Keystone Exhibitors Ponder Farm Trends

1/12/2013 7:00 AM
By Dick Wanner Reporter

YORK, Pa. — Do you see any trends developing for your farmer customers in 2013, anything new on the horizon, any area that’s getting stronger or weaker, anything that farmers need to think about, that maybe they didn’t have to think so much about before?

That was the multipart question posed Tuesday in a number of conversations with random exhibitors at the 2013 Keystone Farm Show at the York Fairgrounds.

Lowell Fry, vice president with Fulton Bank’s agricultural financial services group, said that while certain of his customers have hit some rough spots — he mentioned dairy and hogs — ag in general has had a good four- to five-year run.

Grain farmers in particular haven’t been troubled much by the turmoil that’s roiled the U.S. and world economy in recent years, he said.

Fulton’s farm customers operate in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware. They are a diverse group, from small organic producers to giant dairies.

The most successful operators, Fry said, are those who are most efficient and who do the best job of managing risk. That could be tougher in 2013 and the years following if the final version of the federal Farm Bill contains deep cuts in insurance programs.

With or without insurance, he added, the futures market is becoming a more important risk-management tool.

Contracts with guarantees are another way to manage risk, he said, but lenders want to see contracts with longer terms.

Fry, who is a broiler producer as well as a banker, pointed to broiler contracts as an example.

“We used to see flock-to-flock guarantees,” he said. “Now we look for contracts that cover four to five years.”

Dairy operators who may have expanded in the past by adding more cows and more buildings to the home farm, are now sometimes looking to expand by adding a satellite farm, he said.

With two or more smaller operations, complying with concentrated-feeding and other environmental regulations can be less complicated, and land may simply not be available to expand the home farm.

And for those dairymen who do expand beyond the limits of their own labor, people management skills will rank right up there with operating efficiency and risk management, Fry said.

David Keener, an engineer with TeamAg, an agricultural engineering and consulting firm in Ephrata, Pa., pondered the question about trends, then pointed to a display across the aisle that promoted one company’s precision planting technology.

As farmers become more and more familiar with GPS equipment, they are looking for more precise maps of the soils on their farms, Keener said.

Harvesting machinery can map yield differences in a particular field in incredibly small increments, but for practical purposes 25-foot squares work well.

TeamAg’s role is to measure the soil fertility in those squares, then plot the coordinates for each square on a map that a farmer can use to apply more fertilizer where needed to boost production.

Keener sees this as a trend that’s growing stronger and stronger.

One of his co-workers, Corey Grove, is a TeamAg nutrient-management specialist. What occupies Grove’s radar screen more than technology is the speeding up of the approval process for farmers’ nutrient-management plans.

Some approvals used to take six months or more because, Grove said, farmers, with the help of their consultants, submitted partially completed plans, which were reviewed, then amended and submitted again.

Now, the approving agencies want to see completed plans right off the bat, with all the “i’s dotted and the t’s crossed,” he said.

Lee Rinehart, director of education and outreach for Pennsylvania Certified Organic, said he has seen the demand for organic foods grow at a steady pace over the past years.

The Spring Mills, Pa.-based nonprofit organization inspects and certifies about 600 food producers and processors in the Mid-Atlantic region for compliance with USDA requirements for organic producers and marketers.

Rinehart said he believes that what used to be a niche market for the over-50, well-to-do consumer has expanded to younger, middle-class families with children and tighter budgets.

What many observers may have felt was a fad has trended toward becoming a sustainable business model for producers who elect to go the organic route, he said.

King’s AgriSeeds booth was next door to Rinehart’s display, and Timothy Fritz, the Ronks, Pa., company’s president and general manager, had a few words to say about forage seed trends. Those words were brown midrib forage sorghum, and daikon radishes.

AgriSeeds deals in cover crops and anything a cow can eat, Fritz said, which covers a lot of territory. Forage sorghum and daikon radishes aren’t driving the business, but they are growing parts of AgriSeeds’ portfolio.

Brown midrib forage sorghum is significantly more drought tolerant than corn. The brown midrib characteristic belongs to sorghum varieties that have lower fiber and less lignin than regular sorghums, and are therefore more digestible and better suited for dairy rations.

Fritz said his sales force has also seen an uptick in demand for daikon radishes, which are useful both for feed and for improving soil tilth and fertility. The radishes look like huge white carrots and produce leafy tops that cows can eat.

In the spring, the underground roots rot, leaving a space in the soil, and also depositing soil nutrients that have been captured at depths of as much as 2 feet and redeposited nearer the surface.

Dick Wanner can be reached at rwanner.eph@lnpnews.com or 717-419-4703.


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