November 16, 2007


Though widespread in state —

Alfalfa fungus not found in local fields

The disease has been detected in eight of 10 fields sampled in N.Y.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
East Homer dairy farmer Stuart Young stands in a bunker silo containing alfalfa silage used in a precise feed mixture to improve milk production. Young said he has not found evidence of “brown root rot,” a fungal disease that kills the plant and has been detected by Cornell University researchers in New York and four other Northeast states.

From staff and wire reports
So far, a fungus that attacks alfalfa detected in farm fields in New York has not been found in Cortland County.
One local farmer said he had not even heard of the fungus, called “brown root rot,” which leaves rotting brown lesions.
“That’s a new one to me,” said Stuart Young, a Homer farmer. He said he has about 200 acres of alfalfa. “I got the best fourth cutting I have ever gotten,” said Young, noting that not every year yields a fourth cutting.
The disease has been detected in eight of 10 fields sampled in New York, six of seven fields in Vermont and five of six fields in New Hampshire, Cornell University researchers reported in the October issue of the journal Plant Disease.
The samplings were conducted in 2005. Since then, the disease has also been found in Pennsylvania and Maine, the scientists said.
“We are just finding out now that we have it here in the state,” said Janice Degni, area field crop specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County. She said research is just starting on developing resistant varieties of alfalfa.
Degni said brown root rot can be confused with winter kill, which can kill less hardy plants during severe winters.
Alfalfa is a perennial crop that comes back up every year. While it is normal to lose some of the crop to winter kill, if too much of the root or crown of the plants is lost, the field will not be productive, she said.
“It appears widespread. These were arbitrarily chosen fields spread out across each state,” said Gary Bergstrom, a professor of plant pathology at Cornell. He said the closest areas to Cortland County where the disease was found was in Lewis County to the north and Steuben County, which borders Pennsylvania west of Cortland.
“As of now, we don’t have information to provide growers that any one variety does better or worse than others,” said Bergstrom.
He said it would take years of study to determine this. Research has begun and some alfalfa varieties have been planted to study their ability to resist disease. There are no effective treatments or controls for brown root rot, he said.
“Be aware that this disease is out there,” was Degni’s advice to farmers. She said if unusual loss was noticed in the spring, the roots should be dug up and they would be tested at Cornell University.
There are approximately 700,000 acres of alfalfa and alfalfa mixes grown across New York, according to the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. The plant is commonly used as feed stock for dairy farmers.
“The numbers are alarming,” said Peter Gregg, a spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau, a 30,000-member statewide advocacy group for farmers and agriculture.
“The past couple of years it has grabbed our attention and suddenly it’s become a big problem. To the extent Cornell is reporting it, we did not realize it was that bad,” Gregg said.
Last year, the Farm Bureau persuaded state lawmakers to spend $300,000 for research on the fungus, which can also infect vegetables and Christmas trees, he said.
“It’s a fungal disease that has a lot of mystery to it. We are encouraging more research to find ways to eradicate it from New York fields,” Gregg said.
Neither the Farm Bureau nor the state Agriculture and Markets Department have kept track of the number of infected acres in New York.
“We aren’t hearing about any significant crop losses, but we are finding that the disease is quite prevalent,” said Jessica Chittenden, an agriculture department spokeswoman.
The disease was first observed in the contiguous United States in 1996 in Wyoming and then in Idaho, Montana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The fungus first appeared in New York in Clinton County, Bergstrom said.
The disease’s lesions first appear as reddish-brown to dark brown areas of external discoloration, eventually progressing into the roots, said Michael Wunsch, a Cornell graduate student in plant pathology and the report’s lead author.
The fungus prefers cooler soils, between 30 and 60 degrees. Infection and decay occur primarily in the late fall through early spring. Infected plants grow normally in the spring but die in mid-May to mid-June.
Bergstrom said the widespread detection of brown root rot in the testing indicates most fields already have the pathogen. He said the best thing farmers can do at this point is to buy stronger, disease-resistant alfalfa in the future.
“Once it’s in the soil, it’s not realistic to think about eradicating it,” Bergstrom said.
Staff reporter Ida M. Pease contributed to this article.




Medicare drug plan enrollment begins

Area Agency on aging increase staff to aid seniors in choosing best plan

Contributing Writer

Increasing premiums, changing coverage plans and periods of no coverage are adding to the confusion of applying for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program this year.
Enrollment in the Medicare Private Drug Plan, or Part D, began Thursday and ends Dec. 31.
The Part D program offers prescription drug coverage for people 65 and older who already enrolled in Medicare Part A or B.
With more coverage plans to choose from, the program may seem more confusing than ever.
“The sheer number of options and the marketing going on add to the confusion,” said Carol Deloff, director of the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging.
The government-subsidized program began in 2006. Private insurance companies work with Medicare to provide prescription drug coverage.
The Medicare Rights Center recommends that all eligible people review their options and choose a plan quickly because after Jan. 1 plans are locked in.
Mark Roberts, owner of The Medicine Shoppe on Groton Avenue in Cortlandville, deals with Part D on a regular basis. Roberts said choosing the right plan is the most important thing.
To help local seniors make decisions about the program, the Area Agency on Aging has increased its staff handling the work from two to four people until the deadline.
The staff has been going to senior centers informing people of what to do and what not to do when enrolling in Part D.
The Medicare Rights Center is a national nonprofit organization aimed at informing and helping people with Medicare needs. According to the center, even people already enrolled in Medicare Part D should review their current coverage plans, which might be more expensive or cover different medications than the previous coverage year.
“No one should assume that their drug coverage will remain the same if they stay in their current plan,” said Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center.
Deductibles and copayments vary, with the maximum 2008 deductible being $275.
Overall cost of coverage has risen since the program began two years ago. According to a study by Families USA, some premiums have increased by as much as 1,300 percent.
The increase in plan costs comes from the private insurance companies offering the plans, Deloff said. They choose their plans and set the costs.



Caseworkers staying longer spurs CPS improvements

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — More personnel have allowed Child Protective Services to perform at a higher level over the past year, according to a state report.
Department of Social Services Commissioner Kristen Monroe said Thursday that more CPS caseworkers have been on the job longer and trained more than in the past, leading to more efficient investigations and a smaller backlog of cases.
The state Office of Children and Family Services completed its two-year review of Cortland County’s CPS in June and presented a completed report at the end of October, Monroe told the County Legislature’s Human Services Committee on Thursday morning.
Although the review was not based on a high-profile 2006 local child abuse case on South Avenue in the city, Monroe said the timing of the review — the state reviews each county every three years — coincided with her request for an audit that stemmed from that case.
In June 2006 and June 2007, the state reviewed 20 individual Cortland County CPS cases, Monroe said. In all of those cases where sufficient information was gathered, the Office of Children and Family Services agreed with the local determinations.
None of those 40 cases were identified to contain unresolved child safety issues, which Monroe said means that at the point in time when they did the case review, they found no child safety issues that needed immediate attention.
The summary of the state review stated “significant improvement was evident related to the increased number of cases where information was gathered to make key decisions about safety, risk, the allegations, service provision to the family, and the decision to close the investigation.”
The review’s summary did state that further improvement is needed in gathering information from as many sources as possible to assist in longer-range risk assessments for identifying the possibilities of future abuse or maltreatment.
The local CPS department is handling cases more efficiently, which Monroe attributes to better staffing — in part due to a decreased turnover rate.
“The learning curve for this job is well over a year,” Monroe said Thursday.
A high number of open cases can be attributed to backlog, Monroe said, and having the work spread out among many caseworkers means that assessments are done quicker and better.

CPS figures

The following are among the findings of a state review in June 2006 and June 2007 of the Cortland County Child Protective Services, which showed improvement over the previous year.
In July 2006, the county had 280 open Child Protective Services investigations, and Department of Social Services Commissioner Kristen Monroe said 160 of those safety and abuse assessments were overdue.
Initial safety assessments in cases are due within seven days of the filing of a child abuse or neglect report, and a determination of whether there is credible evidence of child abuse or maltreatment has to be made within 60 days.
By July 2007, Monroe said there were 80 open investigations; in August of this year, there were 77 open investigations with 33 of those overdue for a report.
In September, there were 71 open investigations and 17 were overdue. As of Oct. 31, there were 94 open cases with 20 overdue reports.
Cortland County’s ability to perform initial safety assessments within the required seven-day timeframe is ranked 29th out of the 62 counties in the state, according to statewide statistics, which means that 56 percent of those initial assessments are completed in time.
Cortland is ranked sixth in the state when it comes to the percentage of determinations approved by the department within the 60-day period; that requirement is met 78 percent of the time.
Although she does not have past figures, Monroe said these numbers reflect a definite _improvement.




DMV site options down to 2 on River St.

MVE Homes property in Cortlandville under consideration in process of being sold

Staff Reporter

The Cortlandville site among consideration for the county’s Department of Motor Vehicles office relocation project is in the process of being sold, eliminating it as a potential site.
Now, only two of the proposed locations remain. Both are within the city’s 7th Ward, one between Cleveland and River streets and one in the BOCES plaza off Port Watson and River streets.
Carol Tytler, who chairs the county’s ad hoc space needs committee, said Thursday that the goal is to narrow the potential locations down and that the elimination of the MVE Homes site on Route 13 in Cortlandville as a possibility was just another step toward that goal.
“It was definitely a site worth considering,” Tytler said this morning. “I think all three sites were excellent choices and I am confident that the two remaining sites provide good options.”
Real estate agent David Yaman said Thursday that he could not reveal any details of the company that has negotiated an agreement to purchase the roughly 8-acre MVE Homes property, owned by Melvin and Phillip Simon.
Another company had been looking to purchase a 5-acre portion of the property, leaving about 3 acres for the DMV office, at a purchase price of $300,000.
The space needs committee identified three potential locations for the new DMV office, whittling down a much larger list to just the three possibilities that were presented to the full county Legislature at the end of September.
The two sites remaining on the committee list are on River Street in Cortland.
The 2.2-acre site between River and Cleveland streets across from Hampton Inn has an asking price of $400,000 — that site has an existing Morton-type metal building that may be of use to the county.
The second site near the south end of River  Street includes part of the BOCES facility parking lot. There is no price set for the site. The purchase of an additional adjacent property would be necessary to make that site viable for the county. The owner of the adjacent property said recently he would be willing to sell.
The county has held three public meetings on the proposal. Although the first two meeting did not result in any significant comment from members of the public, about 30 showed up at the East End Community Center on Oct. 30, where only a few people objected to locating the DMV in the East End.
Another meeting had been planned for Cortlandville, but Tytler said it is canceled.



County endorses hospital parking changes

Homer Avenue lot would be expanded but no new spaces would be created.

Staff Reporter

The county Planning Board endorsed Wednesday an expansion of a Cortland Regional Medical Center parking lot in front of the Here We Grow day care center on Homer Avenue.
The expansion would involve paving over the site of a house to the south of the property that has been demolished, the elimination of two of the four driveway entrances to the parking lot, and an increase in the size of the parking spaces to conform with the city’s parking lot standards.
The site is about 1.3 acres.
The increase in the size of the parking spaces means that there would be no net increase in the number of spaces in the lot.
The county Planning Department’s review of the project noted that “the redesigned lot would provide better traffic circulation patterns and would include a sidewalk around the entire perimeter of the site for safe pedestrian access to and from the parking lot and the adjoining day care center.”
Relocating the driveway entrances would also provide safer access to the site — one of these entrances would line up directly with Alvena Avenue, across Homer Avenue, and the other would be moved farther south, where the residence at 131 Homer Ave. has been razed.
The relocation of the entrances requires a work permit from the city Department of Public Works.
A special permit is required in the Professional Office zoning district for the parking lot, classified as an “ancillary parking area,” according to county Planning Department Director Dan Dineen.
There was some confusion, however, and the city Zoning Board of Appeals granted area variances at a meeting Monday instead of the special permit.
Ancillary parking areas don’t require the standard 10-foot buffer strips, only a 5-foot buffer, and the city hadn’t classified the lot as ancillary parking when it considered a permit — the lot didn’t meet the 10-foot buffer requirement.
The city Planning Board will review the project on Nov. 26 and it will choose either to abide by the county’s determination or to just use the area variances that have already been passed. If the lot is considered ancillary parking, it would go back before the city ZBA on Dec. 10 for the special permit.