Homer farmer Mike McMahon was in Washington D.C. yesterday (April 30), testifying before the House Agriculture Committee about the current state of the New York dairy economy.
McMahon is a partner and owner of E-Z Acres Farm in Homer. He and his brother Pete bought the farm from their parents and have so far taken it from 60 cows and 170 acres to 850 dairy cows with an additional 750 head of youngstock on 2,300 acres of land in the towns of Homer and Scott.
His address yesterday to the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture hit on two primary concerns of his and many dairy farmers around the country: Immigrant Labor and Environmental Sustainability.
“Immigrant labor is absolutely critical to my operation,” he said in his testimony. “Regardless of the unemployment rate in our County, local labor doesn’t want to milk cows. Agriculture needs a way to secure an immigrant workforce that is steady, willing, able and legal.”
Cortland County is certainly not alone with those needs. McMahon referenced a 2017 Texas A&M study that found 79% of the U.S. milk supply is harvested by Hispanic workers.
E-Z Acres also has a strong focus on environmental stewardship, with two courses at Cornell University visiting the farm every year to learn how the farm operates in both the Susquehanna and Skaneateles watersheds.
He spoke to the committee about a concept known as “Nutrient Mass Balance” that’s allowed him to be successful in preserving the quality of his water supply, and consequently the quality of his products.
“Our approach is based on the simple concept of balancing the amount of ‘nutrients’ we import onto the farmstead each year- mainly in the form of feed and fertilizer- with the amounts of ‘nutrients’ exported in the form of milk, meat and manure,” McMahon said. “Every farm in water sensitive areas regardless of size can implement some or all of this approach.”
The main nutrients of concern with regard to water quality are Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P). McMahon says this method has reduced the amount of N remaining on the farm by 33% and the P remaining on the farm by 135% since the pilot was launched in 2003.
In District 22 alone, dairy production supports nearly 4,000 jobs, $239 million in wages, and $1.83 billion in total economic impact.