By Amanda Garris
Kevin Martin joined the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program at the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory in 2008. As the business management educator, he provides extension programming to assist growers in evaluating the financial impact of grape production practices. Mr. Martin's expertise in budget analysis and law is helping juice grape growers navigate challenging economic times.
How did you end up working with grapes and specifically in the business management of grape production?
Growing up on a vineyard in the Lake Erie Region was not initially a source of inspiration for me to work with the grape industry. From a very young age I knew I wanted to go to law school, despite having little desire to actually practice law. While working towards dual master's degrees in law and public administration in Albany, I found one common thread in my diverse academic interests: studying systems. Law, economics, policy and business in one way or another are about analyzing the relationship between many variables and their outcomes within a system. While I worked for the city of Sugarland, Texas, as a budget analyst, forecasting sales tax revenue or prison populations was, for a time, an interesting application of systems theory. In a way, my position as extension educator is similar — the only difference is the greater interest and satisfaction I have working with the growers. When I was told about the extension educator job with the grape industry, I jumped at the chance to return to New York.
How would you describe your position?
I am a Pennsylvania State University extension educator and a member of the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program (LERGP). As an extension educator, my primary role is to take the work of researchers and disseminate that information to improve vineyard operations. Since much of the research is based in viticulture or entomology, I also take on the role of translating that research into business and economic terms for growers to analyze. I do this by providing individualized workshops, holding coffee pot meeting on farms during the growing season, and developing online resources to help growers evaluate the economic impact of production decisions.
What are the major challenges facing the industry, and what are your goals?
Much like the rest of commercial agriculture, the juice grape industry is experiencing volatility on the expense side to which it has not fully adapted. One way to manage pricing volatility is to limit your exposure to such expenditures. This translates to decreasing inputs without decreasing yield or quality. In addition, growers have continued to age at an unsustainable rate. Inevitably we'll continue to see a decline in the number of growers. I hope to provide adequate education to minimize the impact that has on the industry as a whole. Whether family farms continue or not, we'd like to see the acreage stay in production throughout a succession.
What resources have you developed for the juice grape industry?
With the help of the New York Farm Viability Institute, the Northeast Center for Risk Management, and the LERGP team, we have a number of economic worksheets available on our website, covering topics such as pesticide and herbicide applications and harvest costs.
What was the best piece of business advice you have received?
The road is littered with flat squirrels that could not make a decision.