Dec 13, 2011 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
It’s been an exciting and productive year of conservation for the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agriculture Program, with numerous projects successfully accomplished, new office space acquired and renewed support from state and federal elected officials, although funding is getting tight.
A review of the SLWAP’s year, as well as information sessions on farm management, forestry management and farm safety, a hot buffet lunch consisting completely of local foods and an opportunity for networking among farmers and conservationists all occurred on Dec. 8 as part of the SLWAP’s annual meeting.
The mission of the SLWAP is to carry out a cost-effective, innovative program for the farming community that upholds the high drinking water quality standards of Skaneateles Lake. The city of Syracuse established the program in 1994 as an alternative to a costly filtration system required by the 1986 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The SLWAP is a voluntary program operated out of the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District that serves portions of Onondaga, Cortland and Cayuga Counties within the watershed.
About 50 people attended the Dec. 8 meeting, including numerous farmers from mixed specialties such as crop, dairy, beef and maple; conservation agencies and groups such as Cornell Cooperative Extension and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; and representatives of various government officials such as the City of Syracuse, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
The purpose of the meeting was to inform attendees on the SLWAP’s progress in 2011 and the future outlook for 2012, and to share information and best practices.
More than 2,000 acres of farmland have been planned in 2011 and 40 of the 47 farms in the watershed area participate in the SLWAP, said Mark Burger, SLWAP program manager, during his “year in review” presentation.
One of the highlights this year includes working with Skaneateles’s two vineyards – Anyela’s and Hobbit Hollow, both on West Lake Road – on conservation practices in general and on herbicide and pesticide chemical mixing stations in particular.
The station allows chemical containers to be placed on containment pads that prevent chemicals from running off or leaking into the ground and contaminating the watershed. The mixing pads also can be folded up and stored when not needed to help keep farm space open and available for other uses.
“What we’ve learned there at the vineyards we are now moving to use in beef farms,” Burger said.
A major accomplishment for 2011 was the increased use of farm equipment that aids in conservation, Burger said. The SLWAP rents out such equipment – which was purchased for the program by the city of Syracuse – to farmers, with the intent to get the equipment known and used by farmers and then, hopefully, when farmers need to upgrade their equipment in the future they will move to the conservation equipment.
The program currently rents out a corn planter, a drill and an Aer-Way manure spreader.
“This was the best year ever for equipment rental with an increased number of farmers using our machines,” Burger said.
The SLWAP also exceeded its goal in a new tire recycling project funded mainly by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The goal this year was to recycle 5,000 tires, and the project has so far recycled 5,400.
It has been a “very beneficial program,” which they hope to continue, Burger said. The state DEC put up $15,000 for the program and the SLWAP paid $5,000 in matching funds.
Unfortunately, as 2011 turns into 2012, “grant funding is getting tight,” Burger said. The DEC tire recycling grant is the last part of the total DEC money doled out to the SLWAP in 2011.
“Times are getting tight, grant money is drying up and there’s lots of competition for the money that’s left,” Burger said.
The SLWAP is now looking for new and different avenues of funding to sustain it into the coming year, he said.
Part of the program’s outreach for financial assistance and general support has been in meeting with various state and federal officials to discuss conservation and agriculture in the Skaneateles Lake watershed area. There have been meetings with numerous state assemblymen and senators, as well as with representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Nancy Lowery, a representative from Buerkle’s office, attended the Dec. 8 meeting, and said “it’s important to the congresswoman that we’re here” to get input, information, ideas and needs.
She reiterated Buerkle’s intention to hold create an Agriculture Task Force and also her interest in implementing an Agriculture Town Hall for the CNY region.
“She wants to get a sense of where we can be most supportive of you now and in the future,” Lowery said.
Burger, during his presentation, called Buerkle’s proposed task force “a great first step to keeping agriculture in the 25th district viable.”
For more information on the SLWAP, visit ocswcd.org and click on the SLWAP link.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.