by Troy Bishopp
DEANSBORO, NY — The weather is always on the mind of farmers; sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always relevant for folks on the front line of land stewardship. As India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, put it, “The choices that we make today will define our collective future. The choices may not be easy. But through awareness, technology, and a genuine global partnership, I am sure we can make the right choices.”
A discussion about improving our resilience to climate change was certainly bolstered by a sun-kissed sunset and tasting award-winning Gouda cheese, as Oneida County Cornell Cooperative Extension smartly held their evening program recently at the immaculate, Jake and Sylvia Stoltzfus’s cheese house in Deansboro.
The climate smart program began with highlights presented by Dr. Allison Chatrchyan, Director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions and Mary Wrege, Educator with the Cornell Climate Smart Farming Extension team who described and demoed the tools at Cornell’s Climate Smart Farming website ( “The farmers we talk to realize the climate is changing and they are experiencing it firsthand,” Chatrchyan explained. “The normal seasons are no longer normal.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), “the average annual temperature in the Northeast has increased by approximately 2.4 degrees and annual precipitation has increased by 4.9 inches over the last 120 years. There has been a 71 percent increase in the frequency of extreme rainfall events between 1958 and 2012.”
A survey pool of New York farmers indicated that 95 percent reported negative impacts from heavy rains in 2017. The bad news: Chatrychan and Wrege indicated with graphs from the website that heavy rains are expected to increase in intensity and frequency in the future and prolonged spiking of heat indices are also expected to continue as well. The length of a frost-free growing season has also increased by 10 days, on average. One local farmer quipped, “Well, we won’t have to go to Florida for winter vacation then.”
The website portal allows farmers and the public to learn about their own region, see scenarios, plan climate preparedness and peruse resources to mitigate climate issues along with ongoing real-time updates. Six key strategies for farmers that help reduce climate-related risks were: Focus on soil health, efficiently manage water resources, utilize integrated pest management, diversify farm enterprises, reduce livestock stress from extreme temperatures and assess farm operation, infrastructure and data in whole farm planning.
Fay Benson and Abbie Teeter of CCE’s South Central New York Dairy and Field Crops team, provided a hands-on look at rainfall’s effect on ground cover and shared soil health information and demonstrations for guests with their New York Grazinglands Coalition’s Soil Health Trailer. “Just enhancing soil organic matter by 1 percent has the potential to sequester 20,000 gallons of water per acre. That’s huge for communities and their watersheds. We can all be part of the solution,” said Benson.
A few renewable technologies were also featured during the evening. One was a small, portable solar photovoltaic unit for fencing and Jake provided a tour of their ground-mounted solar thermal system built to provide hot water to both the cheese-making process and for use in radiant floor heating. The solar water heating system uses heat from the sun to heat food-grade antifreeze encased in copper pipes that are housed in the panels. The heat is then carried to the two solar thermal water tanks where the heat is transferred to the surrounding water, which is maintained between 150 and 180°F. “We like it so much, we are considering solar panels for electricity production,” said Stoltzfus.
Knowledge was assimilated nicely by the 20 guests as they enjoyed an award winning array of Gouda cheeses including baby, aged, smoked, black pepper, jalapeno, sun-dried tomato and nettle blends from their showroom. They also congratulated Jake and Sylvia on their recent win of a Silver Medal at the New York State Fair dairy products competition in the Farmstead/Artisan Cow’s Milk Hard Cheese category for their aged Gouda. Commerce ensued as learning about smart farming practices never tasted so good!
“Farmers who employ several climate smart adaptions have the potential to improve their overall financial bottom line, as well as to improve productivity. We are seeing trends in Oneida County where farms are adopting practices that include: cover-cropping, no-till planting, securing farm energy audits, incorporating renewable energy technologies and enhancing barn ventilation and misting systems,” said Wrege. “Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) are committed to help farmers and communities get a handle on how to face and manage some of these weather-related challenges and extreme events.”
To find out more, contact Mary Wrege at 315.736.3394 Ext. 131 or