Day One Recap and a Look at Day 2

The first day of our webinar series attracted extension educators, researchers, policy makers and farmers. The session was anchored by a presentation from Ag Historian Nicole Welk-Joerger and followed by a discussion among three of NYFVI’s project leaders, Tom Kilcer, Quirine Ketterings and Tom Overton.

Nicole Welk-Joerger’s presentation anchored the audience’s thinking with a framework that she uses in her work as an ag historian.  We found it very useful:  There are 4 C’s.

The first is Change over time. The second is understanding how that change happens—what’s the catalyst? The next three are contingency, continuity and context.

In agriculture, the larger context is fairly stable—the ultimate purpose of the work never changes. We are feeding people.

But in spite of that, the change over time has been remarkable, particularly when you consider that it’s a business with such a strong heritage and true continuity, specifically in the labor force and the land base. The family names have stayed the same, and the GPS coordinates are referencing the same fields. While that continuity can have tremendous value, it can also create a mindset that is resistant to change.

Fortunately, the panelists, Tom Kilcer, Quirine Ketterings and Tom Overton had clear perspectives about how research and education can create change and practice adoption.  First, they all agreed that understanding the economics were necessary, but not necessarily sufficient.  Their experience had demonstrated that on-farm research was a critical step in both developing, as well as expanding the use of new practices.

Tom Overton spoke to the importance of de-risking technology before farmers invested heavily in it. He also made an important point about the volume of data now available to farms and the need to turn data into actionable information.

While it’s easy to think about changes happening in the fields or barns, it was fascinating to hear Tom Kilcer’s point about how widespread consumer technology — cell phones with cameras — was accelerating the exchange of information both among farmers and between a farmer and researcher. Quirine Ketterings relayed that messages that used to take almost 10 days to reach her, now arrived as soon as somebody said something!

Going back to the C’s framework, it was interesting to learn about different examples of catalysts: charismatic researchers; the availability of funding that shifted an animal research focus from equine to cows; and a market opportunity to develop the beef industry to support urban populations. 

Day One left left the audience feeling like there’s more interesting conversation to be had! 


In the Day Two session Nicole will provide a glimpse into some proactive versus reactive approaches in the relationship between scientific development and policy. 

Nicole Welk-Joerger:  Nicole’s family has deep roots in dairy and as a historian she has a deep understanding of agriculture through the years.  Previously she has taught courses in both U.S. and Global Ag History and is currently teaching Princeton’s Environmental Studies Colloquium that is focused on science communication strategies; as well as the History of Science, Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.  We are delighted that she is working with NYFVI on this program. 

In Day 2 she will be  joined by researchers and educators that are leading just a few of Farm Viability’s projects focused on creating critically important knowledge for New York farmers.

Brian Nault is the Program Lead, and Professor of the Entomology Department at Cornell University. Brian’s work has focused on understanding the biology and ecology of insects that attack vegetable crops including those that also spread pathogens that cause disease.  His Integrated Pest Management approach seeks to help farmers use fewer pesticides and avoid insecticide resistance. Brian recently expanded his work, collaborating with Elson Shields, to include using nematodes to protect potatoes from Colorado potato beetle and wireworms. He has worked with both long-standing pests such as thrips and maggots, as well as newer invasive pests like the allium leafminer.  Farm Viability has supported six of his projects between the FVI program and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program Farm Viability administers on behalf of New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Elson Shields, is also focused on insects and is a Professor of Entomology at Cornell University. Elson has led nine Farm Viability projects focused on establishing the use of entomopathogenic biocontrol nematodes to fight pests.  His work has demonstrated that these microscopic worms can be used in conventional and organic systems as an effective solution for the alfalfa snout beetle, corn rootworm, black-vine root weevil in strawberries, and the Colorado potato beetle.

His approach calls for a single application of a specific nematode to provide soil insect suppression for multiple growing seasons.  This discovery provided the mechanism to push an uncontrollable pest, alfalfa snout beetle, to sub-economic status in fields where the nematodes have been applied a single time. To date, more than 30,000 NY acres have been inoculated. 

His knowledge is now being used to fight the most destructive insect in North America, Western corn rootworm with trials in 12 states currently underway.  In these locations, corn rootworm has developed resistance to current management strategies and the farmers are suffering significant yield losses. 

The challenge? It can be difficult to keep the nematodes alive until the crop is ready to be treated.  He recently was awarded a Farm Viability grant to lead a project focused on improving the shelf life and formulation of the substrate for this biocontrol agent to make the technology easier to use.  Elson is driven by solving difficult problems and excels at understanding the economics involved with creating change in agriculture.

Aaron Ristow. In his role at American Farmland Trust, Aaron leads the Genesee River Watershed Demo Farm Network, partnering with 11 farm operations to support the adoption of regenerative farming practices in New York’s Genesee River Watershed. Through this network and a series of demonstration projects, Aaron works with farmers to increase knowledge about on-farm conservation systems that build soil health and benefit the environment. Aaron uses a scientific and historical approach to evaluating the impact of no-till methods, cover crops, adaptive nutrient management, and other soil management methods on a farm’s viability and improved environmental outcomes. This work is supported by a number of organizations including the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), NY Corn & Soybean Growers Association, and the New York Farm Viability Institute.  It is AFT’s second Farm Viability funded project.

 After spending time with the Peace Corps in Bolivia, Aaron received a MS in International Agricultural Development and a MS in Soil Biogeochemistry from UC Davis.  New York Farmers are fortunate that he landed here. Before joining AFT he was with the Cornell Soil Health Lab, two different Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition.  Aaron is very well grounded in working directly with farmers to address their most important soil health needs.