Last year, a farming family lost its silo. No one called the family to ask what they could do to help. Neighboring farmers just showed up and did what needed to be done, said Jason Nailor of Mechanicsburg.
"It happens like that a lot," his wife, Sherisa, said. "It’s a testament to the profession and industry itself."
It’s a testament to the Nailors’ love of the farming community and their efforts to promote it that has earned them the 2012 Young Farmer and Rancher “Excellence in Ag” Award from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
“For us, it was an easy decision to get involved,” Sherisa said. “The thought of raising our kids in farming life was attractive.”
While Jason was born and raised on a farm, Sherisa came to the farming community through high school agricultural science classes.
“That’s where I met Jason,” she said. “It was always his dream to have a dairy farm, so when we had the chance, that’s what we did.”
Jason operates a 100-cow dairy farm, where he also grows 40 acres of corn and 25 acres of hay to feed his cows. He is also active in the Cumberland County Farm Bureau, serving on the board of directors, Young Farmer and Rancher Committee and the Local Affairs Committee. Like Sherisa, he is active with the FFA Alumni.
Sherisa is an agricultural science teacher at Big Spring High School who was worked to broaden the program and increase the number of students participating in FFA. In the past six years, enrollment in the agricultural science classes has increased by 35 percent while the FFA membership at the school has nearly doubled.
Sherisa credits the growth in the program to the variety of skills taught by its teachers. Students appreciate the variety of offerings that include mechanics, masonry, welding and biotechnology, among others.
“Once they’re hooked on agriculture, they’re hooked,” Sherisa said. “There’s so much out there that they don’t know that everything seems to spark their interest.”
Big Spring School District is still largely rural, but nationwide, this is becoming less and less of the case as students are further removed from the farms that produce their food.
“I think that kids get involved in FFA for the leadership, and what they learn about agriculture and food supply is a secondary bonus,” Sherisa said.
Some of the students now are the second, third or fourth generation removed from farming, she said. Many of them appreciate that the farm makes food, but don’t have an understanding about the consequences of farmland decreasing as the population expands.
That’s where Jason’s work with the farm bureau comes in. Many of the meetings discuss ways to grow more food on less acreage, he said.
Agriculture is still the number one industry in the state and, compared to other counties, Cumberland County has a strong base of young producers who want to do better than the generation before them, Sherisa said. These young farmers are also alert to what is happening in the legislature with farming issues.
Jason agreed, adding that the mindset of the younger farmers is broader and more accepting of the technology that allows them to do twice as much as before.
“We are going to need help in the future if we’re going to continue to feed the world,” Sherisa said.
One of the problems with attracting funding to farming programs is that so many different programs fall under the realm of the Department of Agriculture. Everything from dog registrations to puppy mills to gas pumps are regulated by the department. Even casinos fall under its purview.
“Everything is underfunded and understaffed,” Sherisa said. “Everyone wants a piece of the budget.”
Even if Sherisa’s students don’t go into agriculture-related fields, they will become educated consumers, knowing the steps food takes from the farm to the table and understanding how the cost is determined. Eighty percent of the cost of food comes after leaving the producer, Sherisa said.
“A lot of the last food (price) increases we saw were due to the fuel,” Jason said.
That’s not to say the producer doesn’t confront high costs. Recently, agricultural preservation funding came under scrutiny during the Cumberland County budget debate. The program protects land from being used for non-agricultural purchases, keeping prices down.
Jason warned against removing such funding from the budget.
“You will see farms disappear right and left in Cumberland County,” Jason said.
Jason said he was recently looking at land priced between $25,000 and $30,000 an acre.
“You’d never get out of the mortgage,” he said.
Plus there’s the equipment cost. When a friend told him that he bought a house for $200,000, Jason told him that amount wouldn’t even buy a combine.
Still, Jason and Sherisa are willing to help those interested in getting into the business.
“We want to help people get back into it,” Jason said. “If you have the love for it, it’s rewarding.”
They aren’t the only ones. A lot of farmers are willing help new farmers strategize and share equipment.
“We just need a better way to connect them with those who will help or pass on the torch,” Sherisa said.