Thanks to Duncan Allison for his recap of this year’s Ag Progress Days at Penn State.
There was no sign of a suffering industry at Ag Progress Days this week. There were as many people as ever to my eyes although there might not have been quite so many tractors and harvesters as I remember in earlier years. Yet we know that this will be the fourth year in declining net farm income down to $62.3 billion from $81.7 billion in 2014.
The midday Penn State luncheon featured not only the Dean, President of the University and Secretary Redding but also Governor Wolf who made it clear that agriculture is a critical industry in the state which must continue to be properly funded. Penn State is also proud of having a record of 3,025 agricultural students signed up for the coming year. Several students had also gained national awards across a range of ag disciplines upholding the high reputation of Penn State University. I can only touch on some of the many conversations that I had as I went from exhibitor to exhibitor.
Biosecurity – We have been aware of how deadly Avian Flu can be but we can be grateful to the state for being well prepared to deal with any further outbreak. However biosecurity must be taken seriously as the impact of foot and mouth, for example, could be disastrous to our dairy and livestock industry. Farm access and layout should ensure separation of access roads and prevent interaction of age groups. Be honest at customs and immigration when you say that you have been on a farm! New plant diseases and insects can also be readily introduced so border inspections of produce play a vital role.
Dairy continues to be our major ag industry and milk prices are making it difficult particularly in the spring when there is an oversupply of milk. It was suggested to me by a Land O’Lakes representative that breeding programs should be considered to increase production in the fall when there is a natural downturn in milk yields.
Sales of robotic milkers are still low and DeLaval is encouraging potential buyers to carry out a detailed financial analysis to assess whether the investment is worthwhile. A single robot is rarely economic and 2-3 are considered necessary, particularly if expansion of the business is being considered. However the farmer must understand the impact on the whole business. The whole layout of the dairy and the business has to be changed to take advantage of the higher milk yields, extra two or three lactations from the cows that have been under much less stress etc. Dairies considering expansion can readily add additional units after making the initial investment.
New initiatives – A program in the Southwest of the state is looking promising in providing income in a depressed area. By connecting a processor with a regular supply of lamb, many farms should be provided with steady incomes. The program is being carried out in conjunction with West Virginia and Ohio. There appears to be more potential markets resulting from creating direct links between processors seeking regular supplies and producers – after all how is the poultry industry structured?
Farm succession is clearly a challenging topic and I gathered that the farm should be handed over to the interested family member or members by the time he/she or they are 30-35 or 40. The challenge comes in dealing fairly with family members who are not involved in the farm business. The process involves both legal and accounting expertise and gaining the wholehearted collaboration of family members.
Value of farming in elementary schools – Experience at the Fox Chase Elementary: an Agriculture School, has shown that courses in agriculture have been critical in achieving their mission of providing “meaningful instruction in a secure place. Our high expectations and academic rigor will encourage lifelong, critical thinkers who are problem solvers, responsible citizens, and respectful of our community and the world.” The program has been so successful that 15 other schools are adopting their program as students have been found to perform better in their subsequent schooling.
State of PA Agriculture – Two PA Washington representatives, Secretary Redding and Rick Ebert, PFB had assembled a panel of speakers to review the needs of their areas in strictly 5 mins. Rick Ebert. PFB President made it very clear that agriculture is really struggling with farm income down 50%, especially for the dairy industry due to the national and global milk glut. He hoped the Farm Bill would improve the situation and that suitable measures can be introduced to improve the ag labor situation.
Conservation districts – The 1,570 farmers that responded to the farm survey found that 50% had a nutrient management plan – more than had been estimated. The current EPA requirements for reporting are totally cumbersome and totally different from the existing state system. Dedicated funding is needed to get conservation practices in place on farms.
PASA reported that PA has the highest number of direct market farms in the country. Their apprenticeship program is operating well. Only 18-20% of farms have cover crops. Research is needed to study how to deal with climate change – there are no state programs. Flash storms and short term drought. Need cooperative inspection agreements between surrounding states to facilitate marketing for meat.
Vice President PFB and pig producer – International trade is important as 25% of US production is exported – agriculture benefits from trade. Need to maintain NAFTA trade agreements and must be able to trade with the world. Tax code for farmers needs to recognize the volatile markets and variations in resulting income. Need labor for many of our critical industries.
60,000 jobs. 14% of milk is exported. Average 72 cows/farm in PA, national average 190/farm. Small farms have higher costs of production as they do not have economies of scale. It is a very real problem dealing with excess milk as it costs more to donate than to dump. Need for access to quality workforce.
Central PA Food Bank – Supplying 48 million pounds of food and 40 million meals to 90 agencies. 1.7million Pennsylvanians struggle for food. Food stamps must be maintained. Dairy products represent 9% of SNAP. Potential to utilize ag. surpluses (3.9 million lbs.?) for low income citizens.