08/03/13 2:30pm
08/03/2013 2:30 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Baiting Hollow farmer Jeff Rottkamp turning over one of his fields earlier this year for the planting of early sweet corn.

Growing sweet corn on the North Fork is an art form. It takes time, attention and plenty of fertilizer to ensure crops have enough nutrients to thrive.

The results are delicious, but the process can cause unintended harm to the environment, namely pollution from nitrogen that seeps into ground and surface water and feeds damaging algal blooms.

In an effort to achieve a successful harvest while protecting the environment, Suffolk County farmers are participating for the second year in a conservation project this summer to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizers on sweet corn and potato crops. The technology, called controlled-release fertilizer, is designed to break down gradually according to the plant’s need for nutrients. The product would replace conventional fertilizers that can dissolve during heavy rains and enter local water systems.

Cornell Cooperative Extension and American Farmland Trust are spearheading the water-quality improvement project. CCE is working directly with 35 farmers to calibrate equipment to apply fertilizers at the correct rate. To test the product’s efficiency, samples will be taken from corn and potato crops produced with traditional fertilizer and controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer to determine if both crops are receiving adequate nitrogen, according to AFT.

“Long Island farmers are well aware of concerns about drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary,” said David Haight, New York director of AFT. “Our project offers practical ways for farmers to sustain crop yields while reducing nitrogen entering the water.”

Last year’s program had 10 participating farmers, who were able to cut their fertilizer use by an average of 20 percent while sustaining farm productivity, according to AFT.

Marty Sidor, owner of North Fork Potato Chips in Cutchogue, said the product fits well in his planting and fertilizing plan.

“It’s very user-friendly,” Mr. Sidor said. “I have seen crops that store better and I have not seen one deficiency in the field through all this time.”

Fourth-generation farmer Phil Schmitt, owner of Schmitt Family Farm in Riverhead, is having similar success with the conservation methods.

“We practice very intensive agriculture,” he said. “We started to see that the land was getting a little tired.”

To regenerate the soils, Mr. Schmitt employs an integrated pest management approach to reduce his use of pesticides and spreads compost to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. As a part of this initiative, Mr. Schmitt is using controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer on all of his sweet corn.

He made the switch, he said, “to do the right thing.”

To encourage participation, the program provides risk protection for farmers interested in reducing dependence on traditional fertilizers, but concerned about possible yield losses. The farmland trust and AgFlex, a private company that manage the risks farmers face when adopting conservation practices, introduced the protection policy to 10 Suffolk sweet corn growers in 2012. It pays farmers cash if a new conservation practice, such as switching to a controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer, reduces yields — and therefore income.

Becky Wiseman, CCE’s agricultural environmental stewardship coordinator who works with farmers on the program, said it addresses water contamination, one of the toughest issues local farmers have ever faced. The region’s aquifers, the sole source of drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary, suffer from heightened levels of nitrogen, according to the farm trust.

Suffolk County long ago recognized that safeguarding agriculture involves safeguarding agricultural lands. Suffolk launched the country’s first farmland preservation program in the 1970s. Before that, aggressive real estate development reduced land in active farming from 100,000 acres during the mid-1900s to the current 34,000 acres. Without the action, Long Island would have lost nearly all of its farms, Mr. Haight said.

Today, agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy. Suffolk County ranks first in New York in annual farm sales, with more than $300 million in farm products sold in 2010, according to the trust.

“We hope Suffolk County will once again be a national leader by demonstrating that it’s possible to work with farmers to protect water quality while keeping farms economically viable,” Mr. Haight said.

cmurray@timesreview.com

07/03/13 8:00am
07/03/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farmer Phil Schmitt (left) and his sons Matt (center) and Phil Jr. loading boxes of cabbage onto a flatbed at the family’s Riverhead farm in 2011. Phil Schmitt says most food safety issues have come out of West Coast and large farm operations.

Land preservation does not pit farmland preservation against open space protection. It’s about hard work and a commitment to preserving the character of our community, towns, county and island for future generations. It’s about quality of life.

In the 1970s, Suffolk County led the way by starting the farmland preservation program. Why? Because the people had the foresight to realize the importance of agriculture to Suffolk County. The seal of the Suffolk County Legislature, symbolically, is a plow.

Over the years, the towns and county have borrowed and spent millions to achieve the goals of protecting open space and farmland. Open space was prioritized for scenic and recreational qualities and habitat and sensitive wetland areas also were protected. Acquiring a critical mass of land is crucial to the preservation of meaningful wildlife habitat. These areas also provide for the active and passive recreational activities and the access to the water that we all enjoy.

Farmland preservation is critically important and food production must not be trivialized as so few things are produced in this country. We all appreciate food quality and safety. Without active farmland we would have no choice but to become dependent on foreign nations for our food, which could be of questionable safety.

The value of locally produced food cannot be minimized. Fruits and vegetables picked at the prime of ripeness provide not only great flavor and meals, but also are at their peak of nutritional value. The health benefits of locally grown produce cannot be refuted.

My bill would not prioritize open space preservation over farmland protection, but rather give them equal footing. A benefit of farmland protection is that the government pays less per acre, doesn’t have to fence, clean or police the property and it stays on the tax rolls. The landowner is forever responsible for the stewardship.

Another goal of the legislation is to insure that the money spent is well spent. The Suffolk County Planning Department has a rating system in place for both farmland preservation and open space acquisition. The professional planners rate available parcels, and following their recommendations we should acquire the very best properties that reach a higher standard. The land should reach a certain threshold before the county invests in appraisals, etc. The designated portion of the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection money for acquisition has been heavily borrowed against leaving little to spend. Let’s make sure we preserve the highest quality open space and the best soils.

I’ll be happy to work with anyone and everyone to find a different funding source to continue the efforts to protect today’s land for tomorrow’s generation. My long record of land preservation in Southold, both in open space and farmland protection, tells the whole story.

My 28 years as an elected official have been spent saving both open space and farmland. I helped to make the difficult decisions about how to focus preservation efforts and prioritize spending our always limited resources. I look forward to bringing this commitment of preserving the best to the county level.

In 100 years my name and those in all the current and past preservation efforts will be forgotten. But the people who live on Long Island will benefit from and appreciate the hard work and resources that we used to preserve both open space and farmland.

Al Krupski is the Suffolk County legislator for the 1st District.

06/02/13 8:40am
06/02/2013 8:40 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork's corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork’s corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

New York could become the first state in the nation to require that genetically modified foods be labeled as such, a move farmers say could put locally grown produce at a disadvantage.

State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) have sponsored legislation to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified food. The bills follow years of debate over the safety of genetically modified foods, which were introduced in the early l990s. Legislation has been proposed in several states, including California, where it was put before voters in 2012 as Proposition 37 and failed by a slim margin. Bills have been introduced more recently in Connecticut and Maine.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is produced when genes from one species are extracted and artificially introduced into the genes of another, according to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary.

The practical applications of this process include giving a plant the ability to produce its own pesticide to deter insects, thereby saving farmers having to apply costly and potentially dangerous pesticides, according to the Institute for Responsible Technology, which investigates the risks and impacts of GMO foods.

Major GMO food crops include soy, cotton and corn, said Dale Moyer, associate executive director of agriculture for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk. It’s not employed on fresh fruits and vegetables such as oranges or peppers.

Varieties of sweet corn are the only GMO crops grown on the North Fork intended for human consumption, but they’re very limited, Mr. Moyer said. Some area farmers also grow field corn, used primarily as animal feed, he added.

Under the pending legislation sweet corn varieties grown from genetically modified seeds would fall under the mandatory labeling requirement.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Mr. LaValle. “Essentially, if a foodstuff is produced using genetic engineering, this must be indicated on its label.”

But Steve Ammerman, spokesperson for the NYS Farm Bureau, said mandatory labeling is unnecessary.

“We believe the policies should be based on sound science, and the science so far is that GMO foods are safe,” Mr. Ammerman said. “Labeling would imply that GMO foods are not.”

He argues that labeling will put GMO-grown products at a disadvantage when placed next to other produce. “If a consumer walked up and saw a label that said ‘Contains GMO,’ it misleads the consumer,” he said.

Kathleen Furey, director of GMO Free New York, said genetically modified foods have not been proven safe. There have not been any long-term, independent, peer-reviewed human consumption studies to support that claim, she said. The longest study to date on GMO foods ran about two years and involved rats, not humans, she said.

The study, led by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini, found that mice fed a diet of genetically modified corn experienced increased mortality, tumors and organ damage compared to a control group that was fed non-modified corn, said Ms. Furey.

“We deserve the right to know what were eating,” she said.

About 80 percent of what shoppers see on supermarket shelves contain GMOs, said Ms. Furey. Many of the products are processed foods, including infant formulas.

Consumers do have one way of spotting GMO-free foods. Certified organic foods do not contain genetically modified products, Mr. Ammerman said.

If labeling is mandated, farmers would rather see labeling say something like “GMO free” as compared to “contains GMO,” said Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

The legislation is expected to come up for a vote before the current legislative session ends June 20.

cmiller@timesreview.com

05/22/13 6:45pm
05/22/2013 6:45 PM

liveblog

The Riverhead Town Board heard opposition from the farm community to a proposed change to require stricter regulations on excavating land for agriculture during a public hearing tonight.

Farmers argued that under state law, agricultural uses are exempt from requiring permits for excavating, but Supervisor Sean Walter contends that under current rules, developers can just say they’re farming and operate sand mines instead.

The board also approved a resolution to hire Richard Marakovitz as a consultant on air traffic control issues for $200 a day, capped at $5,000. Mr. Marakovitz is being hired to help the town try to lure the FAA to EPCAL. Officials said Mr. Marakovitz has been helping the town voluntarily, but that there is a lot more work ahead on the issue.

Click below to read the recap of News-Review reporter Tim Gannon’s live blog during the meeting. The full agenda and resolution packet is below that.

 

May_22,_2013_-_Agenda by rnews_review

 

May_22,_2013_-_Packet by rnews_review

 

05/20/13 8:10am
05/20/2013 8:10 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A customer, Lucille Kurtz, inspects a boxwood plant at Verderber’s Landscape Nursery and Garden Center in Riverhead. No cases have been reported on the North Fork.

Landscapers, nursery owners and plant scientists are on the lookout for a new fungus that attacks one of Long Island’s most popular plants: the boxwood.

The boxwood blight has yet to have a significant impact on Long Island, and both the landscaping and research communities are working hard to keep it that way, said Margery Daughtrey, a plant pathologist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead.

“We will have to be quite lucky and vigilant not to bring it in from other areas,” she said.

The deadly disease, calonectria pseudonaviculata, was first spotted in the United Kingdom in 1994, though scientists are unsure of where the disease originally came from.

The blight was not a concern stateside until October 2011, Ms. Daughtrey said, when the disease was found in Connecticut and North Carolina.

COURTESY PHOTO | Boxwoods infected with the blight have a dark brown or black spot on their leaves.

Since the disease had already been well-documented in Europe, scientists in the U.S. were able to share information about the disease quickly, she said. The fungus then spread to a few other states, like Maryland, Virginia and Oregon, which are large exporters of boxwood plants. That’s kept scientists on high alert for cases in new states.

The first cases of the disease in New York were found at two garden centers in December 2011.

The fungal disease attacks the plant at the point of contact, causing signature black spots on the leaves.

“We’re used to seeing dead foliage on boxwoods for a bunch of reasons, including winter injury, but this is a disease where the leaves usually fall off,” Ms. Daughtrey said.

Bare boxwood twigs are a good indicator that the blight is present, she said, adding that gardeners may also notice thin black streaks running down the sides of twigs on blight-infected boxwoods.

Since the disease was first spotted in 2011, no more than a dozen cases of boxwood blight in the landscape have been identified on Long Island, she said, adding that the infected plants were likely circulated before word of the disease spread. None of those cases occurred on the North Fork, she said.

No cases have yet been seen in production at nurseries on Long Island, she said.

“I think our nurseries have escaped contamination up until now,” Ms. Daughtrey said. “I don’t know if they always will but they’ve been lucky so far.”

But the growing demand for boxwood — a popular deer-resistant plant — on Long Island means that may not always be the case.

“Long Island doesn’t grow as many boxwoods as it needs,” Ms. Daughtrey said. “Over time it will get moved along a lot.”

Federal funding was recently approved to research the disease, she said, adding that scientists are curious to learn why some boxwood species are more resistant to it than others.

Landscapers who have been affected by the disease have worked with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to eradicate the blight, Ms. Daughtrey said.

Most nurseries are aware of the new blight and are taking steps to prevent it from reaching the North Fork, Ms. Daughtrey said.

COURTESY PHOTO | The fungus is fatal to the boxwood plant it infects, causing its leaves to fall off.

Lou Caracciolo, owner of Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport, said his company is screening the sources of its boxwood plants. If a supplier is from a state where infected plants are known to exist, the nursery will shop elsewhere.

“Basically, all you can do is just monitor,” Mr. Caracciolo said. “It’s a matter of infected plants coming in.”

Yet other nurseries in the area haven’t been able to find any suppliers of healthy boxwood. Homeside Florist and Garden Center in Riverhead just isn’t selling any boxwood this year.

“We can’t get healthy ones,” an employee explained.

At Twin Pond Nursery on Sound Avenue, several rows of boxwood plants — five different varieties in all — grow in one of the fields. An employee said this is the third year the nursery has grown the plants.

“The problem is there’s no fungicide for [the blight],” he said, adding the plants there came from Delaware.

Still, Ms. Daughtrey said there are steps consumers can take to keep the blight in check. Infected plants will be more recent purchases from within the last three years, she said. English boxwoods, one of the more expensive varieties, are most susceptible.

From now on, homeowners should plant boxwoods in open spaces instead of in the shade, since sunlight will help prevent damp conditions that helps the disease flourish.

Consumers and landscapers should also be most wary during cooler, wetter times of the season, she said. Scientists will be watching this season to see how the fungus behaves in drier conditions.

“We need to live with it for a while see how it behaves,” she said. “It’s new. We really don’t know what to expect.”

psquire@timesreview.com 

03/17/13 10:00am
03/17/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop seated at the head of the table with Brookhaven fouth generation farmer and LIFB past president Bob Nolan as they met with farmers on issues of immigration reform, budget sequestration and the federal debt limit Saturday morning.

Congressman Tim Bishop and the Long Island Farm Bureau hosted the annual farmers ‘Coffee with the Congressman’ at farm bureau headquarters on Edwards Avenue in Calverton Saturday morning.

The annual discussion centers around the current status and the future of farming on Long Island.

The economy, including budget sequestration and the federal debt limit, and the issue of immigration took center stage this year.

Mr. Bishop (D-Southampton) said he believes that comprehensive immigration reform, including the ‘Dream Act’ and securing our borders, along with an agricultural visa program for farm workers will be addressed in a very realistic way.

“It is a huge issue for the agriculture community and their workforce,” said Mr. Bishop, now in his 11th year in office. “We have a real opportunity to get something done. It makes sense for it to be bipartisan.”

03/09/13 9:00am
03/09/2013 9:00 AM

TIM KELLY PHOTO | In a recent photo, Southold vineyard owner David Shanks shows the extensive pruning his vines required.

All Penguin Group CEO David Shanks ever wanted was to have a small area on his property that captured enough sunlight to grow roses and tomatoes. About a year ago, the part-time Southold resident ended up owning a 44-acre farm.

His farm, Surrey Lane Vineyard Orchard Farm, located on Main Road in Southold, was formerly Ackerly Pond Vineyard owned by Ray Blum. Prior to tilling his new land, Mr. Shanks, 66, sought advice from local expert viticulturist Steve Mudd and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead to help him jump start his farming plans.

“The people here have been amazing, friendly and helpful,” Mr. Shanks said. “I’m sure I’ve done something wrong, but I’m learning.”

Mr. Mudd described Mr. Shanks as having a fantastic attitude and said his motivation will drive the farm’s success.

“Agriculture, in general, is very frustrating because so much of it is out of your control,” Mr. Mudd said. “He’s hands-on and is a lot of fun to work with it.”

Mr. Shanks — an avid fisher of striped bass, fluke and blackfish — and his wife, Elizabeth, reside in New Jersey and purchased a second home in Southold in 2000 after deciding to move there from their summer place in Bridgehampton.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t get discovered anymore than it has,” Mr. Shanks said about the North Fork, adding he enjoys the area’s quaintness.

Mr. Shanks said that after moving he started to look into acquiring a two-acre farm where he could grow a few grapes, apple trees, vegetables and flowers. Two turned into four, then eight. Ultimately, the Shanks settled on the 44-acre farm. In addition to planting grapes, vegetables and flowers, Mr. Shanks is also growing a variety of fruits, including blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

“It’s the best thing I could have done,” Mr. Shanks said. “I’m having a good time with it.”

Mr. Shanks said the most enjoyable part of harvesting his crop last year was picking his own tomatoes and zucchini. Using the fresh produce, Mr. Shanks said, he made his own sauce and one of his favorite Italian dishes: zucchini stuffed with ricotta cheese.

“My wife cooked when the kids were little and now I do all of the cooking,” he said as he drove through his farm. “Nothing tastes better than something you pick or fish yourself.”

The property, which he bought in December 2011, includes 17-acres of grapes. Last year, he sold the 40-ton harvest to Wölffer Estate Winery in Sagaponack. Mr. Shanks said his crop will become cabernet franc and chardonnay.

Mr. Shanks said he’s enjoying getting his hands dirty and growing fruits and vegetables. Last summer, he donated most of his harvest to a food bank in Greenport.

This time around, Mr. Shanks said he’s turned his focus to apples.

Before he planted apple trees, Mr. Shanks said he sought advice from Mr. Mudd and Cornell Cooperative Extension. The group recommended Mr. Shanks use a spindle technique to support young branches to accelerate the growth process. He now has 1,800 apple trees and is growing Fuji, red delicious, dandy red and other varieties. He’s currently looking for a market to sell his next harvest, which he estimates will be about 80,000 apples.

In addition to connecting with local agriculture experts, the Brooklyn native is also making friends in the animal kingdom.

While mowing his vineyard last summer, Mr. Shanks said he came across a red-tailed hawk. As he tended to his crops, Mr. Shanks said the hawk stayed perched on a pole and watched over the field like a guard dog.

“He stayed all summer,” Mr. Shanks said, adding his wife gave it the nickname Hannibal the Hawk.

Mr. Shanks said he plans to work more on the farm this year as his company finalizes a merger with Random House. The $5 billion deal is expected to be completed August, and as to his future with the new company he said, “They don’t need two CEOs.”

As his second career as a farmer unfolds, Mr. Shanks said he doesn’t plan on opening a tasting room at his winery, nor is he interested in agritourism, such as hayrides, at this time. Maybe apple-picking in the future, he said. And he’s considering a community supported agriculture program, known as CSA. Maybe a little farm stand in the future, too.

And if Mr. Shanks ever decides to go into the winery business, he’s already got the logo picked out.

“There’s got to be a hawk of some sort on the label,” he said.

jennifer@timesreview.com

03/04/13 12:00pm
03/04/2013 12:00 PM

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | New York Agri-Women member Erica Leubner discusses her trip to Japan with the group’s members at the Hyatt Place in Riverhead in 2012.

New York Agri-Women, the state chapter of a national organization devoted to the interests of women farmers, is again returning to Riverhead Town this spring, after holding its annual meeting last year at the Hyatt Place on East Main Street.

The group will hold a forum titled “Women in the Business of Farming on Long Island” on March 21 from 8:30 a.m.to 3 p.m.at Stonewalls Restaurant on Reeves Avenue.

Attendees at the event will hear the personal experiences of women involved in orchards, organic vegetables, wine grapes, greenhouse products, agritainment and aquaculture on eastern Long Island.

The conference, which includes a continental breakfast and lunch, costs $40 for New York Agri-women members and $40 for non-membres.

For more information, contact Beck Wiseman at becky.wiseman21154@gmail.com or Debbie Schmitt at debs573@yahoo.com.