cover crops in field at Remembrance Farm in Trumansburg NY
Image by Graham Savio

Remembrance Farm

Belties / cattle grazing at Grace Wyly Farm
Image by Brendan Wyly

Belted Galloway cattle at Grace Wyly Farm

Beneficial plants and a High Tunnel at Stick & Stone Farm
Image by Jenna DeRario

Beneficial plants and a high tunnel at Stick & Stone Farm

Sustainable Agriculture

New Project Documents Sustainable Farming Practices

(ITHACA, NY January 22, 2021) – Tompkins County farmers are implementing practices that reduce nutrient runoff, improve soil health and lower on-farm energy use, but a broad understanding of the extent of those practices has been limited. A recent project at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins), funded with the support of The Park Foundation, attempts to catalogue and understand those efforts.

Over the past year, CCE-Tompkins agriculture program staff has worked with an advisory group comprised of farmers, Tompkins County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) representatives and the CCE Regional Dairy & Crop Team to develop and share a survey that measures actions local farms are taking to conserve resources and mitigate climate change. The survey results provide a baseline against which future progress can be tracked, and have been used to create resources to help other local producers adopt the same successful practices.

From the survey respondents, eight farms ranging in size from 3 acres to over 5,000 acres were selected as subjects for case studies. Those chosen represented the major farming sectors (dairy, row crops, vegetables, fruit, beef, and diversified livestock) in this area. In-depth interviews were conducted with the farm owners who described how their operations had incorporated resource-conserving systems and practices. 

The resulting farm “success stories” document sustainable farming practices used at each location, such as reduced tillage or intensive no-till, cover cropping, rotational grazing, stream bank protection, riparian forest buffers, rainwater runoff containment, windbreaks, perennial-based agriculture, and participation in the Conservation Stewardship Program. 

Farms profiled include Grace Wyly Farm and Shelterbelt Farm in Brooktondale, Hemlock Grove Farm in Danby, Carey Farm in Groton, Buck Farm and Walnut Ridge Farm in Lansing, Remembrance Farm in Trumansburg, and Stick & Stone Farm in Ulysses. Individual case studies may be read online or downloaded as PDFs here.

These efforts emerge from priorities identified in the current Tompkins County Agriculture & Farmland Protection Plan, a document that guides county and local governments in developing agricultural land use policies and projects. Revised most recently in 2015 by CCE-Tompkins staff, the Plan reflects extensive input from local farmers, municipal officials, community members and agriculture and conservation groups. Its recommendations include conducting a baseline survey of farming practices to help advance local environmental conservation efforts. 

“Without the support of The Park Foundation, we could not have fully realized this objective as set forth in the County’s Ag & Farmland Protection Plan,” said Graham Savio, Agriculture and Horticulture Issue Leader at CCE-TC. “We are grateful to them for enabling us to undertake this important work.”

This projects lays the groundwork for efforts to further agricultural resource conservation and climate change mitigation, which will include developing a pilot program to facilitate farmers receiving payments for providing ecosystem services to the community. Through such a program, farmers could be paid for improving soil water-holding capacity upstream that can decrease the risk of rainfall causing downstream flooding; or they could be paid for sequestering carbon in farm fields in order to help combat climate change. 

The information gathered through this environmental benchmarking survey and the in-depth interviews will help CCE-Tompkins agriculture staff to understand what farmers across Tompkins County know about these kind of programs, assist them in identifying likely participants, and inform the development of the pilot program.

Over the winter months, the survey will remain open to farmers in the county who have not yet responded. The survey can be accessed here, and farmers are encouraged to respond. In the spring, a summary of anonymized results will be shared with Tompkins County government, Tompkins County SWCD, the NRCS office in Tompkins County, the CCE Regional Dairy and Crop Team, American Farmland Trust, The Park Foundation, and concerned citizen groups.

For more information about this survey or other work to further sustainable farming and conservation practices in Tompkins County, please contact Graham Savio at (607) 272-2292 ext 159 or gs695@cornell.edu, or Mila Fournier, Agriculture Educator, at (607) 272-2292 ext. 194 or ymf5@cornell.edu. 

Special thanks go to Monika Roth, former Agriculture Team Leader who secured the project funding and returned from retirement to work part-time on the effort; to Jenna DeRario and Mary Wrege, CCE leads on this project; to Janice Degni and Mary Kate (Wheeler) MacKenzie, Extension Educators on the CCE Regional Dairy & Crops Team who helped develop and share the farm survey; and to Paul Geir at SWCD Tompkins who – along with Janice Degni – contributed to the case studies.

Last updated January 28, 2021