From Farm To Market Without Using Roads

November 17, 2010 / News & Updates

From Farm To Market Without Using Roads

By ERIC ANDERSON Business Editor
Published: 12:16 a.m., Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ALBANY — Upstate farmers could have an easier time getting their produce from field to market if a plan involving hybrid refrigerated trucks and barges on the Hudson River comes together.

It’s called the Hudson River Foodway Corridor, and it’s in the earliest stages of planning.

The market in this case is the New York metropolitan area, which is a difficult journey if you’re hauling produce by truck.

“It shouldn’t be easier for us to ship our products to other states or overseas than to New York City,” said New York Farm Bureau spokesman Peter Gregg. “But that’s they way it is right now.”

Blame high tolls over the bridges and through the tunnels, weight restrictions and outdated infrastructure that contributes to congestion and delays.

Hunts Point, the cooperative market that handles the bulk of produce and other agricultural items heading into New York City, gets 14,600 truck deliveries each day.

Trucks bring in 97 percent of the market’s produce, while just 3 percent arrives by rail, according to Joseph Heller, resource conservation and development coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Highland.

With replacement or rehabilitation of the Tappan Zee Bridge, a main link across the Hudson, being planned, getting trucks to New York City could be even more difficult.

“What would happen if the Tappan Zee Bridge wasn’t functional?” Heller said.

While Hunts Point is on the waterfront, nothing arrives by barge.

Under the proposal being developed by USDA and a number of other agencies, hybrid refrigerated trailers that can operate either with a diesel engine or by being plugged in would be filled by farmers in their fields, then driven to the Port of Albany, where the trailers would be loaded onto barges, about 25 to a barge.

Jim Harvilla, senior consultant with Customized Energy Solutions in Endicott, is working on a plan to use heavy-duty batteries produced by Reno, Nev.-based Altair Nanotechnologies to power the trailers while they’re on the 17-hour barge trip down the Hudson.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority provided Customized Energy Solutions with an $85,000 award to study the feasibility of the project and develop the barge battery system.

Harvilla says after the trailers are delivered to New York City, they could be hauled by hybrid or even electric trucks to make deliveries, taking some of the burden off Hunts Point.

Harvilla said that trailers might even be dropped off in some other part of the city, such as Queens or Brooklyn, instead of the crowded Hunts Point market in the Bronx.

One challenge would be to find items to “back-haul” to the Port of Albany, something that would produce additional revenue to cover the operation’s costs.

Suggestions include fresh seafood and imported items.

The goal is to reduce truck traffic and diesel pollution, while providing small farmers an easier way to get to market.

Harvilla said the feasibility study should be completed within a year. The next step would be a pilot program to see how it works in practice.

Heller has already talked to everyone from the Navy to the federal Department of Transportation.

“Maybe with all these partnerships,” he said, “it can be done on a shoestring budget.”

Reach Eric Anderson at 454-5323 or