The HVADC Cultivator
Steve Hadcock & CCE Capital Region
Since its inception the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) has had the pleasure of working closely with the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) offices in many counties. On projects big and small, or on just a quick call to share expertise and advice, CCE has been one of HVADC’s most stalwart partners. A lot of the thanks for the success and congeniality of this partnership in the northern counties HVADC covers, is due to Stephen Hadcock, the Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Market Development Team Leader at the CCE Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program (CAAHP). He also serves as Beginning Farmer and Market Development specialist for CCE Capital Region. CCE Capital Region supports CCE programs in Albany, Columbia and Greene, Fulton and Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties.
Nine years ago CCE launched the “Ag and Hort” program to provide farms and agricultural business owners with farm management education opportunities. It focuses on Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schenectedy and Washington counties. Classes and consultations through the program offer skills that strengthen businesses and help them grow. Many of the entrepreneurs who come through HVADC’s programing looking to expand their operations have also taken classes through the CCE Ag and Hort program.
“To me, the challenges for new farmers are no different than any small business startup,” said Hadcock matter-of-factly. “Aspirants call me and say, ‘I’ve just purchased X amount of land, what can I do with it?’ What I push to them to answer is: what do you envision as a living family income and are there reasonable markets? Then we go from there.”
Hadcock works with new businesses while colleague Dayton Maxwell, Farm Business Management specialist, administers classes to established farms over 10 years old. Hadcock and Maxwell also work hand in glove with a team of other agricultural specialists that bring a wealth of experience to bear.
“The CCE staff might not get the credit as often as they should but our region’s farmers know that the entire team at CCE has been an integral piece of the Hudson Valley agricultural economy for a long time,” said Todd Erling, HVADC Executive Director. “Steve has shown through word and deed that he cares deeply for Hudson Valley farmers and goes above and beyond to have their back every day.”
Hadcock has worked with many new farmers over the years but no matter what they are growing or how prepared they are, he says there’s one thing they all have in common - drive. That personal commitment to success makes for attentive students. “People see farming as a calling. No matter the way they start a farm, they always have a lot of passion,” Hadcock said. “I try to make sure that they are going in with their eyes wide open and that they have the right idea of what to expect.”
According to Hadcock, new farms have the equivalent success and failure rates as any new business. He said flexibility is important and like any other field, you have to be able to grow and change to survive. He says he often aids farms experiencing their 7-8 year “pinch point,” when they are established enough to grow but aren’t quite sure how to do it. A common struggle he helps address, is when a business owner needs to start hiring for the first time because farm work has become too much for themselves and immediate family.
“You can run into tough situations when you have to change your vocation from a farmer to a manager of people.” Said Hadcock, in an illustration of how nuanced his work can be.
Hadcock often operates like a kind of agricultural guidance councilor for young businesses. He spends a considerable amount of time talking to farmers one-on-one, trouble shooting specific issues. He provides technical assistance and co-teaches a couple remote learning classes that cover topics such as business planning, QuickBooks and exciting subjects like legal considerations and insurance.
Along with the rest of the program staff Hadcock is also working on addressing the issue of older farmers looking to retire and how to transition their operations to new caretakers. It’s a complicated subject, often fraught with issues, but one that grows in importance across the region each year.
The Ag and Hort team has also been adapting and helping their clients adjust to the new realities of the COVID -19 andemic. Across the industry, business is up, but aiding a farm under the circumstances is hampered by remote communications.
“You can never replace sitting across the kitchen table or standing out in a field with someone but we’ve done the best we can with Zoom.” Hadcock said. “In some ways this has been a blessing and a curse. It’s heightened the public’s awareness of the value of the farms around them. But there are also a lot of challenges caused by high demand, especially for livestock producers.”
He also pointed out that other areas like ornamental horticulture are struggling because they were essentially shut down at the beginning of the pandemic as non-essential, and there have been major problems due to the loss of the wedding season. The Ag and Hort program has begun holding Zoom conferences with horticulturists to start mapping out a plan for what comes next for the regional flower market.
“We need to help farmers think of new plans. Because of COVID the rate of change is so fast. Farmers need to be more nimble than ever,” said Hadcock. “Information sharing with HVADC is always helpful. Todd and Mary Ann (HVADC Deputy Director) are a critical part of my network.”
Likewise Hadcock and CCE are a critical part of HVADC’s network. Now more than ever HVADC relies on its dedicated agency partners as everyone works together to quickly provide agriculture businesses with the services they depend on on.
For more information about the Ag and Hort program, visit https://blogs.cornell.edu/capitalareaagandhortprogram/main/
Images courtesy of CCE Capital Region