Empire Farm Days showcases NY farm trends, issues

Empire Farm Days bills itself as the biggest outdoor agriculture show in the northeast US, and today, thousands of people with an interest in farming were walking the 300 acres of displays, tents and information areas.Getting lots of interest, the beef producers' areas, including a tent with several breeds of beef cattle on display. Dr. Michael Baker, a beef cattle extension specialist at Cornell, says beef is a lot easier to raise because, unlike dairy, this livestock does not need milking three times a day. That makes cattle attractive to part time farmers who move to the country but still have 'city' day jobs.And, Baker says, the demand for protein worldwide increases the value of beef, especially since NY is so close to markets for it. In addition, he says, beef farms keep the land open and undeveloped, another benefit beside economics.Another hot topic at the Seneca Falls event, farm labor. Albany stopped State Labor Dept. reps from talking to us at their booth, however farmers did talk about how hard it is to find good workers, despite an unemployment rate hovering at 10%. Tom Bonoffski, who manages Bieler Enterprises' cranberry operation in Oswego County, says that when he started there, they tried to hire high schoolers and area residents for the part time, seasonal jobs, but it didn't work. The long hours and tough outdoor conditions deter many, and migrant laborers seem to be the only alternative. Bonoffski says the bill defeated in the legislature last week, which would have given more benefits to migrants and would have driven up costs for local farmers. He says his operation would have hired fewer workers. Agricultural help will be the 'Hot Topic' at Cornell's exhibit, with lots of seminars and information on Thursday.Empire Farm Days is in Seneca Falls, and features animal and equipment exhibits as well as product sampling and information of interest to the agriculture business. It runs until Thursday.