Looking to Get Lucky Again

1/5/2013 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern, Pa. Correspondent

Former Farm Show Judge Has Been Showing Swine for About 60 Years

AIRVILLE, Pa. — A lot has changed since James Parlett started exhibiting swine at the Pennsylvania Farm Show roughly 60 years ago.

But one factor remains a constant when it comes to taking home the purple and gold supreme champion swine banner — an honor Parlett received in 2011 and 2012, he said.

“You’ve gotta have a little luck,” he said, smiling.

Parlett, 74, of Airville in York County, on Monday shared his memories of former Farm Shows and discussed preparations for his swine exhibits this year.

“I started with my dad when I was a kid,” he said.

His father, William Parlett, died when he was 16 but figures prominently in his early memories of the annual event.

“They used to have too many pigs entered, and some would have to be cut,” he said. Additionally, “the crowds are a whole lot bigger now than they used to be.”

Prices also have changed dramatically over the years. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a bred gilt commanded $70, he said. At the 2012 Farm Show, Parlett’s Yorkshire gilt beat more than 150 entries, took the supreme champion swine award and topped the sale with a record bid of $2,500. The sale averaged $688.

“This is a show wrapped in drama and steeped in tradition, what a great group of champions,” Al Christian said during last year’s competition. “What a grand parade of animals.”

Parlett — an exhibitor, member of this year’s Farm Show swine co-op committee and former competition judge — downplayed his accomplishments when asked his key to success.

“First of all it’s genetics, then feed and care, and you have to have a little luck ... take care of these animals (starting) when they’re little pigs,” he said adding that Farm Show competition is always strong.

“There’s a lot of good breeders in Pennsylvania,” he said.

This year, the James Parlett and Son farm plans to exhibit Berkshire, Chester White, Hampshire and Yorkshire breeds.

The Parlett farm maintains between 20 and 25 sows, owns 350 acres — about half is rented to other farmers — raises corn, wheat, barley, soybeans and hay, and in the winter sells pigs to individuals to butcher.

It’s important to recognize the value of a niche market and pay attention to trends such as the current demand for high-quality meat that comes from a Berkshire pig, Parlett said.

“They’re a popular breed now,” he said.

The rewards for raising an award-winning animal and running a farm in a tough economic climate include “being independent,” Parlett said.

Parlett’s son, Gus Parlett, 43, represents the family farm’s fourth generation. He sells Berkshires to chefs and restaurants including Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture — a nonprofit farm and education center about 25 miles north of Manhattan in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

Gus Parlett said changes he’s seen in recent years include a sharp rise in the cost of feed, machinery and fuel.

“The cost to replace equipment is so high,” he said, talking of the risks farmers must take every season. “Farming is legalized gambling.”

The Parletts said they look forward to the Farm Show every year and are tired by the time it’s over. The event takes a great deal of work, planning and organization, they said.

Nonetheless, they’ll play to win.

“We’re gonna be competitive,” Gus Parlett said.

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