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Cornell stewardship program helps farmers

More than 40 people from environmental groups, local governments and farm-related agencies walked Monday through East End corn fields, orchards and a vineyard, as Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk held its second annual Agricultural Stewardship Program.

The program helps farmers deal with financial issues and environmental regulations.

The group stopped at two farms growing sweet corn to show how those farmers were taking advantage of a new program to use controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer, an experiment designed to show farmers how they can change longtime practices while not suffering the financial risk of smaller harvests.

Under Cornell's Sweet Corn Nutrient BMP (Best Management Practices) Challenge, farmers agree to use the new fertilizer while Cornell -- using federal funds -- agrees to reimburse them up to $1,000 an acre for losses caused by reduced yield or lower quality caused by insufficient nutrients.

The aim of the program is to show farmers they can keep nitrogen out of the groundwater while getting enough nitrogen to the corn plants to ensure a healthy crop.

This year, 12 of the 48 farms growing sweet corn in Suffolk signed up for the program, according to Dale Moyer, Cornell's agriculture program director.

Becky Wiseman, the group's agricultural stewardship coordinator, said she is seeking a grant to set up a series of mini-weather stations on farms across the north and south forks to provide data on temperature and humidity which could be coordinated with the Integrated Pest Management program used to advise farmers when conditions are right to treat bugs or plant disease.

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