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New trends, difficulties face farmers in the area

Liz Hamlet Tytka gives the woman’s point of view on farming.

Here’s some food for thought: 87% of U.S. agriculture products sold are produced on family farms or ranches.

Recently, the League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County held a forum regarding this issue. “No Farms, No Food. Getting the Dirt on Farming in Chautauqua County” included three speakers, each with major ties to agriculture in the county.

James Joy spoke mainly of issues that are wrongfully blamed on farming nowadays and where farming will go in the future with new technology coming out. He started off by talking about the past, in the ’60s. There was mostly labor, long hours and hard work.

According to Joy, when the “space race” started, so did the race for new technology on farms. This is the period of time when farms started getting more equipment to work with, decreasing their workload and cutting their harvesting times by hours.

He also spoke of today’s technology. The machines and tractors of today can cut the workload on farmers by half of what it was 30 years ago, according to Joy. “Most people can look back 30 years ago and realize how tough it was,” said Joy. “Fifty years ago it was even tougher.”

James Joy talks all about grape farming, new advancements in farming technology and the importance of farming.

“We’ve probably made more advances in the last 10 years than in the last 50 years in agriculture,” said Joy. “And that is only going to accelerate to a phenomenal rate going forward.”

He talked about some of the significant advancements coming to farming, which included robotic GPS tractors, which are just like self-driving cars. According to Joy, as soon as the new 5-G network comes out, these tractors will be a reality and available for farmers to purchase.

Another invention Joy touched on was the tractor the uses new technology to pick weeds.

The tractor would drive itself around and use a detector to pick weeds. He said that the detector can determine the difference between a lettuce head and a weed.

“We’re having a labor shortage on farms today, nobody wants to do the work.” said Joy when explaining that these new advancements in technology will be accepted by farmers with open arms.

Lastly, he went on to talk about water quality. “You hear about harmful algae blooms, you hear about E. coli blooms and unfortunately agriculture often gets blamed for those,” said Joy. “It’s really not that way. … Septic systems, wildlife and believe it or not, dogs cause the E. coli outbreaks.”

Steve Rockcastle spoke about how he got into farming later in life, not necessarily growing up a farmer. Rockcastle is the owner of The Heron, which hosts the well-known Great Blue Heron Music Festival every year in Sherman.

When he first moved to the property, it was used as just a campground. Now it’s used as both a campground and farm. He and his wife use their property for grass-fed cows, chickens and many different types of vegetables, fruits and other crops. They are especially popular for their shiitake mushrooms.

Rockcastle and his wife use four key values when it comes to their farm and campground. These include clean, safe, nutritious and delicious food, sustainable and regenerative land stewardship, community building and social connections and quality of life for animals and humans.

The farmer and his wife believe in giving their cows and chickens a really great life before they are subjected to their final fate. As for the crops they produce, they are very bountiful so the couple goes to many different farmers markets around the area, including the Fredonia Farmers Market.

“We’re certified organic since 2007,” said Rockcastle “So that means with all the property that our animals are on and that are vegetables grow in, our fruits and even our shiitake mushrooms that we raise, are all certified organic.”

Rockcastle seems to take a lot of pride in his farming work, especially his cows and mushrooms. He holds workshops during season for people to come to the farm and learn how to grow the shiitake mushrooms.

The last speaker at the event was called up for a special reason — because she’s a woman. The League really wanted a woman’s perspective on farming. Elizabeth Hamlet Tytka grew up on Hamlet farm, which she now owns. She with family, her husband and three daughters, all live on the farm.

“I was asked to come here and tell you what a woman’s role in agriculture is,” said Hamlet-Tyka. “That is the easiest and hardest question.”

Hamlet Tytka mainly grows grapes, but also has other crops on her farm as well. She says she’s hands-on when it comes time for grape season, as she partners with Welch’s, but it’s a very busy time of year. She explained what a typical day in grape season lasts from about 3 a.m. to 11 p.m. “And then we just start all over again the next day.”

Doing a little research before her talk, Hamlet Tytka explained that according to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are more women in agriculture now than ever before. In fact, while the number of female farmers increased, the number of male farmers decreased.

A lot of people ask her why she participates so actively in grape season by going out in the tractor, waking up so early, while still taking care of all her other duties as a mother and wife. She responds to them, “It’s my sanity!”

Finally, Hamlet Tytka explains what a woman’s role in agriculture really is. “The simple answer is, it’s anything. We can be anything that we want to be.”

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