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Cuomo farm plan aims to reduce costs

Thursday, February 07, 2013 - Updated: 5:29 PM

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced two new initiatives this month aimed at helping New York dairy farmers expand their businesses and reduce their energy costs.

And local members of the farming sector are intrigued by the possibilities.

According to a news release from the governor's office, the two new programs include the Anaerobic Digester Biogas-to-Electricity Program and the Diary Acceleration Program.

Anaerobic digesters turn organic waste produced by cows into electricity by utilizing equipment where bacteria break down the waste into a methane-based biogas, the release explained.

As part of the digester program, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will double the maximum incentive amount from $1 million to up to $2 million per installation for farmers to install the equipment.

David Balbain, an area dairy management specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension, said Wednesday that there seems to be a push to generate electricity from alternative sources.

Farms in Cooperstown have seen the effects of having such a system up and running, when the technology was in it's infancy, and many farms in western New York are utilizing -- and considering utilizing -- the technology.

Here in Montgomery County, though, only a handful of farms would benefit, he said, as it is geared more toward large-scale dairy farms with more cows and more of an ability to spread the investment out.

"It's a possibility. I wouldn't expect to see a wholesale rush of farms in Montgomery County looking to participate, but it would be great if one or two or three were able to take advantage," he said.

The other thing to look at, Balbain added, is what kind of value farms will get for the excess electricity.

Martin Kelly, president of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau, said it would be great for the board of supervisors, and the incoming legislature, to jump on board with this program.

"It's a possibility that we could have additional revenue for the county with the energy that could be produced by these digesters," Kelly said.

Kelly said it's a good opportunity for not only the farmer but the community around them.

"We really do need to find renewable energy that's viable to the economy and to the farmer and to the community," he said.

If implemented properly, Kelly said he foresees the positive impact.

"With new programs like this an increased funding we need to think outside the box."

With the Dairy Acceleration Program, it was designed to provide grants of up to $5,000 per dairy farm for services like financial analysis, strategic planning for growth, and other plans for expansion, the governor's release explained.

The program would also provide a "central point of access to technical programs" for the dairies looking to expand or improve productivity, the release continued.

Kelly said this piece of the governor's new programs would certainly benefit the local dairy farmers.

"The farmer has to help themselves and realize that these are really important tools to have at their disposal," Kelly said.

Many people, including farmers themselves, don't see dairy farming as a business, Kelly said, but at the end of the day, it is a business.

"Farming is a debting industry and so it's always good to know where your financial house stands and people who provide loans for farmers definitely like to see someone who's organized financially," he said, adding that the program will surely help those farmers to understand where they stand.

Tom Nelson, who owns Dellavale Farm in Pattersonville with his wife Terri, said the farm has been in the family for four generations and feels that the Dairy Acceleration Program will help local farms in terms of expansion and profitability.

Nelson said the program puts money into the regional dairy and field crop teams through Cornell Cooperative Extension.

"Those I've had quite a bit of dealing with and that's a good place to put some money," he said. "They're a real good source for non-bias crop information."

With a lot of new technology coming out in the last five years, the team knows their information and provide non-bias opinions on the programs, he said.

And the program's grants can help with things that often are the biggest expenses for farmers.

"To have a grant to help you research those kind of things is very beneficial," he said, adding that he's hoping to pursue the DAP grant.

With 450 acres, 46 milking cows, and a total of 140 animals on the farm, Nelson said they are a small dairy operation but one that's been having discussions as to what they should do in the future.

"Wholesale marketing your milk for the long term for a small operation, there's what I feel, not much future in it," he said. "You have to be diverse and you have to be direct to the customer. Large-scale dairies are so much more efficient on a per cow basis. I hate to admit that, but they are. Smaller farms have to be more flexible. They have to capture more of that retail dollar because unfortunately the cost of doing business continues to rise and the price that we get for our milk continues to stay stagnant."

Balbain said that although expansion isn't necessarily for every farm, the program would help those considering it.

"Every farm family kind of has to make their own decisions that are best for them."

     

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