Farm Credit 100 Fresh Perspectives
Farm Credit 100 Fresh Perspectives

Dale-Ila M. Riggs
Farmer and Owner, The Berry Patch

Stephentown, New York
Farm Credit Affiliation
Farm Credit East
Dale-Ila M.'s Perspective

Dale-Ila M. Riggs is a first generation farmer who took a worn out corn field and built a thriving 230-acre berry, vegetable and cut flower operation called The Berry Patch. As an innovator in production methods, Dale-Ila was among the first in the U.S. to use high tunnels for raspberry and winter greens. Using low tunnels for strawberry production, she sells strawberries six months a year and her offers her other premium produce at the local Farmer’s Market and to 20 prestigious restaurants 52 weeks a year. A successful entrepreneur, she began selling produce to restaurants while still in graduate school.

“As a farmer who supplies premium quality berries and vegetables to consumers, I hope to help create long-term memories of fantastic meals and food experiences for our customers,” says Dale-Ila. “An ulterior motive for doing this is to indirectly teach the public that they can both attain and enjoy healthy eating habits.”

Dale-Ila is also an industry leader, currently serving as president of the New York State Berry Growers, where her leadership and innovation have been especially effective. The invasion of Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), a crop-damaging fruit fly, left the berry industry reeling. Dale-Ila approached Cornell to learn what was needed to fight this pest to keep the industry vibrant. Through innovative communication, persuasiveness and persistence, she convinced the New York Senate and the Invasive Species Council to commit $1.3 million over three years to fund research into controlling this pest.

“I have a problem solver mindset so I just couldn’t idly stand by when such a threat to the industry became evident,” Dale-Ila says. “I’m inspired to advocate for funding for research for a long-term solution for managing this invasive insect because without a solution, the berry industry throughout the nation will be drastically reduced. I ultimately hope to achieve a long-term solution for a stable funding source for applied research for agriculture.”

On her own farm, Dale-Ila conducted USDA research to exclude SWD from blueberries. The results are used nationwide to teach growers how to manage this pest. In workshops she helped organize, 96 percent of growers expressed confidence in knowing how to manage this pest.

While working for Cornell, she was the first woman to win the National Crop Production Award for her research and education program in pumpkin production. She was also the editor and primary writer of the “Pumpkin Production Guide,” which earned three national awards.

“Farmers who are innovative, action oriented and looking to the future have multitudes of opportunities, as long as they run their operation as a business first,” Dale-Ila says. “I think that farmers who are good at taking calculated risks and who are innovative communicators need to be identified and rewarded for working with legislators to create stable funding for investing in applied research for agriculture – that is where our future will be created.”

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