2017-04-22 / Front Page

Tough times for family farms


Members of the McKean/ Potter and Potter/Tioga Farm Bureaus were in Harrisburg recently, meeting with lawmakers about a host of issues related to agriculture in Pennsylvania. This is a tough time for farmers to remain in business, as they face economics that are marginal, at best, and regulations that many of them consider too burdensome. Rep. Martin Causer (right) greeted the local delegation. Shown from left are: front -- Jackie Root, Melody Shetler, Doris Edgreen, Amber Risser and Kurt Kosa; row two – Stanley Brubaker, Jon Blass, Joe Bohnert, Cliff Root, Tom Edgreen and Dan Shetler; row 3 -- Tim Wood, John Painter and Carl Long. Members of the McKean/ Potter and Potter/Tioga Farm Bureaus were in Harrisburg recently, meeting with lawmakers about a host of issues related to agriculture in Pennsylvania. This is a tough time for farmers to remain in business, as they face economics that are marginal, at best, and regulations that many of them consider too burdensome. Rep. Martin Causer (right) greeted the local delegation. Shown from left are: front -- Jackie Root, Melody Shetler, Doris Edgreen, Amber Risser and Kurt Kosa; row two – Stanley Brubaker, Jon Blass, Joe Bohnert, Cliff Root, Tom Edgreen and Dan Shetler; row 3 -- Tim Wood, John Painter and Carl Long. This is a tough time for family farms to remain in business.

They face economics that are marginal, at best, and regulations that many of them consider too burdensome. Fewer young people are following in the footsteps of their parents. Some area agriculturalists have told researchers they’re close to the exit door.

Members of the McKean/Potter and Potter/Tioga Farm Bureaus were in Harrisburg recently, seeking support from legislators on critical issues impacting them. High on the priority list were tax reform, economic issues snarled in negotiations of the state’s 2017-18 budget, and regulatory relief.

Carl Long, a young family farmer from Potter County, said the delegation urged lawmakers to continue the PennVEST program, a critical source of state funding for livestock maintenance.

“PennVEST plays a vital role in the animal industry, so it’s imperative we get these proposed budget cuts restored,” Long explained. “The current budget proposal could eliminate lab testing, which we’ve used to identify serious health threats such as bird flu and other diseases carried and transmitted by animals.” The proposed cuts also include support for students seeking to become large-animal veterinarians.

“There’s a shortage of these professionals, not just in Pennsylvania but across the country,” Long said.

Many farmers have seen the state’s shale gas industry as a potential economic salvation. However, they’re concerned that some energy companies have been exploiting loopholes shortchanging them on royalties. The local delegation urged passage of House Bill 557, which would bar drillers from deducting certain costs from the minimum 12.5- percent royalty payment.

Farmers also lobbied for state support of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System, which makes it easier to market crops to charitable organizations serving disadvantaged families.

Meanwhile, members also called on lawmakers to support farmers who host “agritourism” or “agri-tainment” activities that have proven popular as a supplemental income source in some areas.

The farmers joined a chorus of voices urging the legislature to reform Pennsylvania’s public deficit-riddled public pension systems. Long said the ripple effect is being felt locally. For example, school districts have been forced to use real estate tax increases to meet their share of the skyrocketing pension costs.

“Most commercial farmers require significant acreage to produce crops and raise livestock, and they shoulder an excessive share of the load in paying for public education,” Long pointed out. “Our margins are already very thin, which means all these issues will eventually affect prices.”

Despite its high elevation and colder climate, Potter County has produced bountiful farm products for more than a century and a half.

County farmers annually produce about 1.3 million bushels of green beans, corn, potatoes, wheat and oats. Livestock count – which once exceeded 130,000 -- has dropped to 22,000, predominantly cattle.

There are now about 40 dairy farms and fewer than a dozen large-scale commercial crop operations.

Annual sales of agricultural products in Potter County is estimated at $35- 40 million, with much of the revenue used to pay bills and reinvest in the farm.

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