Training, Greater Profits Needed to Grow More Farmers

9/29/2012 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

FLEETWOOD, Pa. — Pennsylvania has a high unemployment rate, yet plenty of opportunity for jobs in farming.

So, why can’t the state grow its agriculture industry?

That question was addressed by several experts at a recent roundtable discussion that focused on farm profitability and consumer food pricing.

The discussion was sponsored by the state Senate Democratic Policy Committee at the Fleetwood Grange Hall in Berks County.

Much of the talk highlighted costs and challenges to bring new farmers into the industry.

“It’s extremely expensive,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks. “You obviously need to have an awful lot of training.”

Mentoring programs that work with small-scale farms can help grow the industry, said Russell Redding, dean of agriculture and environmental sciences at Delaware Valley College and a former state secretary of agriculture.

There are 7.6 million acres of land across the state well-suited for such operations, Redding said, and there’s also a benefit for the state to invest in young farmers.

“My biggest concern is ... this is a very sophisticated business,” he said of the need for various levels of school administrations to offer curricula that reflects the career opportunities in today’s agricultural world.

But there’s a real need for trained farm employees, Redding said.

Glenn Seidel, vice chairman of Berks County Conservation District, talked of a communication breakdown that prevents folks outside the agriculture industry from coming in.

If “they’re not from a farm ... they’re so far removed from agriculture ... they don’t consider it as a career,” he said.

The state needs a “deliberate introduction” of agriculture to the public, Seidel said.

He also talked of the need for farmers to be profitable.

“If you don’t make any money, it’s hard to pay this obligation ... in property tax every year,” he said.

Joel Rotz, government affairs director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said there are programs, including the Farm Bureau’s focus on agriculture in the classroom and mobile lab, that help generate interest in the industry.

“People need to understand where their food comes from,” he said. “The reality is, people just don’t want to do that type of work.”

Small-scale farm operations won’t feed the world, Rotz said.

“That’s not to discount those small farms that help local economies,” he said.

Other panelists were Carl Brown, treasurer of F.M. Brown’s Sons Inc.; Christian Herr, executive vice president of PennAg Industries Association; Paul Hartman, co-owner of Scattered Acres Dairy Farms; and Mark Goodhart, president of the Crop Insurance Agents Association of Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, said the discussion was beneficial, but more talk on how to grow the farming industry is needed.

The concept of the family farm is “so uniquely American,” he said. “We want to see it revitalized.”

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