Decision Makers Ag Tour: Farms embrace new talent, technology

Decision Makers Ag Tour: Farms embrace new talent, technology
By Tom Rivers trivers@batavianews.com  published in Daily News
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Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell, left, talks with Jurian Bartelse, manager of Provitello’s veal-raising facility in Elba. Provitello raises the animals in group quarters. (Rocco Laurienzo/Daily News)

ELBA — About 70 “decision makers” were introduced to a new crop of farmers, a group that brings technology and a passion to the agriculture businesses.

Torrey Farms, Lamb Farms, CY Farms and Provitello, a veal-raising operation in Elba, showed community leaders on Tuesday how the businesses are incorporating a new generation of farmers.

Torrey Farms is in its 12th generation and 206th year of farming. Torrey has grown to about 10,000 acres. The farm has 200 year-round employees and peaks at 360 workers during the harvest season. The farm has drastically expanded in the past three decades. In 1978, Torrey was farming 700 acres.

Siblings Mark Torrey, John Torrey and Maureen Marshall created a farm that is vertically integrated, with Torrey growing, packing, marketing and trucking the produce.

Beginning seven years ago, a new Torrey generation started full-time at the farm. Now five of Mark’s children — Molly, Travis, Shannon, Jed and Jordyn — are working at the farm and two more are at Cornell University.

The children have to work their way up from the bottom, Marshall said. They aren’t just handed managerial roles.

They have been taught to respect every position on the farm, to honor their commitments and to grow quality products, Travis said during the 20th annual agriculture tour coordinated by the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.

The farm measures worker output and hours with a computerized system. Workers have chips in their hats and crew leaders use a probe to register each basket of cucumbers and other produce. Two Torrey locations, in Lyndonville and Potter, clock workers in and out by scanning their handprints.

The farm’s fields are mapped with a computerized system and that system also records pesticide use and other inputs, which helps the farm track the cost-per-acre of its fields.

Many of the planters and combines are outfitted with “auto-steer” technology, where the equipment could drive itself. The technology keeps the machines in straight lines, without overlap in seeds and chemicals.

Travis said technology can only do so much. The farm still needs to bring in workers to harvest many of the crops.

Susie Boyce takes a photo of the rotary milking parlor at Lamb Farms in Oakfield during Tuesday’s Genesee County agriculture tour. (Rocco Laurienzo/Daily News)

Susie Boyce takes a photo of the rotary milking parlor at Lamb Farms in Oakfield during Tuesday’s Genesee County agriculture tour. (Rocco Laurienzo/Daily News)

“I don’t know if you will replace that human hand you need to pick apples and cucumbers,” he said at the Elba Fire Department Recreation Hall.

The five Torrey children, all in their 20s, have found niches, either managing work crews in the fields, running and buying equipment, helping to manage a dairy farm, working in human resources, or selling the produce.

“There are no job titles,” Marshall said. “Everybody works together as a team.”

She said there are many opportunities at the farm, and not just working with animals and out in the fields. She said marketing and soil specialists are needed. She sees a big need in agriculture for distribution logistics, people who know how to coordinate getting the product to the buyer.

Lamb Farms milks nearly 4,000 cows at two locations, one in Oakfield and the other in Batavia. The farm has another 4,400 calves and heifers. The farm employs 90 people and only seven are in the owners’ families.

Lamb is owned by the Lamb and Veazey families. The farm has opportunities at many levels for careers, from entry-level milkers to high-tech embryo transfers and lab work. Lamb can always use a good mechanic and animal caregivers.

“We have the opportunity to employ the whole spectrum,” said Jim Veazey, co-owner of the farm. “We try to do everything as a collective group — not as a dictatorship.”

The farm is implementing Global Positing System technology to map fields and keep track of soil types and yields on about 8,500 acres. Lamb also is building a manure digester that will use methane gas to run a generator, creating electricity.

CY Farms has 30 employees who run an operation that includes 5,200 acres. Co-owner Craig Yunker has reached out beyond his family for managers.

Yunker’s son, Christian, returned to the farm about a year and a half ago after six years working with Farm Credit in New Jersey. The younger Yunker said the hours are longer at the farm, but he followed his father’s advice about working somewhere else after college, before deciding whether he wanted the farm life.

Craig Yunker about five years ago formed a partnership with the Bartelse family in Canada. They formed Provitello, a veal-raising operation, and built a facility next to the CY Heifer Farm in Elba.

The Bartelses wanted to raise bull calves in the United States. The family’s business was threatened in 2004 when the U.S. temporarily banned Canadian-raised beef from coming into the U.S. because of the Mad Cow scare. The Bartelses have since bought out CY’s share and Provitello has bought three of the barns at CY to raise baby bulls in their first month. Then they move into a barn where the animals are in groups of 60, instead of being confined in individual stalls.

Jurian Bartelse, manager of the operation, said Provitello is well ahead of animal welfare goals for the American Veal Association. Provitello has 1,200 calves in its facilities, animals bought at local dairy farms. Provitello uses a computerized system to feed the animals a milk powder feed. Provitello only has three employees that run the operation. Slats in the floor catch the manure, keeping the facility clean with little work from employees.

The animals have chips in their ears and that allows the farm to trace the animals from their birth farm. The chips also are used to keep track of the feed intake. If an animal isn’t eating, the farm will be alerted to check the calf’s health.

May Pat Hancock, the Genesee County Legislature chairwoman, has been on the agriculture tours before, including a previous stop at Torrey’s. She said the local farms are rapidly changing.

“It’s a fast-changing industry,” she said. “They use technology on the ground, where it makes sense and makes money.”

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