Northwestern Pa. Correspondent
Suzie quietly sat outside, the graying beagle mix punctuating the idyllic country home. The visit to Meabon’s Green Meadows Farm began just beyond Suzie’s post, at the kitchen table surrounded by everything Holstein, from the wallpaper to the coffee mugs. Inside this Holstein kitchen in Wattsburg, Pa., dairy producers Randy and Paula Meabon shared their contributions to and visions for the nation’s dairy industry.
Married and farming together for 34 years, the Meabons are not the types who passively watch issues unfold from the comfort of a porch swing. From the get-go, they embraced opportunities within the industry’s young leaders’ programs, and continue to step up to fill gaps in leadership locally, regionally and nationally.
On the local front, Randy serves the Erie County Farm Bureau. Paula was instrumental in bringing 4-H to their home county (Erie). Today, she serves on the local Farm Service Agency board and is active in their church, volunteering on the gift discernment and food committees. Also, the couple hosts “Cow Camp,” an outreach program whereby curious onlookers gain day-in-the-life experience of a dairy farm lifestyle. For example, DMI (Dairy Management Inc.) staff, ironically with no dairying experience, took the plunge at Meabons’ farm, the experience forever adding authenticity to the staffers’ day jobs.
Regionally, Randy serves on the Pennsylvania Dairy Promotion Board and the Pennsylvania State Committee for Farm Bureau. In 2009, Paula was recognized with the Distinguished Dairy Woman Award from the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association. The following year, the same association named Randy as recipient of the Charles E. Cowan Memorial Award for his superior management skills and industry leadership.
The Meabons are a synergetic team who are in influential positions for the nation’s dairy industry. As an officer for DMI, Paula helps promote “Fuel Up to Play 60,” a joint program with the National Football League (NFL) aimed at combating childhood obesity. The gist of the school-based program is to encourage children to choose dairy for their fuel, and 60 minutes of physical activity per day. NFL superstars visit participating schools, using their stardom to combat the nationwide epidemic.
Randy serves the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) Council for the Mid- East, and the Mid-Atlantic Alliance of Cooperatives (MAAC). He is also a past DFA corporate board member. “ And,” Randy added, “I’m a farmer.”
Considering the future of dairy, the Meabons are passionate experts. A top concern is the deficit of next generation dairy producers. Randy observed today’s young dairy producers are “ committed and technologically advanced.” Then, tightening his lips he added, “There’re just not enough of them.” He stated, “There are less than 60,000 dairy farms in the U.S., which would only fill half of Beaver Stadium at Penn State. The average age of a dairy farmer is 55 years old.” Paula added, “Young people don’t want to work 12 or 16 hours a day, seven days a week. And who can blame them?” The Meabon’s own grown children, Nicole and Bradley, both hold jobs in different fields several states away.
With a shortage of future producers, dairies are growing larger. The fallout of such consolidation is already evident in the retail and processing sectors. “We are losing smaller industries,” Randy said. As farms consolidate, fewer and fewer players mean less competition, he explained. Green Meadows Farm falls right in the middle according to size, with 146 cows, 152 replacements and 565 acres. “We’re too big to be small, and too small to be big,” he commented.
Further visioning for the industry, Paula predicted dairy producers becoming increasingly aligned to sustainability. Regarding renewable energy, she explained some initiatives take more cows, so the need for dairy producers to work together is paramount. Green Meadows Farm is on track with a variety of sustainable practices. The Meabons employ strip cropping to control erosion, installed a new, more efficient plate cooler, and of course, changed out all the light bulbs. They are also considering a variable speed pump to add to their energy saving repertoire.
How do the Meabons juggle the pull of the farm, the family and leadership responsibilities? Paula explained some farm wives don’t participate in farming operations and stay firmly rooted in running the household. “That’s not us,” she admitted, “I do everything, or near everything, he does.” Disclosing the secret to their successful dairy, leadership and marriage, Paula narrowed it to three words, “We milk together.”