Empire State Produce Expo Highlights

Muddy Fingers Farm


The Empire State Producers Expo, which took place in January in Syracuse, NY, featured an educational program that tackled topics including what to look for in sprayers, crop protection updates, the benefits of grafting, and how to gauge the profitability of your crops — just to name a few.

To begin, Andrew Landers, a senior Extension associate in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University, told a packed room what they should look for in selecting sprayers, particularly a sprayer for a small farm. Many small operations don’t need large boom sprayers to get the job done.

Honing in on knapsack, or backpack sprayers, he said there are three factors affecting application rate: forward speed, pressure, and nozzle tip size.

“So, you need a pressure gauge for your backpack sprayer,” he said. Filtration also is important, as the nozzle may become blocked.

Constant pressure regulator valves, such as a CF valve, will help growers ensure a constant output. This can be achieved very economically, he explained, as the cost of a CF valve is about $12.

Landers also encouraged growers to rely on common sense. For example, he told the crowd to not use the same backpack sprayer on canopies as well as weeds. He also emphasized the importance of choosing a sprayer with a large filling hole, to avoid spilling.

For more information, Landers mentioned the Stewardship Community website, www.stewardshipcommunity.com. This site includes pointers on best spraying practices for backpack sprayers as well as information on spray distribution and calibration.

In addition, he mentioned two courses that are now available online. The courses are: Effective Spraying with Boom Sprayers for Organic Growers and Effective Spraying with Backpack Sprayers for Organic Growers. The courses can be accessed via Cornell Cooperative Extension at http://moodle2.cce.cornell.edu/.

Crop Protection And Grafting

On the crop protection front, Robin Bellinder, a professor of weed science at Cornell University, mentioned that the herbicide acetochlor (trade names Harness and Degree), had undergone some changes and is no longer classified as “restricted use.” Bellinder said acetochlor may be available for use by New York sweet corn growers in the very near future.

In addition, she mentioned that new formulations of Syngenta’s herbicides Lumax and Lexar — Lumax EZ and Lexar EZ — have been registered for use on sweet corn along with field corn, seed corn, and yellow popcorn.

Also in the crop protection vein, Peter Nitzsche, county Extension department head, agricultural and resource management agent with Rutgers Cooperative Extension, discussed the benefits of grafting tomatoes for production in high tunnels. The main reason to consider using grafted tomatoes, he said, is to avoid soil-borne diseases. Grafting also can help with plant stress issues.

In 2011 and 2012, Nitzsche conducted a study in the research high tunnels at the Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center, in Bridgeton, NJ. From his studies, he learned that grafting in high tunnels may be an option when good crop rotation is difficult and when growers are planting heirlooms that are not disease resistant. 

The grafting process also increases the vigor of the plant and increases yields, he added, “and that’s where the money is.”

From his observations, Nitzsche said grafting is a tool to help increase tomato yields in high tunnels even when soil-borne diseases do not appear to be the issue. However, it does come with an increased production cost, ranging from 46 cents to $1.12 per plant.

Nitzsche’s advice to growers: “Start small, experiment, and become efficient at grafting.”

Defining Profits

As growers are involved in production agriculture to feed people and make money along the way, one grower discussed how the benefits of keeping records on how much time it takes to produce a crop can lead to increased profits. Liz Martin of Muddy Fingers Farm in Hector, NY, said “successful farmers know what makes them money.” That seems so obvious, she said, but it also is very critical.

Muddy Fingers, a very small operation that consists of just three fields, makes up for its diminutive size by growing 40 crops. Martin and her husband Matthew Glenn decided that to ensure profitability, they needed to know which crops were the most lucrative for the farm. Martin began a crop journal and also recorded the amount of time spent on production for each crop as well as time spent harvesting, packing, etc. The goal is to determine “dollar per minute” value.

At the end of the season, Martin said she adds up all the minutes spent on production and then added that total with the number of minutes spent on harvesting functions to determine the total number of minutes spent on a crop. Next, she looks at how much money the farm earned for the crop the previous year and divides the dollars earned the year before by the total number of minutes to determine how much that particular crop earns per minute. 

“Since we have been keeping track of this information, our income has come up,” said Martin. When a crop was inefficient, we either figured a way to make it more profitable, had fewer beds, or made another adjustment,” she explained. 

By using this process, a grower can “farm on paper before farming in soil.” Martin added that the earnings per minute are “relative profitability,” as the numbers don’t include the cost of seed or the cost of production.