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Dairy prospects get latest glimpse of agriculture industry at NY Farm Show

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SYRACUSE — Most of those who attended the 2013 New York Farm Show Friday at the state fairgrounds looked like seasoned farmers. But two teenage girls who were participating in a scavenger hunt there were proof that the field of agriculture also has plenty of room and career opportunities for youths as well as women.

The girls are students from Belleville Henderson Central School and are “dairy prospects” participating in a program for high school students in Jefferson and Lewis counties hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension. Madison G. Furgison, 14, and Crystal M. Burger, 15, completed the scavenger hunt at the Syracuse show, weaving their way through five buildings filled with thousands of farmers.

These two girls, who work on their families’ farms managing dairy cows, needed no help getting started. At the Dairy Building they took each other’s pictures standing next to a piece of farm machinery. They chose a massive commercial Roto-Mix trailer used to mix feed for farms with up to 1,200 cattle. They learned that the gigantic machine, priced at $70,425, can mix a hay ration of 12,000 pounds and needs to be powered by a tractor with at least 120 horsepower.

They next stopped by a “cattle comfort” display hosted by Promat, a company based in Ontario, Canada. The girls learned the cushioned flooring they were walking on was made by grinding up recycled rubber tires. Also displayed was a newly designed gel mattress — a more luxurious bedding for cows. Each 22-square-foot bed is $325, said Chris T. Keane, the company’s international sales manager. They’re sold to farmers across the globe.

“The more the cows lay down, the more milk they give,” Mr. Keane said. “Cattle comfort is extremely important, because we want cows to live for up to six lactation cycles. Many farmers get rid of them after three.”

He pointed to a set of television monitors that showed recordings of dairy cattle in their pens that are used by farmers to review their daily behavior patterns. Recordings are sped up so that one second is the equivalent of three minutes. Like a coach reviewing the performance of football players, farmers can pinpoint cattle that aren’t getting enough rest.

“This is like troubleshooting for farmers,” he said.

Finding a lending institution amid the labyrinth of booths was an arduous undertaking for the girls. But their persistence led them to the Horticulture Building to find Farm Credit East. They completed the task by finding out current interest rates on loans and what farmers need to do to acquire funds.

In addition to telling the prospects where to go next, some agriculture experts slowed down their hunt by offering detailed explanations of how their products work.

One of them was Dale Miller, Northeast territory manager for AgriLabs in Mount Pleasant Mills, Pa. He showed the girls a cutting-edge product called StressMate, which is a blend of small proteins and nutrients made for newborn calves. By strengthening calves’ immune systems, he told the two teens, the product can speed up the young cows’ rate of growth into adulthood.

“This is an emerging technology the young minds of today have the opportunity to be involved in,” Mr. Miller said.

The prospects spotted an exhibit featuring a 5-kilowatt wind turbine and solar panels at the Art and Home building. Halco, an energy solutions company in Phelps, has assisted farmers in Central New York to develop wind and solar energy plans that meet their needs. Solar panels installed on the roofs of barns can be an easy way for farms to cut down on operational expenses, representative Amanda M. Postma said.

“By using wind and solar, you are offsetting a part of the energy that comes from the grid,” she said.

After finishing their three-hour search, the dairy prospects completed all but one of the tasks — getting a picture taken next to a “Got Milk?” booth that made no appearance this year.

The scavenger hunt at the fair is one of several field trip activities for high school students in Cornell’s dairy prospect program, which is hosted every other year. The six students in the program visited HP Hood in LaFargeville in October, where they watched workers make sour cream. They visited the SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Morrisville in November to learn about the agriculture programs there, and saw how a rotary milking parlor operates at Curtin Brothers Dairy in Cassville.

“We always take them to well-run and managed farms,” program group leader Peggy L. Murray said.

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