, which shares its review with the superintendent. Spring said he then makes a recommendation to the board. He would not say whether he has made a recommendation to the board.
Jennifer Hart, of 3 Colony Drive, said her daughter Taylor is in Young’s class. “I’m here to say Mrs. Young is a great teacher,” said Hart, adding her daughter has blossomed in Young’s class, going from a shy child to a child who offers her opinion in class.
“I can’t tell you how much I value her approach,” Hart said.