Placid’s uihlein potato farm faces financial transition news, sports, jobs – adirondack daily enterprise west la college website

LAKE PLACID — chris nobles has massive, rugged hands. He trims his fingernails short because a good portion of his job involves pulling potatoes out of the dirt.

Nobles used to grab the potatoes from the actual ground, but ever since the farm stopped field growing, he works mainly in a greenhouse packed with sacks of potting mix and in a lab full of test tubes. Those who worked in the field were let go from their jobs, effective june 1. Nobles’s position as manager at the uihlein farm in lake placid will be reduced from full time to half time. Nobles said because of his knowledge of the potato industry and his position at the farm, he saw these cutbacks coming before anyone else, but it’s still a struggle.

“you’re not sure what to think,” he said. “yes, it’s affecting the position I sit in personally by being cut in half, but knowing that you have two positions going away completely that are currently held by two very long-term employees, very reliable, hardworking, easy-to-get-along-with employees, that was the biggest struggle for me.”

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Nobles said the two employees quickly found new jobs that didn’t require any relocating or massive lifestyle changes, so he’s happy for that, but letting them go was difficult.

“from a historical standpoint, it’s a huge change to this operation, losing one of its main components, and that is sad, but for me I was affected personally most by the loss of the positions. It was just very difficult to come to terms with the fact that that was going to happen and then to be the one to inform those individuals that we really didn’t have a choice.”

The greenhouse is lined from end to end with hundreds of potato plants and has a thick smell of green foliage. The vegetables grow in the dirt but sprout rather larger stems. Some even have tiny flowers blossoming from the stalks.Nobles said others have little hairs covering the leaves — an evolutionary mutation that wards off insects. Despite his large and muscular hands, nobles touched the leaves delicately and showed off the vibrant white and purple flowers blooming from the potato stems.

For the past 11 years, nobles has worked at the uihlein farm, a facility owned by the college of agriculture and life sciences at cornell university and managed by the department of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology.

The uihlein farm is the official foundation seed potato farm for the state of new york. It was established in the 1960s as a single source for early generation, disease-free product for the certified seed potato growers in the state. However, after cornell implemented some new financial policies pertaining to its agriculture facilities, workers had to be let go, a whole growing aspect of the farm was removed, and nobles’s position will be reduced from full-time to half-time this summer.Uihlein farm nobles said the farm is in a far different state than it has been historically.

The potato farm has been in operation since the uihlein family of heaven hill farm donated the land to cornell in 1961. The facility has grown over a hundred different varieties of potatoes from the usual suspects such as yukon gold and russets to more heirloom types such magic molly and austrian crescent. Some potatoes are clone varieties and aren’t even identified by a specific name but rather a code such as NY 121*. In 1977, the uihleins donated money to the farm to establish a laboratory where disease and pathogen testing is conducted for the potatoes.

The lab and all its equipment pretty much hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Even the decor is retro with a conference room sporting a thick orange carpet complimented by tweed steelcase office chairs and walls of wood paneling.Cornell university

1. The tissue culture laboratory where potato seeds are tested to see if they’re free of pathogens, bacteria and viruses. The plants are grown in test tubes before being placed in soil.

“disease was prevalent,” nobles said, “and that was was really the reason that the growers — and there were many more of them back then than there are today in the state — got together and said, ‘we need somebody to basically start a farm where we can get clean seed from a single source. We know where it’s originating and we can be confident that we’re starting without disease in our seed lot.’”

“new york state has just been on a steady decline for a long time, not just in the seed sector but in overall potato production,” nobles said.

“new york is not the only state where that’s happened.Uihlein farm many states in the eastern U.S. Have been on a decline just because conditions for high yield type potato productions are more favorable in the western U.S.”

The move out west for potato growers had a lot to do with water, nobles said. Despite western states being more arid, growers use irrigation systems.

“they have complete control of that crop from start to finish,” nobles said, “whereas here we don’t have irrigation capabilities. Some growers in the state do, but we’re relying heavily on or exclusively on natural rainfall and the last several years have been very difficult from that standpoint.”

Soil also plays a role. Potatoes can grow in a variety of conditions, but the soil out west is more conducive to potato farming, according to nobles.

A few years ago, cornell university implemented a new financial policy in which the college would start taking a certain percentage of revenue gained by each of its facilities.Nobles said

Ben rand, the manager of PR and media relations in the office of marketing and communications at cornell university, said in an email that the college wants to support its agricultural facilities as much as possible, but certain changes in the potato industry can make that difficult.

“the market landscape for seed potatoes, however, has changed significantly. In response, we are re-focusing the uihlein farm on what cornell CALS does best: providing farmers with research-based tools, technologies and practices they need to succeed in a changing environment. As a result, we are discontinuing field production of potato seed at the uihlein farm this year.”

Unlike other cornell agriculture facilities throughout the state, such as the musgrave farm in aurora and the homer C.Cornell university thompson vegetable farm in freeville, the uihlein farm is not research-based. Its mission is the production and sale of disease-free potato seed.

“we rely very heavily, not exclusively, but very heavily on sales of our seed to fund our program,” nobles said. “when these policies that were implemented a couple of years ago by the college, which basically takes a percent of off the top of any revenue that we have coming into the program, it really put a big damper on our ability to continue the operation as it has been historically.”

“there were a lot of cost-cutting measures that were implemented. The university as a whole along with every other institution was trying to slim down and create more efficiencies and cut costs just to keep [itself] afloat. A handful of years after that, institutions like the college of agriculture were still struggling, and not only did they need to cut costs, they needed to figure out ways to generate additional revenue for the general college funds.”

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One of uihlein’s biggest customers is tucker farms in gabriels. Steve tucker, the president of tucker farms, said uihlein has been a major resource to them and always provided quality seed, but with the field operation gone, tucker is limited to buying the test tube plants, which aren’t fully grown.

“we would need more space and a bigger greenhouse to grow the minitubers into full potatoes,” he said. “it’s definitely going to be a learning experience.”

Tucker said there are other options such as buying seed from wisconsin. He understands why certain cutbacks were made, but he also said it would’ve been nice for uihlein to keep the field growing operation. COMMENTS