AUBURN — Local farmers and agricultural experts gathered Wednesday at the Cayuga County Cornell Cooperative Extension on Grant Avenue to discuss the impact of farming in the Owasco Lake watershed and trade ideas for ways to become better stewards of the land.
The forum, sponsored by the American Farmland Trust, featured three speakers and a discussion session for the farmers in attendance. David Haight, American Farmland Trust’s New York director, said he hoped to eventually develop a “conservation blueprint” to point the way forward.
“Farmers traditionally have been incredible environmental stewards — they make their living on the land, so they care deeply about it,” he said. “As we see water quality issues, it is (farmers’) responsibility to see what their role is.”
During the presentations and the discussion that followed, a persistent theme was the difficulty of keeping costs under control while still doing the right thing for the environment.
“The cost of implementing some of these programs you see here is very high,” said Skip Jensen, a senior field advisor with the New York State Farm Bureau. “Farmers know they need to do these kind of things to be good stewards, but they cost money and there’s a dwindling supply of state and federal funding to help pay, so it’s a real challenge.”
Cornell University hydrologist Todd Walter gave a presentation on ways to use computer monitoring of stormwater runoff to help reduce the amount of phosphorus entering tributaries and the lake itself.
He developed a website for the Salmon Creek watershed that can predict a day in advance where high water will appear at different places on a farm.
Similar technology will soon be available for the Owasco Lake watershed, he said, but some farmers questioned how it would account for things like long-forgotten underground drainage tiles.
Steven Cuddeback, a Cayuga County legislator with farmland in the southern part of the county, talked about how using techniques like control basins, grassed waterways and cover crops has helped him reduce erosion.
The event organizers were quick to point out that much progress has already been made around Owasco Lake, and cited the importance of improving communication between farmers and non-farmers.
“You’ve got agriculture on one side and city people on the other, and who knows if they’ll ever get to common ground with all the finger-pointing,” said Brenda Fouts, who runs a farm with her husband Jim.
One potential way forward is to get more farms involved in the voluntary, incentive-based Agricultural Environment Management program.
Out of about 200 farms in Cayuga County, only 89 have signed up and only 24 have progressed to the final stages, Judy Wright of the American Farmland Trust said.
Ed Scheffler, an organic dairy farmer in Groton, said he was impressed with what he heard at the forum. Like most of the farmers in attendance, he has implemented several conservation strategies, including a nutrient management program.
“Attitudes have changed over the last 30 years,” he said. “We’re organic, and we have a saying that you borrow the land from the previous generation and loan it to the next generation. It’s just ours to use.”
Staff writer Justin Murphy can be reached at 282-2237 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenMurphy