Food For Thought

As we begin a new crop season I want to share some alarming facts about the food you will produce in 2017. Most of this data comes from a series of articles by National Geographic in March 2016. Hunger knows no borders. As a human race, we need to do more to salvage the nutrition we discard annually. This problem is global in nature. Each society and nation has its own particular reasons for this waste. The net result is nutritious food never reaches those who are starving.

Industrialized countries lose fewer fruits and vegetables in production, but consumers waste more. In developing countries more is lost in production, but consumers throw out less. Globally 46% of fruits and vegetables never make it to a fork. Every year 2.9 trillion pounds of food-about a third of the production never gets consumed globally.

You should be asking yourself where does this break down develop? In the US 20% is lost at harvest many times due to color or size. Wholesale and Grocery are responsible or a 9% shrink. As a consuming public we, on average, discard 19% of our food. Here in the US we discard as much as 6 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables due to aesthetic reasons alone. We buy too often based on our perception of perfection that has zero to do with food quality.

Today we spend almost an equal amount on food in restaurants as we do in grocery stores. Too often portions are served in excess of our appetites. In the last 50 years todays “cup of coffee” is actually closer to 2 than 1 cup. Dinner plates are 36% bigger than 50 years ago. Yet we continue to fill our plates only to discard nutritious food.

I share this with you as you consider that in today’s market place there is virtually no market for anything less than perfect. Maybe this will help give you the courage to thin a little harder or remove varieties that are no longer aesthetically perfect by 2017 standards.

A History of Kast Farms, Inc.

Adelbert Chapman was married in 1883 in Sweden, NY. Less than a year later, he moved his family thirteen miles west to the new farm, he purchased in the town of Gaines in Orleans County. Originally part of the Holland Land Company, Adelbert purchased the farm from members of the Rhodes family who established the farm in 1833. The property of the farm at the corner of Densmore Road and West Transit Church Road was situated in an ideal location. Located approximately seven miles south of Lake Ontario and about one mile south of Ridge Road, the area is perfect for growing a wide variety of crops. The proximity to the lake creates a microclimate beneficial for growing fruit and the variety of soil types allows for multiple vegetable and grain crops. The farm is also located less than two miles north of the Erie Canal, providing an excellent transportation route for produce to market and a source of supplies for the farm when originally purchased.

Like most early farms, the family maintained a variety of livestock and grew produce for themselves primarily, if there was surplus it was sold at market. Chickens, hogs, milking cows, sheep were all in residence. Apples, grapes, corn, cabbage, peas, green beans, tomatoes, hay, wheat, oats and sometimes barley were all grown in abundance on the original homestead. Apple orchards on the original farm purchase included varieties such as Greening, Baldwin and King (Charles or Permian). Portions of these orchards were replanted in the mid 1920’s and again in the late 40’s. Stanley recalls his father blasting out old stumps with Dynamite when he was very young.

When John T. Kast married Adelbert’s fourth daughter Ruth, in 1915, Adelbert built them a smaller house on the main farm approximately 100 yards from the big farmhouse. John & Ruth moved in there in 1916 and John and Adelbert began farming together. Tragedy struck the family in 1920 when Adelbert’s touring car was struck by the express trolley from Rochester and was killed along with three other members of his family (his daughter Fern and her two sons Harold and Ralph). John became the sole farmer on the Chapman farm at this time and he bought the farm from his mother in-law, Evelyn, in 1922. While all seven of John & Ruth’s children helped on the farm, only two stayed on the farm. Their oldest son Stanley and his younger brother Merwin worked together for over 60 years.

Stanley partnered with his father John T. in 1946 and progressively took on more ownership of the farm up until 1959 when he ultimately bought the entire farm from his father.

As Stanley took over the operation in the late 50’s and additionally as David became more involved, the farm began transitioning into a more commercial operation. Primary crops grown at this time were apples, sweet cherries, corn, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, wheat and cabbage. While livestock diminished during this period, a herd of sheep was maintained on the farm until the late 1970’s. David partnered with Stanley in 1966 to run the farm while Stanley’s wife Evelyn managed the books. Together they incorporated the farm in 1975.

In the early 80’s the push to increase acreage for fruit production began. Additional apple orchards were planted along with sour cherries. Processing vegetable acreage also increased at this time. Primary crops were once again apples, field & sweet corn, snap beans, and wheat. These crops became the staple for the farm for a number of years and continue to be so today. David and his wife Kathy took over full ownership of the farm in 1989. Kathy took on the office manager duties while David ran the farm operation. During this time, David also partnered with eight other local farm families to form Lake Ridge Fruit Company, LLC an apple packing and storage facility located in the town of Gaines in Orleans County. David served as president for over 20 years. Lake Ridge Fruit Company, LLC and its subsidiary, Lake Ontario Fruit, Inc. has since grown into one of the largest apple packing and storage operations in the Northeast.

John and Brett partnered with David and Kathy in 2015, both took different paths to the farm initially. Brett has been with the farm since 2001 and spent a year in Texas working on oil and natural gas rigs in 2007. He now serves in the role of Orchard Manager. NY 1 (SnapDragon), NY 2 (RubyFrost), Koru, Gala and Fuji have been the most recent additions to the orchards. John spent over 15 years working in the zoo field. He returned to the farm in May of 2013 after working at the Fort Worth Zoo in Fort Worth, TX for five years. He now serves in the role of Field Crop Manager. Since his return, the farm has expanded crops to include lima beans, soybeans and malting barley.

The Farm has had a long-standing relationship with Cornell University running test plots and new trial varieties of fruits and vegetables. The relationship began with tomato varieties and harvesters initially and continues with apples today. Test varieties of apples include: Honey Crisp, SweeTango, Lyndamac, Pink Lady, Gala, NY 2 (RubyFrost) & five other unnamed Cornell varieties.

Kast Farms was awarded the Conservation Farmer of the Year award in 2009 and received The New York State Century Farm Award in 2016.

 

Time for a Real Reality Check

 

This will be a very difficult article for many of you to read. I can assure you that it is even more difficult for me to draft. We have been discussing and advocating for changes to improve our labor situation on our respective farms. Many of you have traveled to countless meetings in various locations such as Albany and DC to make your case. The end result is we have kept the debate alive but in truth seen little positive changes. So what do we do? Being from New York State and being a farmer giving up simply does not seem like a choice. We each have faced more setbacks that we have had no control over in the past. Is this setback like bad weather and weak markets? I would argue no. To continue to beat the same drum in the same way may however not be the best usage of our efforts.

America has always had a shortage of farm labor ever since the last Pilgrim stubbed his toes on Plymouth Rock. Non-agriculture occupations have always loomed in a more positive light here. We actually fought a Civil War over this very topic. This  reluctance to change came close to destroying the Union. Time marches forward. Technology offers many changes to our work. In most work sites, technology has made the work less strenuous. The sad truth is that this is not the case in agriculture. Yes we have advanced machines to do many chores but the horse seems to have made out better than the field hands. The horse no longer pulls our farm tools but we still depend on a man to pick our fruit.

As farmers, we have always blindly accepted that the laws of supply and demand would decide the price of a bushel of apples. Yet we seem to not accept these same laws of supply and demand when it comes to our cost for labor. Today we have evolved and made great advances in our operations. New equipment, buildings and in general every advancement to our industry has been accepted and somehow we have found a way to finance this growth. So my question is, why is labor different?

I think it will continue to be the farm business that embraces new technologies that will survive. Supply and demand is very real. It is present in our ability to source the necessary human resources we need to remain world-wide competitive. Every industry has been forced with this similar dilemma. We have seen this in industry, entertainment, pro sports and more. In order to field the best human resources you have to offer the most attractive package. Agriculture is no longer immune to this truth.

I agree that we need a legal system to hire the best human resources necessary to operate in 2017. This may mean we need to source this labor from abroad. Many of the best hockey players and baseball players we watch every day are not US citizens. To remain at that elite level those enterprises have found a way to employ the necessary talent.

We need to accept that we are not the same agriculture of our grandfathers or for that matter our fathers.  We are today “agribusiness” not simply the “family farm” that only hired family members and distant uncles. Times have changed. We have changed. The farms of the future will accept this and make the needed changes to source the most talented team. Yesterday is gone. It will only return in our memory. We need to see the reality that farm labor comes with cost. It is rare and it is talented. If you wish to draw from this limited pool you need to be willing to invest in it.

Time To Act

Most of you will not read what I am about to write for a month or more. That is not that important except for the fact it will be approaching Spring and the time to make very definite plans on your source of labor for 2017 is approaching. The status of labor supply under the Trump Presidency remains uncertain at best. As a producer in New York we must decide if we are entering the race against Mother Nature to produce a new crop before the realities of winter in New York end our growing season. We are not California and blessed with a very long, extended season of growing opportunities. We get one shot each year to produce one crop.

Paul Baker

If you have any intentions of entering the H2A program for the first time I would contend that the hour of decision is upon you. Very quickly the time needed to prepare for this will have come and past by you. Unfortunately, we do not have an “overnight” order plan for you to participate in. Each operation is unique. Each farm must assess the risk it is taking in this quest to source the needed labor for their operations success.

For this discussion, let us not consider what may happen in Albany before their legislative session ends in June. Today lets you and I play “immigration roulette.”  If you are going to remain static and continue as in the past you need to be aware of the risks you are assuming. How confident is your belief that come that critical hour you will have the necessary hands needed to harvest that singular crop in 2017?

I receive, on average, at least one call a day from a producer telling me of his issues with ICE or Border Patrol. This is up over previous years. Most calls have a repeating story line. It goes like this:  One or more of your employees were stopped for some legal reason, speeding, license violation, whatever. They were not taken while at your place of business. In many cases the story is the same. These are people who have worked with you for multiple years. They have families and you count on them. However, when their records are checked against an E-Verify microscope they are revealed to be holding improper identification. If later released and you are made aware of this truth the burden falls upon you. It is a felony for your employee to present false documents for employment. If you continue to employ this worker, you are waiving your immunity and now you will face a very stiff fine, perhaps even being charged with a felony yourself. I see a rise in this type of intervention. Until we have a new policy of record we will see a renewed surveillance of people as to their legality. This becomes a virtual “northern wall.”

You can have your workforce checked for status today. If you feel certain they are legal I would consider doing this. My caution to you is be prepared to accept the results. You may find that long standing key employees that have been with you for years have no legal status. Your larger harvest crews may be cut in half. The reality is if you do have them checked you will most likely scare 100% of them away.  Those found to be holding bad paper will no longer be able to work for you.  If they do, you place your business in definite financial risks. You have no legal excuse for employing these employees.

Many people may feel I am advocating for the H2A program. I am not. I am advocating that you protect your own interests with logic and not emotion. Every one of us who has employed people on our operations has a respect and loyalty to them. We count on them as do they upon you. The sad truth is that the law does not have a statute of forgiveness for being here illegally. I doubt any nation has one. Each year the economic reality is we basically play “immigration roulette” with our help when we do not know their true legal status. If they fail this test then you may be leaving your entire year’s work out in the fields. Most farms cannot afford such a reality. So you have to ask yourself, as Dirty Harry said in the movie, “Do you feel lucky?”

Paul Baker NYSHS Executive Director 3568 Saunders Settlement Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132 FAX: (716) 219-4089  |  Cell: (716) 807-6827 E-Mail: pbaker.hort@roadrunner.com

 

Time to look into the TEA Leaves about labor in 2017

Hard to believe that we have begun yet another year. Last year will be easy for most of you to let go as it was one of extreme drought and weak markets. As a result, each operation has to self- appraise and reduce all unwanted risks from your operation. With such conditions, we each need to sharpen our managerial skills.

In 2016, we each witnessed the election of a new President. A Republican now resides in the White House and he has a majority in the Congress as well. As Craig Regelbrugge says, “the only certainty is uncertainty.” President elect Trump has made a tightening of the Southern border a top priority. Whether his wall will be in the form of bricks or increased security only time will tell. What we can expect is that traffic of undocumented north will be slowed if not stopped. This may lead us to be faced with an E-Verify national standard. This test is one that many feel more than 50% of the current agriculture workforce could not meet. All this moves to one conclusion, labor will be in short supply for our farms in 2017.

President Elect Trump has a slogan that he will “Make America Great Again.” We all hope he is successful. If he is able to inspire new industry, it will mean we will be in competition with non-agriculture enterprises for this already tight labor supply. With fewer new workers and a national acceptance that our current farm staff is aging, labor will be hard to find.

The H2A program, while not new, has seen tremendous new interest in 2016. Florida is today the number one State to use this program. Not very long ago Washington State had very few employers using this program.  Today Washington is in the top 5 in States to use this program. Michigan has moved in the last 2 years in a similar pattern. Nationally we saw 165,000 workers registered. This was a 16% increase. Chicago had 8,684 applications to process. Already a burden larger than the current staff can handle in a timely fashion. Congress is not moving to improve this capacity as we sit awaiting the largest new wave of applications to date.

If labor is a key component on your farm, I think you must look realistically at the climate here in New York State. Our minimum wage will increase by $.70. In real dollars to you when you factor in the related other charges it comes to almost exactly a $1 increase to you per hour. There is no such thing as cheap labor.

Second, if the NYS legislature should pass an overtime provision I fear it would virtually close the door on any migratory workers from coming to New York. History has proven that these workers will not stay if offered only 40 and many if limited to 60 hours per week. Michigan and Pennsylvania will be the beneficiary of our legislator’s poor decision.

So, here is where we sit. Florida can keep most of its labor busy for up to 10 months. If there is any need to migrate north Georgia and South Carolina will embrace all of this. The northern migration as we have known it is virtually over. If an employer in New York State is to attract workers, he will have to first take the time to recruit and then offer transportation, improved housing and a competitive wage package. This limited labor pool has many options. The roads in New York will not be filled with new faces looking to work on your farms.

Each of you needs to assess your own operations.  Can you pass E-Verify? Can you compete with your neighbor to hire sufficient qualified help? Do you have housing that will be attractive to this work force? Are you willing to take a fresh look at labor? For most of you, it will be easier to find a new tractor than to replace a key employee.

Agriculture Affiliates will be hosting a one-day conference in Syracuse, NY on January 30, 2017 at the Doubletree Hotel off of Carrier Circle. The day will be divided into two parts. In the morning we will have Craig Regelbrugge lead us off and give his read of the “tea leaves” as a result of the election. If you have never heard Craig, you should plan to attend simply for his presentation.  Next, we will have a three member panel that will give their experiences in the past and looking ahead on how they will staff their labor needs. We will have vegetable, dairy and fruit represented here. Next, Kam Quarles from Will and Emery law Firm in Washington, DC will reveal what he sees as the demand on labor across the country.

We will break for lunch and begin the second half of the agenda. In the afternoon, we will have speakers from NYSDOL and NYS Department of Health who will address how you need to begin to prepare to apply for H2A employees. This will be in effect a H2A 101 type hour. Joe Hobbs will then try to explain the role of an agent in his seminar on “Role and selection of an H2a Agent.”

Then we will have Ann Margarete Pointer give a few comments on how to be in compliance during this entire process. She will also be front and center to answer your questions on such questions as to your rights and responsibilities as an employer. She is considered one of the top, if not the top, farm labor lawyers in the country.

The day will end with a half-hour of general questions from the floor to all of our presenters. I think this is one day you need to mark down and make certain you are present.

You do not need to be a member of Agriculture Affiliates or NYS Horticultural Society to attend this conference.

For more information, please see information on this website.

Paul Baker NYSHS Executive Director 3568 Saunders Settlement Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132 FAX: (716) 219-4089  |  Cell: (716) 807-6827 E-Mail: pbaker.hort@roadrunner.com

Save

Crop Insurance time is upon us?

By Paul Baker, NYSHS Executive Director

Very soon each of you will have to decide to invest or not in the 2017 crop insurance program. In many ways it seems unfair in that we have not even gotten a clear picture of the success or failure of the current year. I would not be honest if I told you that each year is a carbon copy of the previous. Weather is a challenge regardless of your personal views on the topic of global warming.  I want to give some fresh perspective to you as to if crop insurance is a good investment (BET) or not.

Baker
Baker

I think we first must be realistic about the current times we are living in. While the economy is not surging people are for the most part doing quite well. We certainly do not want to see anyone go hungry. I have seen many statistics that suggest that here in the USA we waste nearly 40% of the food we produce. It is either not consumed or diverted at harvest or packing times for a multitude of cosmetic reasons. So this tells me that if our food is not virtually perfect it is discarded. Very high expectations.

We live is a fast paced society that only honors the very best. Second place is only famous if you work for Avis. Here are a few examples to illustrate my point. We have played 94 World Series.

Over those 94 years 35 have gone to 7 games. So 37% of the time some team is a loser because they lost one more game over the entire season. We have played 50 Super Bowls and outside of the Buffalo Bills how many fans can tell you the teams that lost those 50 Super Bowls? If you want a non-sport example how many people can name the Presidential candidate’s name that lost in the last ten elections?

I want to take you back to baseball for the last example. If in your major league career you fail to hit safely 65% of the time you will most likely be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That works out to hitting safely at a 350 batting average. Here is where life throws you a curve. As a grower if you were only successful with 35% of your crops you would be out of business,  To produce a product that will evade that already mentioned 40% defect rate you must be striving for returns above 80%. To do less over time will mean a serious decline in your profitability.

The reality is that the bar is set very high. The reasons why a piece of fruit is discarded is enormous. I need not tell you all of them. The returns alone for the inferior product usually do not pay the variable cost of production. Here is where we need to take a fresh look at the wisdom of crop insurance.

One needs to understand that insurance is a calculated gamble. When you take out a fire insurance policy on your home you are hedging against it burning down in the next 365 days. Nearly all of us carry this insurance. Nearly every insurance company will take your policy. I looked it up. You have a .000069% chance that your home will burn down. I am not suggesting that you cancel your fire insurance. I simply want to illustrate the risk factor.

Some growers tell me that they cannot afford to have apple crop insurance. When I see the frequency that apple growers have been compensated for a “sub-par” crop, I tend to think it is a pretty good “BET”. This year for example you may have dodged early frost, hail and wind damage. Who would have thought we would experience the driest summer in 100 years. The expression “size does matter” takes on a whole new meaning.

I think if you are a commercial apple grower you need to seriously evaluate the risk you are taking to not have this insurance. The market place has virtually no interest in anything less than 100%. With so many factors out of your control I think you need to look at crop insurance in 2017 as essential as any other fundamental cost of production. If your risk of not producing that perfect crop were .000069% I would certainly agree you can skip it! The program is set up to assist you in staying in business. It is not here to get you a seat on the beach next winter. If you are serious about being a producer in this market driven economy I think you need to take advantage of this tool.

Paul Baker
NYSHS Executive Director
3568 Saunders Settlement Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132
FAX: (716) 219-4089  |  Cell: (716) 807-6827
E-Mail: pbaker.hort@roadrunner.com

Save

Save

What if?

By Paul Baker, NYSHS Executive Director

Sept. 1, in my mind, marks the official beginning of our fruit harvest.

Baker
Baker

Nationally and here in New York we are expecting another large crop. For the most part Mother Nature has been rather easy on all of the primary apple regions. No weather t r a g e d y means a big crop. Supply and demand usually tells us big crops drive down our prices. The question here when dealing with supply and demand is “who are our customers and how much do they wish to consume”?

We usually look at a U.S. crop to be marketed to a U.S. customer for the most part. Today with everything still on the tree and much yet to be decided politically by end of harvest I want to play the “what if” card.

Today the U.S. population is about 325 million. Our numbers are fairly steady as our birth rates have actually deceased over the last decade. We represent about 4.4 percent of the world’s population. China for example, the largest in population, is at 1.4 billion and India is close at 1.3 billion. Indonesia is a little shy of our population. Some important bench marks to keep in mind for this discussion are that since 1970 we have doubled the world population. Second in 2005 for the first time in history the urban populations were higher than the rural on the planet. In short more and more people are dependent on commercial agriculture as populations move from the land to the city.

The second area to consider today is what direction are we headed in this nation as far as public policy shifts. If we shift to a much more aggressive global market agenda we could see us seeking to take advantage of the 95 percent of the planet that does not live within our borders. While our domestic population remains quite steady globally we see the birth rates to be over twice the death rate. Combine this with the fact that that for many reasons we all are living longer we have an increased market share every year that needs our food. The end result is the planet needs every day more calories to take care of its increasing population.

So if the planet needs food who is in the best place to provide it? The world is for the most part static as far as land. What is not static is that as urban growth continues it takes farm land and converts it to urban streets of concrete.

Combine this with land that has not been as protected against pollution as our own we see areas of the world having to scramble to find good places to produce crops. Last we know that the most limiting element in crops is water. Fresh water is in high demand everywhere.

So that is table I have set before you in this mind game. While our population domestically is flat the rest of the world is expanding. New lives mean new demands for food. Water is critically short on most regions of the world. Here in the United States we have enormous under used water resources waiting to be put to its most productive usage. If we adapt a much more enlightened public policy that actually encourages agriculture rather than seeks to over regulate it we could see unprecedented growth in our ability to be the world’s bread basket.

The ugly truth is that despite every effort to suppress American farmers they have continued to be successful in delivering record crops. If we had public policy put in place to assist agriculture in labor and production technologies there is no limit to what we could produce. Then once we have the product we establish strong export markets. In short we have the land, water and technology to help feed the planet. We are in the best position to do this over any other country.

So I remain optimistic about agriculture. Food will never be set aside as out dated. Food will never go the route of the chariot. If we as a nation can organize our efforts, I think the future is very bright. We can easily market the crops of 2016 and beyond. We must continue to educate the public and private sectors of the land as to the potential that awaits us. It would be a great tragedy if short sighted public opinions and public policy saw American agriculture be down sized. Opportunity is knocking. The question will be as a nation are we prepared to respond?

Paul Baker
NYSHS Executive Director
3568 Saunders Settlement Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132
FAX: (716) 219-4089  |  Cell: (716) 807-6827
E-Mail: pbaker.hort@roadrunner.com

Save

Save