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Agriculture is one of the most dynamic and innovative economic sectors in New York state. With typical ingenuity, producers are coming up with new business models, using the latest research to battle pests, funding new ventures through social media and creating their own distribution systems.In a series of six reports the Innovation Trail team will take you through some of the current challenges and opportunities facing upstate farmers. You can follow the series all this week during Morning Edition and here as well as download the podcasts from our soundcloud page.

Innovating agriculture: reporting focus this week

Agriculture is one of the most dynamic and innovative economic sectors in New York state. With typical ingenuity, growers are tampering with conventional business models, using the latest research to battle pests and mitigate against the impact of climate change.

They’re also keeping an eagle eye on the fracking debate, converting dairy farms to grow hops to meet the needs of the brewing boom, and looking to renewable energy to save on their power bills.

In a series of reports running 20-25 May, the Innovation Trail team looks at some of the current challenges and opportunities for the state’s producers.

A preview of some of the stories we're including, after the jump.

To market, to market…

Accessing profitable markets for your produce can represent a significant obstacle for growers, particularly in the North Country. If you're an upstate farmer wanting to sell your products to major markets like New York City and Boston, you have to get creative.

Sarah Harris talks with North Country farmers large and small about how they got their goods to population centers. In upstate New York, one solution is launching a ‘wind trader’, a sailboat that would travel across Lake Champlain and down the Hudson River, taking upstate produce all the way to Manhattan.

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Credit Sarah Harris / NCPR
Eric Andrus of Ferrisburgh, Vt. is building a boat that will take farm products from Lake Champlain to New York city, carbon-free. A model of the boat.

That’s one example of how farmers are getting creative with their distribution models; using food brokers to access niche markets and overcome the tyranny of distance and rising transport costs. 

How local is your beef?

In February the New York State Agriculture Committee passed a bill that aims to encourage local restaurants to buy more New York grown produce. But as Ryan Delaney of WRVO found out, when it comes to beef, it’s not all that easy to work out what’s really local, and New York state doesn't have strong guidelines  to define what is local.

Cattle raised here are often trucked to the mid-West for ‘finishing’ before being brought back to New York slaughterhouses. One entrepreneur backed off from opening up a slaughterhouse because he feared being shutdown by larger operators in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, they're looking at ways to value add to locally gown produce through specialty butchering.

Farmland or advanced manufacturing?

The town of Alabama in western New York, population 1,800, edges up to a National Wildlife Refuge. Not many people in the community, halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, are involved in farming. So it would seem like a good idea to utilize 1,243 acres of land for a new Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park and create thousands of regional jobs. Or is it?

The project, still years away from completion, required significant exemptions from the state’s own Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy to gain approval. The American Farmland Trust and external observers are also asking questions about the choice of this site. Ashley Hassett of WBFO speaks to residents and the projects proponents and critics.

Feeling a little stressed?

Spare a thought for the country's bee colonies. Every year, farmers across the U.S. bring honey bees to their farms for pollination. Between 2006 and 2011, honey bee colonies declined each year by one-third, partly because of Colony Collapse Disorder. While no one is sure what causes colony collapse, farmers and bee keepers are forced to adapt to these losses to keep their operations viable. 

Plus: Apples and fire blight and how rising land valuations are affecting the viability of smaller farms.   

Follow the series during Morning edition. Check back here to recap or visit our Soundcloud page to download each episode for listening on your mobile device.


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