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New Tool for Farmers to Protect Groundwater and the Long Island Sound


David Haight, New York State Director, American Farmland Trust: (518) 581-0078, dhaight@farmland.org

Rebecca Wiseman, Agricultural Stewardship Coordinator, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County: 631-727-7850 x 206, rjw38@cornell.edu


Saratoga Spring, N.Y., July 11, 2012 —Farmers producing sweet corn in Suffolk County have an opportunity this growing season to use a new type of fertilizer to protect groundwater and the Long Island Sound. The farmers will be part of a collaborative partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE), American Farmland Trust (AFT) and Agflex, Inc.

Participating farmers will be demonstrating an innovative fertilizer technology on their crops called Controlled-Release Nitrogen Fertilizer (CRNF). This fertilizer is designed to break down over time according to the plant’s need for nutrients, unlike conventional fertilizer which is water-soluble and will dissolve from heavy rain. Suffolk County’s sandy soils, especially during spring rains, are susceptible to leaching of nitrogen from conventional nitrogen fertilizer.

“Although many people think of Long Island as urban, Suffolk County is home to nearly 600 farms that manage more than 34,000 acres of farmland,” said Becky Wiseman, coordinator of the Agricultural Stewardship Program for Cornell Cooperative Extension. “According to the 2010 U.S. Census of Agriculture, Suffolk County farms sold over $300 million in farm products, more than any other county in New York State. We are excited to be working with American Farmland Trust and engaging local farmers in more fully adopting nutrient conservation practices to improve water quality.”

Suffolk County accounts for approximately 1.3 percent of the Long Island Sound’s total watershed area, contributing harmful nitrogen levels from both point and nonpoint sources into the Sound. Using the LI Sound Study Nitrogen Influx Reduction model developed by the County, with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was estimated that nonpoint sources account for 72% - 82 percent of the total nitrogen from Suffolk County into the Sound. Nonpoint sources of nitrogen include septic systems and fertilizer application from farms and lawns.

David Haight of American Farmland Trust said, “We are thrilled to have this opportunity to work with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to help Long Island’s sweet corn growers improve local water quality by encouraging conservation practices that have proven

successful in other parts of the country and other agricultural sectors. This project will help demonstrate that it is possible to reduce the fertilizers while maintaining profitability.”

Farmers are often cautious about adopting new conservation practices, as they are unsure of what its effect will be on their crop production. Financial risk is a particular concern for Suffolk County farmers producing high value specialty crops such as sweet corn. Farmers risk losing thousands of dollars if crop yield and quality drops due to a change in their management practice. Farmers participating in this collaborative project will be part of the BMP Challenge system, which reimburses farmers who experience any reduction in their harvest after utilizing approved conservation practices.

“Farmers invest substantial time, effort and dollars in getting their crops to harvest,” said Dr. Tom Green, president of Agflex. “The BMP Challenge protects that investment for farmers so they don’t have to ‘bet the farm’ on new techniques. It’s a win for the farmer and for water quality.”

Participating farmers will apply controlled release nitrogen fertilizer and conventional fertilizer in large field demonstration projects so that a direct side-by-side comparison can be made. Each project will be at least 8-planted rows wide running the full length of the field to allow for adequate harvest for yield/quality assessment. If there is a loss in yield and /or quality due to nutrient insufficiency of the CRNF, the farmer will be reimbursed for the difference. Due to CCE’s extensive research trials using CRNF in sweet corn production, it is anticipated the farmers will not experience substantial losses due to adoption of CRNF and that cost savings from reduced use of equipment and fuel will offset increased costs for CRNF.

Cornell Cooperative Extension is participating in this project as part of its Agricultural Stewardship Program. Legislation was adopted in 2004 for CCE to develop and coordinate the Suffolk County Agricultural Stewardship Program with funding made available through Suffolk County’s Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program. The program’s staff works cooperatively with CCE and Cornell University specialists to implement large-scale on-farm demonstration projects that promote efficient and environmentally responsible crop production. The Agricultural Stewardship Program’s goal is to protect Suffolk County’s sole source aquifer, surrounding waters and wetlands by engaging the commercial agricultural industry in implementing new technology and best management practices to reduce potential leaching of agricultural fertilizers and pesticides into groundwater.

The joint project of American Farmland Trust, CCE and Agflex has received financial support from the Long Island Sound Study, with funding from the EPA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service as well as the Long Island Community Foundation, Rauch Foundation and William E. & Maude S. Pritchard Charitable Trust.

Suffolk County farmers interested in learning more about controlled release nitrogen fertilizer are encouraged to contact Becky Wiseman at 631-727-7850 or rjw38@cornell.edu.




American Farmland Trust is the nation's leading conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland from development and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more.

AFT's national office is located in Washington, DC. Phone: 202-331-7300. For more information, visit www.farmland.org.

American Farmland Trust