Evan Lentz and Casey Lambert spent the summer of 2018 as undergraduate interns scouting for diseases and insects at vineyards and small fruit farms throughout the state with the iPiPE grant through the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.
iPIPE is the Integrated Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education. It’s a weather and pest-tracking tool for growers to use. The program uses technology to categorize endemic pests, users, and data. Extension Educator Mary Concklin has a two-year iPiPe grant.
“We collected information on farms, uploaded it to iPiPE, and shared our results with the growers,” Evan says. “I got to know many of the farmers and
their day-to-day routines. Some of them really cared that we were at the farm, and we were a resource to help with their problems.”
Evan graduated in May of 2019 with a major in Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems, and a minor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He starts graduate school in the fall. “I highly recommend Extension internships to anyone, in any major,” he concludes.
Norton Brother’s Farm is a seventh-generation family-owned fruit farm located in Cheshire, Connecticut. The farm has been owned and operated by the Norton family since the mid-1700s and boasts a long-standing, proud history with the town of Cheshire. Bridsey Norton, father of the Norton Brothers (Judson and Donald) who operated the farm until 2001, also served the town of Cheshire as first selectmen. The farm now rests in the capable hands of Tim Perry. Together, with help from the family, Tim continues the tradition of providing the local community with fresh fruit, vegetables, and an impressive range of homemade farm-market goodies.
This proud Connecticut farming family currently operates on about 107 acres of land, producing everything from apples, peaches, and pears to blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Their expansive pick-your-own operation begins in June with their various berry crops and runs through to the fall, where locals can choose from an overwhelming 34 varieties of apples. Hayrides, pumpkins, and scarecrows offer families a fun and immersive experience during the harvest season. When the Christmas trees and holiday decorations arrive, patrons can find their way to the family’s dairy barn farm stand for the perfect holiday gift, whether it’s local cider, jams, and farm-fresh pies or one of their carefully curated seasonal gifts. The Norton Brother’s farm has something for everyone throughout the year. They invite you and your family to come join them for a wholesome, local experience: farm tours, birthday parties, or even just a family picnic.
Farming is a risky business and even a farm as historically successful and well-loved as the Norton Brother’s farm faces its share of challenges. To find out a bit more about the Norton Brother’s farm, UConn Extension reached out to Tim Perry to see what happens behind the scenes. When asked about some of the biggest risks that he faces, Tim sings the same tune as many other Connecticut farmers: weather, weather, weather. “The weather is hard to predict and out of your control. And it’s becoming more unpredictable – from 22 inches of rain in a month to frost before bloom. It used to be that we had a frost every 10 years, that’s not the case anymore”, says Tim. When asked about risk management he says it’s really a toss-up, “You can try frost protection. Depending on your operation it can cost up to $100,000. I know people who get the fans, get the heaters, and still lose everything. Plus, oil is at about $4 per gallon now.” A lot of times it’s about doing the best you can and rolling with it. But what about when preventative measures aren’t enough?
We asked Tim about crop insurance as well. We wanted to know if he utilizes crop insurance, the role it’s played in mediating farm risks and if he would suggest it to other people. It turns out he is a huge proponent of crop insurance. He stated that they now have every crop insured, “Peaches are the largest users of crop insurance. It’s almost a yearly thing now. Not that we’re getting rich from it, but it helps to offset costs.” This is also the first year that they are trying out insurance for blueberries, “As far as we know, we’re the first ones to have blueberry crop insurance, at least with the company we use.” He says that crop insurance is a tool for farmers, just like a tractor or the sprayers. They utilize it to the best of their ability. But what about the costs, difficulties, or aversions to crop insurance?
He says, “You have to spend to benefit”. Saying that most people will always try to shoot for the lower end of the scale for premiums, “…but you’re not going to start seeing benefits till you spend a bit more on the premiums.” As far as the aversions to crop insurance, what have you heard? Again, he says it’s all part of the business, “It may be more paperwork, but take the time. No one has a better idea of what’s going on on your farm than you. You know what you pick, you know what you produce. Spend the time with the companies and make sure you pick the plan that right for you.” All in all, it seems that Tim has taken the time to educate himself on crop insurance. It’s also apparent that crop insurance plays a recurring role in mediating risks at the Norton Brother’s farm. To hear more about Tim Perry’s take on crop insurance, check out his video on the UConn Risk Management’s website under the resources tab. And to learn more about the Norton Brother’s farm itself, you can visit their website at www.nortonbrothersfruitfarm.com, or check them out in person at 466 Academy Road, Cheshire, CT.
Raspberry Knoll Farm in North Windham is one of Connecticut’s premier pick-your-own operations, featuring a wide variety of berries, herbs, veggies, and flowers. Located in the Northeastern region of the state, this family owned farm attracts droves of patrons throughout the growing season, starting in June with strawberries and going all the way through till fall with their winter veggies. The farm is owned and operated by Mary and Pete Concklin who started their business in 2011 with just raspberries and then diversified each year after. Mary Concklin plays a dual role in the world of agriculture; she is also the Fruit and IPM Extension Specialist at the University of Connecticut. UConn’s Risk Management team sat down with Mary this month to discuss some the risks associated with pick-your-own operations, some mediation and prevention strategies, and the role that crop insurance plays in the operation at Raspberry Knoll.
Even though pick-your-own operations carry with them a particular set of risks, Mary Concklin decided that these risks were greatly outweighed by the main benefit of being pick-your-own: not having to have to acquire or pay for harvest labor. By streamlining and specializing their operation, Raspberry Knoll has effectively eliminated one of the largest growing issues in agriculture. However, this isn’t to say they do not face risks. When asked about the largest risk of having large numbers of people on the farm, Mary stated that many people are inclined to eat while they pick, which in turn means that there are berries that are not being paid for. “We don’t mind if you try a few and figure out which varieties you like, just don’t make a meal out of it”, she says. “Other than that, there’s really been no issues, we attract a really nice crowd. We haven’t seen any damage to plants or equipment from customers”.
Although Raspberry Knoll seems to have a handle on the ins and outs or pick-your-own, we wanted to know what advice Mary would give to other pick-your-own operations. The first piece of advice was to not allow pets within the pick your own fields, “We are producing food and people may not be picking up after their pets”. The second piece of advice was aimed at preventing loss. “You need to be set up for pick-your-own to do this properly. We knew that we were going to be pick your own from the beginning and we planned our operation around it. The fields are completely fenced in to prevent animals (humans included) from eating the crops. Everyone must pass through the farm stand to leave, ensuring everything gets paid for. You need to control the flow, otherwise you’ll have a hard time trying to keep track of things”.
And how about other risks, ones not associated with pick-your-own? Mary shared a story about an ongoing battle with some local wildlife. Apparently, beavers were repeatedly flooding some of the fields at Raspberry Knoll, making it difficult to get out into the fields and plant. Mary and Pete had to people to trap and move the beavers so they could make use of the acreage that they had. Mary says that raccoons have also been an issue in the past, eating sweet corn even when protected by fences. Wildlife is something that you have to live with and it’s often times hard to control for.
So, what about crop insurance? Mary is a huge proponent of crop insurance as a part of an effective risk management plan, but she stated that she did not have crop insurance on her farm, “We’re so diversified, it’s hard to justify the expense”. They have a wide variety of berries and other crops that carry them through the entire season, including a vegetable CSA and pick-your-own flower and herb gardens. By being so diversified, if there is a loss in one crop or variety the others help to mediate that loss. “We had one variety of raspberries that we lost to winter injury two years in a row. So, we just dug those up and planted new varieties”, Mary says. The diversity at Raspberry Knoll helped them mediate that loss and Mary assures that this is a great way to mediate many risks. However, Mary admitted that even though diversifying may help to mediate the loss of a crop you are still losing revenue and considering a whole-farm revenue insurance plan is a great option, even for those farms who are well-diversified.
What advice would you give farmers, either new or established, regarding risk management or crop insurance? “Be smart”, she says. This is in regard to workflow. This year Mary is employing the use of high tunnels in her blackberry crop where winter hardiness is an issue. This way the canes won’t have to be laid down every year to protect them and can instead grow straight up without the threat of injury. Next, “Diversify”. She suggests covering all your bases and not relying too much on any one thing. As we all know, it’s hard to control for the unknown and being diverse can help to prevent unnecessary headaches. Finally, “Take a look at the crop insurance policies. If there’s not a policy that fits your operation, contact an agent and talk with them. There may be something you are missing, a plan that could benefit your operation immensely”.
In June, UConn Extension hosted a Small-Scale, Low-Cost Facility Design for Post-Harvest Handling, with Robert Hadad, Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Specialist. Connecticut and Rhode Island farmers from smaller fruit and vegetable operations learned low-cost ways to address food safety of fresh produce through cooling, washing, use of sanitizers and packing area sanitation. Robert is shown with his low cost “4 sticks and a lid” wash setup, a home-made hand washing sink with food pump, and a greens washing system made with a Jacuzzi motor.