Balancing agriculture and nature

Researchers examine the evolving partnership between farming and ecology

At the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, the Applied Farmscape Ecology Program examines the delicate balance of food production co-existing with nature and wildlife. Critical to this process is the navigating of relationships between wildlife, soil microbes, water, plants, and farming. 

The primary goal of the program is to examine the semi-natural habitats on and surrounding the farm from the perspective of native species conservation and the provision of biologically-mediated benefits such as pollination and biocontrol to food production. Through research and demonstration, the Farm Hub seeks to generate and share the acquired knowledge with other farms. To achieve this, the Farmscape Ecology team has been working with a variety of researchers throughout the region on individual projects—soil and water quality and turtles to name a few—that aim to add knowledge to farming and ecology.

Anne Bloomfield, Farmscape Ecology Manager at the Farm Hub, addresses a packed audience.

The Applied Farmscape Research Collaborative includes researchers from the following organizations: Bard College, Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program, Hudsonia, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY New Paltz, the University of New England, and Columbia University. Will Yandik, a farmer and independent researcher, is also part of the Collaborative.

This group includes researchers and scientists in the region whose work addresses the questions, how can on-farm habitat conservation or creation help support regional biodiversity? And, how can such conservation or creation contribute to farm production? Some have already been working with the Farm Hub, while others are new to the group.

This year the Collaborative is working on a number of new projects:

  • Noah Perlut, a researcher and professor at the University of New England, will place trackers on Bobolinks at the Farm Hub and monitor their movements in migration as well as their breeding and wintering grounds.
  • Sara Kross, a researcher at Columbia University, will look at birds and ecosystem services as a pest control for crops. Kross previously did work with the Wild Farm Alliance in California.
  • Will Yandik will work with the production team at the Farm Hub in studying cover crops management as habitat for overwintering birds.
  • Carmen Greenwood, a researcher and professor at SUNY Cobleskill, will monitor the connection between soil and invertebrate biodiversity. 

Shafiul Chowdhury studies the connections between water quality and farming through data collection at the Farm Hub.

The partnerships have been driven by considering research gaps and “what the needs of the farming community might be,” says Anne Bloomfield, the Farmscape Ecology Program Manager. 

While the researchers come from a variety of disciplines including hydrogeology, microbiology, wildlife ecology, entomology, botany, and agriculture, their research all relates to agriculture and seeks to advance conservation efforts. 

“The idea behind the Collaborative is that the researchers don’t just operate independently, but that they work collaboratively, and their projects have synergies with one another,” says Bloomfield. Researchers bring their individual expertise in areas such as soil, water, birds, turtles, native meadows and cover cropping. Then, they will work together to create tools and recommendations for growers, with the ultimate goal being to make the knowledge accessible to the community whether it be print, digital or in person.

 

Engagement

The Farm Hub has also worked with partners to host and organize public events that showcase the research. This year, the Farm Hub is planning the third annual Native Meadow Trial Twilight Meeting, in partnership with the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program. This public event offers demonstrations and hands on activities that are geared towards farmers and land managers. Over the years, Farmscape Ecology has also hosted local birds walks and made presentations at the 2019 Northeast Natural History Conference.

From left, Shafiul Chowdhury, Raavi Chowdhury, students Tyler Monroe, Arianna Hege and Don Hodder, a SUNY New Paltz geology department technician.

In addition, the research initiatives have provided educational opportunities for students from area institutions. Shafiul Chowdhury, associate professor of SUNY New Paltz department of geological sciences, and a team of his students regularly monitor the water from the Esopus Creek during the spring and summer months. They study the connections between water quality and farming through data collection. Since the program started in 2017, ten undergraduates have participated in the research including students who have received funding from SUNY New Paltz. Chowdhury says:  “Our students are getting real life hands-on research experience which will make them better prepared for future a career and graduate school.”  

Last November, the Farm Hub hosted a half-day event “Perspectives on Farming with Nature” at The Ashokan Center to showcase existing and ongoing research from the Collaborative. 

Presenters introduced their projects and discussed how the research applies to farmers and land managers for biodiversity conservation and crop production. 

Farmers face impending challenges in the 21st century including the pressure of feeding an estimated 9 billion people by 2050, according to the UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs. Sustainable agricultural practices “implemented in an ecologically responsible way” are  an important part of that solution, says Chowdhury. “Improvements of traditional agricultural practices are necessary to ensure long term sustainability to protect water quality, to maximize water conservation and to minimize the level of adverse effects of irrigation on soil health.”

Will Yandik is a fourth-generation farmer in the Hudson Valley.

Yandik, a fourth-generation farmer in the Hudson Valley, spoke about the urgency of collaboration.

“There is a growing recognition among practicing farmers that good ecological decisions — cover cropping, providing pollinator habitats, and fostering soil health — yield long-term dividends. The opportunities for farmers and ecologists to collaborate are growing rapidly,” says Yandik.  

Moreover, many young farmers under the age of 35 are also first-time farmers and could use advice and experience,” Yandik says. “As market challenges, climate change, and age-old problems with pests and diseases continue to make farming a tough business, we will all benefit from increasing cooperation and the exchange of the newest ideas and research as the Northeast approaches a new era in farming.”

Growers who attended the event say the information was applicable to their work.  Among them were Frank Migliorelli and Liza Parker of  Hudson Bounty Farm, a family-run fruit and vegetable farm in Red Hook. The conference opened our eyes to other ways of balancing and managing the land in very interesting and ecofriendly ways,” Migliorelli says. 

Parker says she wasn’t aware of the breadth of beneficial insects in agriculture. “This is a level that is hard, but there are takeaways for even the most inexperienced farmer,” she says.

 

Looking ahead

Research often involves multiyear projects and trials that are repeatedly tested until they are ready to be shared with the public. In the next few years, as the Applied Farmscape Ecology Research Collaborative completes existing projects, tools and resources will be created to make information accessible to the community.

To view the livestreamed videos in full and review the presentations click here

A film about the Farmscape Ecology program produced by Oceans 8 Films will be available on our website later this year.

 

–Amy Wu