MINER MAPLE: A TRADITION WITH DEEP ROOTS
It is unclear if the Miner maple tradition extends back to the days when William Miner’s Uncle John Miner was running the farm, but maple production was certainly prevalent at Heart’s Delight Farm. According to records submitted by the assistant superintendent of Heart’s Delight Farm, in 1918 there were 12,000 tapped maple trees and six sugar houses. One of those sugar houses was located in the area of the farm behind where our dairy barn now sits. The sugar house is long gone, but the stone ramp where sap was delivered to the sugar house is still visible.
The maple industry has changed substantially since William Miner’s day of collecting sap in metal buckets and hauling on a horse-drawn sleigh. But William Miner would have undoubtedly embraced the technology that has increased production to a 5-year national average of .273 gallons per tap according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). New England’s 5-year average is .289 gallons/tap.
In the late 1960s, Miner Institute built a sugarhouse in West Chazy. The sugarhouse was used as part of a maple program that operated until the late 1990s. According to a report filed following the 1968 maple season, the sugar house had more than 2,000 visitors that season. Most of those visitors were regional maple producers or school groups visiting the sugar house for a class field trip. That 1968 season was not a great one; according to the report the Institute’s 2,250 taps produced 12,640 gallons of sap. Maple research, data collection, and extension activities were key components to the Miner maple program. The 1968 “maple project” looked at the effects of weather conditions on sap flow, paying particular attention to wind velocity and temperature. Data on sap production, syrup production, tree thinning, evaporator efficiency, and production costs were also recorded.
Today, Miner Institute rents roughly 10 thousand taps to two prominent North Country sugar-making families: the Parkers and the Atwoods. Both families have been producing maple syrup in Clinton County for generations. The Parker Family Maple Farm rents 7400 trees and is one of the largest maple syrup producers in Clinton County. Robert Atwood rents about 3,000 trees and also the Miner sugarhouse where he has been boiling his syrup for more than 12 years.
At just 18 years old, Allison Romer has one semester of college under her belt and an Associate’s Degree from Tompkins Cortland Community College. Allison took the majority of her college courses while she was still in high school in Trumansburg, NY. She is spending the next few months here at Miner helping Shannon Heibeck and Karen Lassell in the horse barn as a spring equine intern.
Allison has been riding for 8 years. She told her instructor that she was interested in an equine internship and her instructor helped her to get in touch with Karen and set up the opportunity here at Miner. “I love it. It’s so fun,” Allison said of her experience thus far. She is utilizing this opportunity to get a better understanding of what she wants to do next. She says that she is applying to four year colleges and is thinking of studying biology on a pre-veterinary track.
Allison arrived at Miner in mid-January and has already found a favorite Miner Morgan in HD Brandy Brook, “Mae,” a 3-year-old lovable bay filly. “She’s so sweet,” Allison said of Mae. Allison likes that not every day is the same, but each day has a rhythm and a pattern to it. She says that so far the biggest surprise has been that she doesn’t mind getting up early, which is likely also an indication that she enjoys the job she is waking up to!
Luiz Ferraretto grew up in the countryside of São Paulo State in southeastern Brazil. His dad, a lawyer, had a small hobby farm where he raised mini cows. The family spent weekends on the farm and that is where Luiz developed an interest in agriculture. Originally, Luiz wanted to go to agronomy school, he said, but he attended a career fair that got him thinking about animal science.
Luiz graduated from São Paulo State University with an animal science degree in 2008. He then moved to Madison, WI to study under Dr. Randy Shaver at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He experienced an 80-degree temperature swing when he first arrived in Wisconsin – it was 100 degrees in Brazil and it was 20 degrees in Madison. Luiz admits that adapting to the shorter daylight hours and the cold was tough.
Luiz earned a Master’s degree in dairy nutrition, specifically on the use of reduced-starch diets and collaborated on trials studying how nutrition impacts reproduction. He stayed on at the University of Wisconsin and earned his Ph.D. in corn silage and high moisture corn, looking at how to improve quality and digestibility of silages, in September 2015. He arrived at Miner soon after.
“I’ve known about Miner for some time,” Luiz said. He hopes to develop new skills and bring diversity to how he sees things during his two year post-doctoral research position here. “I like applied research. I want to do things that farmers can use,” he said adding that Miner is one of the few places that does that and he is looking forward to working with the research team here.
Luiz’s hometown, Jundiai, is an urban area outside of São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and the 11th most populous city in the world. Jundiai has a population of more than 400,000. Not surprisingly, agriculture is not prevalent in Jundiai, but it plays an important role in Brazil’s economy. Beef, poultry, and swine are the main sectors of animal agriculture, Luiz said. There are roughly 200 million cattle in Brazil, about 10% are dairy cows. Brazil has around 1.3 million dairy farms, with an estimated average herd size of 17 cows.
Luiz says there are many differences between the Brazilian and US dairy industries. Brazilian dairy farmers aren’t generally as well educated as American dairy farmers and access to technology is limited in Brazil, he said. The biggest difference, Luiz said, is that Brazilian universities don’t have extension appointments. “Farmers in the US utilize information from extension,” Luiz said. While here, Luiz is confident that he will learn a lot and get valuable experience. He hopes to ultimately get a job in research and extension at an American university.
A new calf building occupies an area of the farm where a group of barns and a house known as Overlook Cottage stood a century ago. The calf building is a great improvement over the building it replaces, but does not at all resemble Overlook Cottage, which had – among other things – a vegetable room in the basement; five bedrooms, 3 family rooms and a men’s room on the second floor; and 7 bedrooms on the third floor.
In addition to the house, the Overlook complex included a two-story barn and a piggery. Overlook Barn was 21-feet long by 28-feet wide. It housed stalls, a carriage room, and a hen house; it was located on the north side of Overlook Cottage. The piggery was 161-feet long by 25-feet wide and located on the west side of the house, with a garden between them. Overlook Cottage and the piggery had drain, fire, steam and pipe lines as well as electricity.
The Overlook buildings were torn down in the 1960s, along with many other buildings original to Heart’s Delight Farm that had fallen into disrepair.
When she first started working at Miner Institute in 2003, Calf Supervisor Bethann Caston said there weren’t ever more than 24 calves to take care of. At the late October open house for the new building – aptly named Overlook Calf Building – Bethann had 58 heifer calves in her care. The new, larger building is not only much more convenient, it was needed to help the calf feeders to more efficiently do their jobs. The new building measures 384 square feet compared with the old building’s 120.
“I feel like I can be more efficient and more organized performing the daily calf duties,” Bethann said. The new building is well insulated, has in-floor heating, mold resistant paneling on the walls and ceiling, and several windows provide great natural light. A door on the back side of the building means that feeders can walk through the building, rather than walking around it to bring milk to the calves. Repurposed metal milk pipe on the wall makes a great pail rack; and a milk mixing shelf next to the sink prevents the feeders from having to lift five-gallon pails full of milk out of the sink.
The new building is a great representation of a quality team effort, Bethann said. All the different phases of the project incorporated ideas and suggestions from Bethann and Cole Ackerman, along with the maintenance crew who were able to design and construct the building and several custom features, like the mixing shelf, that ease strain on employees and increase overall efficiency.
The old building has been moved across the calf yard and will be used for storage in the summer and for quarantining sick calves in the winter. The new building is a cleaner, brighter and “more cheerful” work space, Bethann said. “It is easier to walk through that door in the morning than the door of the old building,” she said.
Ryo Suzuki grew up in the Aichi Prefecture, the third largest out of 47 in Japan. Ryo is the middle child of three – he has an older brother and a younger sister. His dad was a government officer. As a child, Ryo was not interested in agriculture; he really liked math. When he entered junior high, horseracing became popular and Ryo became interested in horses. At that time, he thought he might want to pursue becoming a veterinarian. In high school, he decided to study agriculture.
Ryo attended Hokkaido University and studied agriculture, entering animal production in his second year and animal nutrition by his fourth year there. He earned a master’s degree in animal nutrition from Hokkaido University. He has been employed by Zen-Noh National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations for seven years.
Miner Institute has had a research collaboration with the Japanese cooperative for more than 20 years. Dr. Charlie Sniffen initiated the collaborative relationship in the 1990s. Miner hosts Zen-Noh scientists/nutritionists in residence for 1-2 years and conducts mutually beneficial research projects. Miner Institute’s location in Chazy, which has similar growing conditions to Japan’s primary agricultural region, as well as our focus on dairy nutrition and management make Miner a great place to conduct dairy research and develop training materials for Zen-Noh technical staff. Many of the educational materials developed by Miner Institute for Zen-Noh over the years have dually supported our student educational programs as well. The relationship with Zen-Noh has broadened Miner Institute’s impact on the dairy industry globally.
Zen-Noh directly employs about 1000 people, Ryo said. The animal production department is one of the biggest within the company with around 100 employees, he said. Ryo worked in dairy and beef cattle nutrition for Zen-Noh for three years and then spent three years at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo before coming to Chazy for the two-year residence at Miner Institute beginning in early 2014. Zen-Noh employees are selected to come to Miner based on their interest in dairy and nutrition and their ability to speak English.
Ryo says that he has adjusted well to life at Miner and feels relaxed here. “All of Miner is kind and accepting,” Ryo said, adding that the cows are the same as in Japan, which made for an easy adjustment! Ryo had already met some key members of the research staff prior to his arrival which made the transition easier as well. He said that he misses Japanese food, especially his favorite gyudoa – beef with rice – but has become fond of Philly Cheesesteaks and other American food. Having some reminders of home can be helpful and Kinue Bailey, or “K” as she likes to be called, grew up in Japan but has lived in Chazy, just a few miles from Miner Institute, for about 40 years. Since soon after the collaboration with Zen-Noh started, K has offered the visiting Japanese researchers a sense of home with friendship and regular meals at her home.
It has been a busy spring/early summer at Miner Institute, but we've managed to find time for the important things -- like some friendly baking competitions! In May we hosted a rhubarb bakeoff and in June we hosted our annual dairy bakeoff in recognition of June being National Dairy Month. The winner of each Miner bakeoff we host signs their name on a Miner-logoed apron and we share the winning recipes.
Here are the winners of our most recent bakeoffs!
Strawberry Rhubarb Dump Cake
- 1lb rhubarb cut into ¼ inch pieces (3-4 cups)
- 1 cup white sugar
- (1) 3oz. package strawberry Jell-o
- 1 package yellow cake mix
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish. Spread the rhubarb evenly in the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle the sugar over the rhubarb, followed by the powdered jell-o mix and then the dry cake mix. Pour the water and melted butter over the top. DO NOT STIR. Bake for 45 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender. Cool, refrigerate then serve.
Monday, May 18 began the 2015 summer experience program. Thirteen undergrads from around the country are at Miner participating in three internship programs: dairy farm management, agricultural research, and equine management. These programs are designed to give students some work experience and a taste of what employment on a dairy farm, equine farm, or research facility might be like. Welcome interns! Here's a little bit about this year's group.
Summer Experience in Equine Management interns. L to R: Janie Weiss from Huntington Beach, CA is a student at Colorado State University; Kerry Spain is from Los Angeles, CA and attends the University of Vermont; Emily Steeley is from Pourtsmouth, RI and attends the University of Minnesota Crookston; Valerie Krause is from Wisconsin and attends William Woods University; Briana Sullivan is from Grand Gorge, NY and is a student at SUNY Cobleskill; and Elena Crowley is from East Bridgewater, MA and attends Cazenovia College.
Summer Experience in Farm Management interns. L to R: Jessi Dercks from Kimberly, WI attends the University of Wisconsin; Katie Kelly from Cincinnati, OH attends the University of Kentucky; Erin Allen from Folsom, CA attends the University of Tennessee; and Amy Middleton from Mill Hall, PA attends the Pennsylvania State University.
Women play a significant role in NY agriculture, which was valued at $5.7 billion in 2012. Just under 20% of NY farmers are women, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. NY Agri-Women is a group of women involved with numerous facets of NY agriculture, among them: dairy farming, vegetable production, wine production, agribusiness, extension, and maple production.
Members of NY Agri-Women visited Miner Institute in late March and heard a talk by Dr. Heather Dann on the importance of agricultural research; toured the Institute's barns and learned about the history of Heart's Delight Farm; and visited the Miner sugarhouse where maple producer Robert Atwood talked about the production of maple syrup.