PORT ROYAL, Pa. — Scott Landis used to stay awake at night wondering how he was going to sustain a career in dairy farming.
Landis was named Juniata County Farmer of the Year in September at the Juniata County Fair. He was nominated by his neighbor, Matt Lilley, who said he has watched Landis continue to manage his farm despite his initial fears early on.
Landis also was nominated for the award by Deb Howe.
Scott and his wife, Mandy, and their three sons, Seth, Westin and Owen, operate their dairy farm, Tower View Farm, in Port Royal, Juniata County. They have 145 acres and rent an additional 60 acres. The Landises milk 80 cows and grow corn, alfalfa and wheat.
Scott and Mandy began renting a property previously owned by Harry and Wanda Boyer in 2003. They purchased the property from the Boyers in 2011 and made it their home officially in 2013, after a complete renovation of the farmhouse.
“Truthfully, I wouldn’t do it any other way than to rent first,” Scott said, adding that it’s a good way to build equity and “get your feet wet.”
Mandy is an accountant with Ag Choice Farm Credit and said in those beginning days farming was a “take it day by day” situation.
Mandy’s career helped take care of health insurance, groceries and other needs. The farm, Scott said, pays for itself.
Scott had a desire to farm ever since he could walk and talk. He grew up just down the road from his grandparents’ farm. His grandmother would baby-sit him while his mom was at work. His dad, a truck driver, was away many times, and so Scott and his mom would spend lots of time at the farm.
“When I was in kindergarten, we had half-days of school. My uncle would pick me up and take me right to the farm every day,” Scott said.
As he grew into his teen years, Scott worked for other farmers in the area and eventually traveled out West to combine after he graduated high school.
“I drilled wells for a summer. I poured concrete,” he said, “and no matter what I did, I had contact with someone’s farm. I couldn’t get it out of my system.”
Scott and Mandy were married a year before they were expecting their first child and then agreed to farm the Boyer property.
“When I started, I was so sick with worry, I thought I’d throw up,” Scott said, “I thought I was going to fail.”
Scott said he lost 20 to 30 pounds as he started out on his first solo farming venture.
“In my mind, I was looking down the road and thought I couldn’t do it,” he said.
He said he kept thinking about the debt of running the farm.
“It’s like buying a vehicle. It’s fun picking it out, but then you get that payment book and it’s like a punch in the gut.”
That first year was one filled with rain and a lack of feed for the cows.
But that first year was not the worst year, Mandy said. There were years to come when the low milk prices hurt the farm.
The co-op to which they shipped their milk was struggling financially.
“We were concerned,” Mandy said.
Scott said he remembers that the anxiety came back during that time.
“I remember laying on the couch, wondering how we were going to survive,” he said.
There was a Sunday afternoon during this time period when the family came home to see the mailman driving onto their property.
“I thought, ‘this is it. They’re going to shut us off,’” Scott said.
Mandy added, “You never know when you are going to get that letter. It doesn’t matter how good your farm is.”
It turned out that the mailman was not carrying a “shut-down” letter at all. It was a fluke occasion when he brought mail to the property on a Sunday.
Perseverance Pays Off
The Landis farm has seen its successes outweigh its tough times.
Over time, Scott has made improvements to the farm. He’s updated machinery, refinished the milk house, built a heifer barn, dry cow barn and machine shed.
“There’s hardly anything we haven’t done to the property to improve it,” he said, including relining the silo.
It’s all been done over time. “Eighteen years is a long time to do stuff,” he said.
And 18 years is a long time to grow as a farmer, and realize he and his family could survive in this industry.
His perseverance is what qualified him to be nominated for farmer of the year, Lilley and Howe wrote.
“Scott brings energy to the room, is a hard worker, and an excellent farmer, father, friend and community member. I know him well enough to say that his humble personality will make him want to say ‘no way’ to such an honor,” the nomination letter read.
Scott also noted better milk prices have helped him succeed, too.
Currently the farm operates with only the family. In the past he has hired a few teenagers to help out. He also hires some custom chopping at times.
There are no plans to add cows or buy more acreage.
“I don’t think I want more debt,” he said.
The future of the farm may rest with his oldest son, Seth, if he desires it, Scott said.
If so, Scott is OK with a stress-free role.
“Maybe he can take over and I’ll be his helper. Then I can just tell him when I’m leaving for supper,” Scott said with a laugh.