Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding told local farmers last month that the state has their backs when it comes to diversifying agriculture in order to cope with ongoing market volatility.
Farmers from southern Cumberland and northern York counties gathered at Baker’s Restaurant in Dillsburg Oct. 12 for the breakfast event, hosted by state Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York/Cumberland), where Redding was the featured speaker.
“We’ve built a system that’s dependent on international markets, because our own population and market here at home is stable,” Redding said. “The growth element is going to be in other parts for the world, and we have to figure out how to take advantage of that.”
International volatility, particularly when it comes to the dairy industry, is a major challenge for agriculture nationwide. Fluid milk prices plummeted in late 2014, from a high of over $24 per hundred pounds to a low of around $13, according to Nasdaq. Current trade value is at $16.60 per hundred-weight.
With no indication that milk will become more profitable in the short-term, Redding emphasized diversification, with the department taking a keen look at new dairy products as well as poultry and wood products as a way to bolster Pennsylvania’s farm industry.
“I think there is a premium in the market for us ... but we don’t market it,” Redding said.
The department expects to unveil its new strategic plan at the 2018 Farm Show in January in Harrisburg, Redding said, but one of the core components already being realized is the inclusion of farm-related operations not included in the standard U.S. Department of Agriculture census.
The equine sector, for instance, is only counted if the horses are being used for farm labor, and not if they’re being raised for recreation or racing use. The official sphere of agriculture also doesn’t yet count deer farms, which have been a boom industry in Pennsylvania.
“Ten years ago we had about 200 deer farms in the state, now there are over 1,200 registered,” Redding said. These operations send most of their deer out of state, typically to hunting preserves, although regulations regarding the spread of chronic wasting disease are tight.
“The amount of testing that is required for these farms to move deer off their premises is what really put them on our radar as a sector that needed assistance,” Redding said.
The department is also seeking co-development opportunities with the forestry industry — the harvesting of trees and creation of wood products accounts for 550,000 jobs and $133 billion in GDP for Pennsylvania each year. This also includes the plant nursery industry, which can be a major element on some farms.
This dovetails into the larger issue of Pennsylvania needing to be better equipped to sell value-added and artisanal products, as opposed to base goods like fluid milk, Redding said.
One of the issues is with port access. The bulk of high-value farm exports, from specialty meats and cheeses to Amish furniture, go through the port of Richmond.
Pennsylvania would, naturally, rather see them go out of Philadelphia, not just to keep the supply chain in-state, but also because Philadelphia offers greater access to Asian markets, Redding said.
“There were some historic challenges with Philadelphia, one being the additional work it takes to get there if you’re coming out of the Midstate or west of the Alleghenies,” Redding said. “It was also an issue with destinations, which is why we’re getting back into this topic because China is now the major interest in Philadelphia.”
But for farmers who are dependent on producing basic dairy products, central South America is still a lifeline. Roughly 25 percent of fluid milk capacity goes through Mexico and further south, Redding said — a market that has seen increased competition as Australia and New Zealand also ramp up their exports to Latin America.
How much overseas markets can absorb is the big question. Because of high prices in past years, particularly driven by consumption in Asia, farmers have ramped up production.
“The equilibrium between what’s produced and what’s consumed matters a great deal,” Redding said. “You have to remember that we’ve added, in the last 10 years, another billion pounds of milk production in Pennsylvania alone.”
However, China — which had picked up most of the US excess production — began to curtail its dairy imports, with powdered milk sales to China dropping about 21 percent in 2015, according to the USDA.
The subsequent price dive on base goods, such as milk, butter, and bulk cheese, has led to increasing efforts to buoy prices in the US, including the USDA’s announcement in 2016 that it would be buying 11 million pounds of cheese for government food banks in order to reduce a 30-year high in excess cheese inventory.
The way out of the cycle is for the US, and particularly Pennsylvania, to diversify its milk products, to include more specialties and extracts commonly used in “nutraceutical” supplements, Redding said.
However, Pennsylvania lacks much of the infrastructure to do this. Most of the higher value-added dairy products are arriving at Richmond and Philadelphia from Michigan or Wisconsin. While dairy processors in Pennsylvania have added infrastructure in the past 10 years, it has been almost entirely related to powdered milk and butter, neither of which are profitable for farmers.
“We have sufficient fluid milk capacity in Pennsylvania. What we’re lacking is some of the specialty products,” Redding said. “There are other product areas we need in Pa. to keep those farms profitable and viable.”
One diversification effect has been an increase in poultry — 250 farms have added broiler chicken operations over the last two years under a push by Bell & Evans chicken company, Redding said. But side business in chicken farms can’t, in itself, save the dairy economy.
“Part of this conversation is the expectation that those who have historically been the owners of the dairy processing facilities, we have to have an honest conversation as to if they are the ones who can solve this,” Redding said. “This is now an issue squarely in the hands of the dairy industry, not a particular farm or cooperative.”
Cumberland County farms, and Pennsylvania as a whole, fared relatively well under the rollout of new Chesapeake Bay regulations this past fiscal year, according to officials.
The so-called Chesapeake Bay Reboot program, instituted by the state after it was found to be falling behind federal guidelines, saw 50 Cumberland County farms — a total of 5,508 acres — inspected for erosion control and runoff management.
Of the first years’ inspected farms, 9 were already in compliance with the new requirements, and another 22 were brought into compliance before the end of the fiscal year, leaving 19 farms still needing work, according to data from the Cumberland County Conservation District, the local agency which carried out inspections for the Pennsylvania Department of the Environment.
“For the most part we’ve had great cooperation from the farmers,” said conservation district director Carl Goshorn. “I would say there are a couple that are taking longer and we will have to refer them to the DEP if they don’t’ come into compliance, but that’s the exception.”
At a recent event in Dillsburg, state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said two-thirds of the farms inspected statewide have implemented environmental management plans.
“It wasn’t the narrative we were being told, which was that we weren’t doing enough,” Redding said. “Our farms were doing good things, but we weren’t getting credit for it.”
The 2016-17 fiscal year was the first for Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Reboot program. In 2015, the federal Environmental Protection Agency withheld roughly $3 million in funding due to inadequate progress in Pennsylvania toward the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a plan that seeks to drastically cut the amount of waterway contaminants in the six states surrounding the bay.
This includes three contaminants — phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment — that are typically associated with farm runoff, and can alter the chemistry of the Chesapeake, causing unwanted algae blooms, fish deaths and other environmental issues. The EPA blueprint, designed in 2010, calls for 60 percent of the reduction goal to be reached by 2017, and the rest by 2025.
The plan is not on track, however. Nitrogen levels should be cut by 40.7 million pounds per year by 2017, but current reductions are tracking at 18.7 million pounds.
Of the 22 million pound reduction shortfall, 16.3 million pounds are attributable to Pennsylvania agriculture, according to a study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
But this deficit may be made up shortly, Redding said. Voluntary practices by state farmers, documented over the past year, have brought nitrogen requirements down by 1 million pounds already.
The major obstacle to meeting the Chesapeake requirements is less farmer willingness and more a lack of capital. Farmers may be required, after formulating a state-approved plan, to simply expand the tree line buffer between their fields and any passing streams.
More complex measures, for instance, may include constructing new manure pits and processors. Adopting cover crops and a different planting rotation also helps cut down on nitrogen output, Goshorn said, but is another significant change that farmers may need help making.
Last year, $28.7 million in funding from state and federal authorities was announced for environmental work on state farms.
Goshorn said the district has about $200,000 of assistance planned for environmental work on three Cumberland farms, but expects more funding to become available soon.
Police are continuing to investigate a fatal shooting that occurred Sunday night in Carlisle, according to Carlisle Police Chief Taro Landis.
Around 3:11 p.m. Sunday, police responded to a home in the 100 block of North College Street near the intersection with West North Street for a reported shooting.
When police arrived, they found 35-year-old Rhyhiem Hodge deceased. Carlisle Police Sgt. David Miller Sunday said Hodge appeared to have died of gunshot wounds.
A name or description of the suspect has not been released at this time, but Miller said there does not appear to be any ongoing threat to the public connected with the shooting.
Police said they are continuing to interview witnesses and follow up on investigative leads.
Chuck Adler, who prefers to go by his stage name Capital C, finds time for a number of creative endeavors.
The Carlisle man has been a repeat winner of the Field of Screams rap battle, performed as part of a local hip hop group, and is getting ready to film a movie that he wrote.
Da Merge was formed, in 2010, when various hip hop artists met by chance at an open mic in Carlisle. Realizing that there wasn’t a strong hip hop genre in the area, these artists decided to “merge” together and make music. Original members included, but were not limited to, Capital C, Jinglez and Renegade. In 2015, James Smith, aka Flesh N Bones, joined Da Merge as their primary producer/DJ.
Since the addition of Flesh N Bones, Da Merge has set out to help others in Carlisle and neighboring communities by volunteering their time and talents. Whether performing at schools or churches, parks or festivals, libraries or clubs; Da Merge takes pride in educating the masses with their positive uplifting music. Furthermore, and staying true to their roots, Da Merge can frequently be seen and heard at various open mics throughout the year.
Q. You recently won the Field of Screams Rap Battle for the third year running. Will you tell us a little about the event and what it takes to consistently perform at a high level?
First, a little bit about the event. The Field of Screams Rap Battle is one of the longest-running competitions held at Field of Screams. Sixteen contestants battle each other one-on-one in an “8 Mile” style rap battle. The winner advances to the next round and the loser goes home.
Second, I’ve been freestyle rapping for 30 years now. The secret to consistently performing at a high level is to have fun with it. People ask me all the time why I still rap at my age, and the answer is simple, “I enjoy it.”
The movie I wrote is called “Merge Memories.” Throughout the movie, you can expect to see a large dose of Carlisle, as it will be filmed exclusively there. Furthermore, most of the actors and actresses in the film either live, work or are from Carlisle.
Locals can get involved in the movie in three ways. The first is through a monetary donation. Any money donated to the movie will be spent on making the film as professional as possible. The second is by serving as an extra in the film. There are not many scenes that require extras, but there are a few and we’d love to have you. Local businesses can get involved by giving us permission to film at their place of business. To help out in any of these ways or for more information, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have a 5-year-old daughter. She’s my inspiration and my motivation. For example, I wasn’t going to do the Field of Screams Rap Battle this year. After winning the previous two years, I decided that was enough. I told my daughter that I wasn’t going to do it this year and she yelled at me. She said, “Daddy, you have to go and get me another trophy.” I said, “I do?” and she replied, “No, you have to win me two more.” So I entered this year’s competition. When I returned home with this year’s trophy, she looked at me and said, “One more to go.” She’s always pushing me to be better.