CHAZY — Miner Institute's aim over the next five years is to establish a vital agricultural community, using technology to maximize production and animal well-being combined with environmental stewardship.
Institute President Rick Grant, Ph.D, said that unlike many agricultural research institutions, Miner Institute focuses on integrated, cutting-edge education, research, and demonstration programs on forage-crop production, livestock management and environmental stewardship in a real-life setting.
"This is a functioning dairy farm," he said.
That allows its staff to demonstrate best-management practices on a day-to-day basis, he said. The Miner Institute dairy herd is ranked in the top 1 percent of dairies in the United States, which gives added credibility to its work.
As he talked about the institute's five-year strategic plan on Friday morning, Grant said about 40 percent of the population was involved in agriculture during institute founder William H. Miner's heyday in the early 1900s. Today, that figure is less than 2 percent, he said, so it is important to educate the remaining 98 percent on the importance of agriculture.
There are about 120 farms in Clinton County, Grant said, with about 800 employees and annual production of about $125 million.
More than 4,000 people participate in Miner Institute outreach and demonstration programs each year, Grant said. They hope to continue or increase that through stepped-up use of new technologies in the coming years.
The local challenges are also global challenges, he said.
Estimates indicate there could be 9 billion people in the world by 2050. To feed them, the world will need to produce as much in the next 40 years as it has in the last 10,000 years, he said.
Implementation of new research funding will be critical to achieve that, while preserving land, water and air quality. That's why a workforce educated in agricultural and environmental issues is so important.
Miner Institute needs about $1 million a year in grants, in addition to funding from the William H. Miner Foundation. That helps fund research in areas such as mitigation of nutrient runoff into the Lake Champlain Watershed, approaches that enhance forage use for dairy cattle, and enhancement of dairy-cattle well-being.
Grant said the diets for about 40 percent of the dairy cows in the United States were formulated using software developed in scientific collaboration among Miner Institute, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania.
"We intend to continue forward with that research," he said.
Grant said they have a long-standing research collaboration with experts in Japan, as the main dairy farming area of that country is at a similar latitude as the North Country. Miner has long worked with Canadian experts on animal-welfare issues, and a relationship with Italian experts is in development.
Miner Institute continues to collaborate with the University of Vermont on an advanced dairy management program. About 50 percent of cows in Vermont and the North Country are directly impacted by graduates of those courses.
The institute also collaborates with Plattsburgh State on an applied-environmental-science program, including a three-credit course to provide an agricultural perspective to approaching environmental challenges, such as nutrient runoff.
Grant said the institute will continue to develop its equine-management programs. The classes are available for both students and community members interested in that field.
FARM WORKER BILL
State Assemblywoman Janet Duprey said she would like to see Miner Institute develop an easy-to-read report of the importance of agriculture in New York state. She said 65 members of the assembly come from the New York City area, and it is difficult to make them understand that concept.
She's concerned about the Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act bill that's pending now that she said would put new burdens on small farms.
Those provisions include mandated time off each week and time-and-a-half for overtime hours. Those can be difficult to meet, especially during inclement weather conditions.
"How many of our farms would that put out of business?" Duprey said of the act.
Miner Institute has a staff of about 50 people, including students who work there, and an annual budget of just under $7 million.
Grant said this is probably the first time the institute has reached out to the community to explain its mission and strategic plan.
"For us, this is a new venture," he said.
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