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  • Lancaster County Gets Grant for Streambank Fencing Program

    LANCASTER, Pa. — Protecting Lancaster County’s water resources has been an ongoing effort for several decades. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest and funding available for landowners looking to do more for their local watersheds.

    After all, as the Lancaster County Conservation District points out, “clean water affects all who live here, through the food we eat, crops we grow, products we manufacture, and overall quality of the life we live.”

    There exists a developing synergy toward healthy waterways that continues to expand among both regional conservation groups and local organizations throughout Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This collaboration acknowledges that no single policy, organization or program can tackle or solve complex social or environmental problems alone.

    As a part of this gaining momentum, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Altria Group Inc. have partnered to award a grant to Lancaster County Conservation District. The award offers incentive payments to farmers installing fencing around streams to exclude livestock access.

    The program will pay an incentive rate per linear foot of fencing installed, including one cattle crossing and alternative watering site. Design and permitting will be done free of charge by the Lancaster County Conservation District staff. Minimum setback of fencing is 15 feet, however 35 feet is preferred and is a requirement for other funded best management practice programs. Buffered areas can still be flash grazed or mowed. The program will also provide a written Agricultural E&S Plan and Manure Management Plan for farms that do not already have one.

    The program is part of a regional focus centered on restoring the health of Lancaster’s local watersheds. Fencing a stream from livestock not only reduces nutrients and bacteria from entering waterways, but improves the overall health of the herd. Streambanks that are open to livestock become trampled by herds as they enter and exit the water, destroying vital habitat for aquatic life. By allowing a vegetative buffer to grow, plants develop deeper and stronger roots which prevent erosion in the long term.

    For more information or to apply for funding, contact Dennis Eby at the Lancaster County Conservation District at 717-874-2552. The deadline to apply for the fencing program is Dec. 14.

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  • Amazon, Walmart? Farming’s Wild Scramble For Online Ag Retail

    What if an entire farm supply of herbicide, fertilizer or seed was a mere click away and deliverable by Amazon or available by pickup from Walmart? Outlandish? Probably. Maybe. However, farming is rooted in one inescapable certainty: Change waits perpetually offstage.

    The scramble for ag retail dollars has kicked up a dusty haze as traditional chemical players scrap gravel with an expanding list of online start-up companies elbowing for market space. It’s a brick-and-mortar vs. e-commerce clash, and the rules of purchase, customer loyalty, and transparency are at stake. The Wild West has come to ag retail and the outcome for U.S. farmers remains a looming issue.

    Confusion and Surprise

    “It’s crazy right now and I’ve never seen a more competitive time in the ag retail space,” says Curtis Garner, senior farm analyst for Bowles Farming Co. in Los Banos, Calif. “Twenty years ago, there was money made hand-over-fist; not now. Ag retail is in new territory and I can’t even predict what’ll happen a decade from now.”

    In November and December of 2017, Bowles Farming Co. joined five neighboring farms and approached 11 retailers with a proposition to buy in bulk, shaking the tree for the best deals available on herbicide, fertilizer, defoliant, growth regulators, and more. Retailer reaction? Confusion and surprise, according to Garner: “They wanted to know why I was doing this and what was going on. A lot shied away and said we were already getting the best deals possible, but some guys wanted to play ball—especially the independent dealers.”

    Garner believes ag retailers are caught in a whirlwind of change. “There is a new generation of farmers raised on an ‘information should be open and free’ mentality and we’re seeing the reverberations specifically in ag retail. The culture is changing so fast that business is playing catch-up.”

    “Maybe no one wants to admit it, but some retailers are scared and see change coming from online competition. No question, the big retailers got lazy and provided opportunity for online disruption. Nobody knows where this is headed, but I don’t think online ag retail will blow up the supply chain as much as some think,” he adds. “In the end, the ones who create value on both sides are going to win.”

    Who Fits the Future?

    According to USDA’s Farm Production Expenditures 2017 Summary, “Combined crop inputs (chemicals, fertilizers, and seeds) are $51.8 billion.” The number of online ag vendors seeking to tap the input market is steadily growing, with a roster including AgrellusAgroyAgVendCommoditAgFarmer’s Business Network (FBN), FarmTradeHarvestPortINPUTSThe FarmElement, and more. In addition, InCeresAgriconomieYagro and Agrofy are based overseas. (According to a 2018 Farm Journal purchasing behavior study of 997 U.S. farmers, 8% of growers bought at least some inputs online this year and 13% plan to buy some inputs online in 2019.)

    Despite the crowded stage, Alexander Reichert, co-founder and CEO of AgVend, sees the future of ag retail as the combination of the convenience and time savings of e-commerce, with the service and local agronomic expertise of traditional ag retail. AgVend launched in 2018, covers 26 states, and partners with ag retailers looking to sell crop protection, nutrition, fertilizer, lubricants and oils online (seed sales are set for 2020). AgVend enables growers to search for products, filter results (based on price, delivery, bundled services, etc.) and select the option that best fits their needs, with the retailer handling the last mile delivery or pickup. (AgVend also offers retailers an online storefront if needed.)

    Reichert estimates total sales of online ag inputs in the single digits, but expects the figure to steadily rise. “We’re going to see the percent of e-commerce purchases hit 10% and rise fast. Within three to five years, I project we’ll see the number grow as high as 25%.”

    “AgVend has an advantage of credibility and network with established retailers. Other players in the online retail market are held back by trust issues. Buy a branded product online and watch what happens when a generic shows up at the door. It’s a very, very bad customer experience,” Reichert adds.

    Representing approximately 11 million acres of U.S. farmland, Brad McDonald is the managing director and co-founder of Agroy Inc., which utilizes online technology to link suppliers and buyers. Agroy connects farmers directly to providers of ag inputs through direct purchases online, or through mobile applications specifically designed for given retailers. Essentially, Agroy connects the dots as a third-party seller.

    McDonald is certain: Online ag input purchases will continue to gain traction. “This is going to be second-nature. Twenty years ago nobody bought online and now look at the pace of change. I don’t believe farmers are going to abandon current retailers, but the overall system is going to be more efficient through new purchasing technology. The players willing to disclose prices and offer products online will fit into the future.”

    Praised and Pilloried

    In 2015, FBN lobbed a grenade into the online ag retail market, allowing growers to go further upriver to source ag chemicals directly from manufacturers. In addition, paid membership allowed growers to view anonymous aggregation of seed performance data. The access to transparency was a radical change for growers, further accented in 2017, with the release of FBN’s seed relabeling project, which showed when a given corn or soybean seed was sold by multiple companies. Seed relabeling remains a common industry practice and one that farmers are often unable to track or recognize. According to FBN, relabeling is practiced by 67% of corn seed companies and 78% of soybean seed companies.

    FBN was praised and pilloried from all ends of agriculture, and the clamor continues with the kickoff of the F2F Genetics Network in 2018. Pared down, FBN offered its own seed line for non-GMO corn ($99 per bag) and off-patent glyphosate-resistant soybeans ($29 per bag).

    Charles Baron, co-founder of FBN, says the pushback from major industry players is consistently strong. “We’re constantly up against heavy-handed tactics, but we maintain focus on grower profit through a fair and transparent market. Whether it’s seeds, inputs, or crop marketing, the future is transparency and increasing farmer profit—and that’s our model.”

    “When we first started, we were attacked for introducing transparency. What does that say about principles of the industry? Well, first they attacked and now they’re trying to replicate our online system.”

    As anemic commodity prices pile the pressure on farmers, Baron insists the online option is not merely about cheaper products, but it is the future of distribution. “This is going to restructure the industry in ways massively beneficial to farmers. Why? It puts the farmer consumer in control.”

    Baron is insistent: Following mechanization, the Green Revolution, and genetic technology, the online transformation will trigger a “fourth revolution” in farming. “Growers can connect and network online to leverage power through data sharing on genetics and pricing to actually change the structure of the industry. That’s where the deepest and most profound change is going to come and it is already starting. Online is going to be the fourth revolution in agriculture.”

    Subscribing to the local and personal formula, Tyler Horbach believes the future of online ag retail will be a marriage of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce. Horbach is the founder of The FarmElement, an Iowa-based startup that partners with local retailers and co-ops. “We don’t disrupt their way of business, but enhance it by adding an additional channel to their business model.”

    Within 10 years, Horbach estimates 50% of fertilizer and chemicals will be purchased online. He says the tide of younger farmers is inescapable. “Everyone can see this happening, especially growers 35 and younger, who already have limited loyalty to retailers.”

    Horbach acknowledges a wave of online change, but says the gravity of purchases will always require a hands-on connection. Growers betting livelihoods on chemicals, fertilizer and seed can’t afford to make flippant purchases: “This is not like buying a pair of shoes. A farmer will always need human interaction, service and trust.”

    Achilles Heel

    Online retail expansion has an inescapable ceiling, according to Michael Boden, head of U.S. Crop Protection Sales for Syngenta. Crop management requires a host of decisions which can’t be completely met by e-commerce and the lack of human interaction is a major Achilles heel, he says. “Most growers value a service component and the agronomy that comes with it from a local relationship. That’s where online ventures miss the mark. Online options may offer more price transparency, but they don’t provide the decision-making components needed to make good agronomic decisions.”

    In addition, Boden says counterfeit products and stewardship are growing areas of concern over online sales: “When online entities acquire products from sources other than authorized dealers or contracted distributors, you’d better question and be concerned about the quality.”

    Echoing Boden’s concerns, Chris Novak, CEO of CropLife America, says the online sale, handling and delivery of agriculture chemicals raises significant stewardship questions and requires understanding of federal and state law. “We’re beginning to hear stories and we’re looking for data on counterfeit ag products sold online. It’s a major concern that speaks to farmer loss, quality control and lost sales for the industry.”

    “There is certainly opportunity for farmers to purchase online, but if they end up with any problems that result in damage to crops, they may not be able to resolve these issues by going back to the company or the sales rep. An online purchase can mean farmers give up some of that access to service. It is important that consumers consider this factor,” Novak adds.

    “There’s been a lot of fearmongering from the existing channels,” says Baron. “We, frankly, find it ridiculous.”

    Consolidation and Crystal Balls

    The number of major market players on center stage continues to shrink, and further consolidation is an incessant concern for farmers. How might an expansion of online retail affect future consolidation? Todd Janzen, attorney with Janzen Ag Law, says the legal spillover from e-commerce is a likely road to turmoil, at least in the short-term. “It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the big online issues stacking up. If farmers can go online and see that they’re being price-gouged, it’s going to create waves. Zone pricing, seed rebranding, and now seed sales are all related to transparency. Traditional agribusiness has consistently moved toward consolidation, but these online players have definitely upset the traditional apple cart.”

    “Agriculture is headed for a wild time of anti-trust questions, regulatory issues, transparency factors and Amazon.com comparisons, and it all connects with online ag retail,” Janzen continues. “Who can say that even more online ag companies won’t pop up and what happens then?”

    Selection will play a counterbalance role, notes Reichert. “There are so many products out there that struggle to get in front of growers because they don't come from one of the top manufacturers. Traditionally e-commerce in other industries has given rise to these lesser-known brands, which slows consolidation and creates more product diversity.”

    Networking, in tandem with online retail, is a vital counterweight to consolidation, according to Baron. “Who really believes there’s not more consolidation coming in all aspects of agriculture? Farmers have to connect to gain market strength with independent genetics, price transparency and lower cost technology. Selling online is just one piece; farmers need to network to drive deep market transformations.”

    The torrent of change is so rapid that Garner declines to make a 10-year prediction, but says online ag retail could boomerang on consumers and spark another level of consolidation: “I think the successful online ag retail sites may eventually be purchased by established manufacturers and retailers. What’ll happen if you can just go buy UN-32 from Walmart?”

    “You have to be willing to recognize change,” Garner concludes, “because there is one thing for certain in agriculture: Nothing remains the same.”

     Article courtesy of: Farm Journal's AgPro

  • October - Classic Tractors

    Collector/historian has had “...quite a journey”

    Dave Becker of Elizabethtown, Pa., calls his farming career “... quite a journey.” And indeed it has been. He was a junior in high school when he started out with 60 rented acres and a new Allis Chalmers D12. In 1967, he married and moved with his new bride to another 120-acre farm, where, as part of the rental agreement, the land owner wanted the Beckers to grow 10 acres of tobacco. When they rented an adjoining farm of 10 acres, the landlady wanted to also see 10 acres of tobacco. Same with the next landlord.

    The Beckers eventually found themselves farming 1,000 acres of Lancaster County farmland — rented from a dozen landlords — and raising 30 acres of tobacco and other field crops for three decades. “I don’t know how we did it, especially the tobacco,” Becker said said in a conversation about his years in the tractor seat.

    His first wife passed away in 2001 and Becker cut way back on the farming operation. Today he’s remarried, retired from farming and living on 200 acres that he bought, then sold to his son, David S. Becker, who owns D.C. Welding in Elizabethtown.

    Becker’s grandson, Scott Becker, now runs the 200-acre farm.

    Which is not to say that Becker Sr. spends his days in a rocking chair. That D12 he started farming with in 1963 is still in a shed, still looking good and still field ready. Early on, he bought three more new Allis-Chalmers tractors, one each in 1970, 1973 and 1976.

    And then he got some more A-Cs, then some Cockshutts, a Gleaner or two, a collection of wagons...quite the collection. Becker does most of his own work on the collection, but gets help on fabrication and welding from D.C. welding and has done some projects with his grandson.

    We visited Becker this past summer when he had his collection out on the lawn for his annual tractor show, then followed up with a phone interview about how he keeps it all going. We came away with pictures of just a few items from his collection and more than a few stories.

    -Dick Wanner Reporter

    In 1949 or thereabouts, you could buy an A-C Model B and a Crop 40 combine for about $1,000. The tractor and the combine were a good match. This tractor was pretty much a basket case when Becker bought it. He did some body and paint work and overhauled the engine.

    When his grandson was a young boy, Dave Becker started to convert an old Wheelhorse riding mower into a miniature replica of an A-C Model 40. The project never quite got off the ground and sat in Becker’s shed until Scott became a teenager. Scott finished the project with his grandfather, including making the toscale plow.

    This 1947 Co-op and the 1951 Cockshutt 30 look pretty much alike because they are alike. When Cockshutt was marketing Co-op tractors through the American Farm Bureau, the only major change between the two brands was the paint color.

    This good looking combo includes one the the least inexpensive auction finds in Becker’s barn. He overhauled the tractor and the sickle bar mower, which he found nearby in Elizabethtown. The A-C crimper came from Vermont.

    This sign at the driveway into Dave Becker’s driveway lets visitors know that his 200 acres is one of more than 900 preserved farms in Lancaster County. It also lets visitors know that Becker is a fan of the Cockshutt brand.

    One of Becker’s goals as a tractor collector/historian was to own the entire Allis-Chalmers D series. He completed that part of the mission when he bought this D19, which was in really good shape. It was straight and clean and just needed new tires.

    An Allis-Chalmers WC with a Model 33 mounted picker. Probably dates to the mid-1940s, according to Becker. The 33 was a definite leap ahead from hand harvesting. It was good for snapping ears from the stalks, not worth much as a husker.

     

  • Pennsylvania Farm Show seeking Pa. ag products

    Exhibitors can showcase their products at the annual PA Preferred Reception on Jan. 4, 2019

    HARRISBURG, Pa. — PA Preferred® members and partner organizations can showcase their Pennsylvania grown products at the annual PA Preferred Reception that will kick off the 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show on Jan. 4, 2019. The reception, which plays host to the commonwealth’s agriculture industry and state government leaders, boasts a menu that features foods and beverages grown and produced in Pennsylvania.

    “The PA Preferred Reception is a great venue to showcase the best that agriculture has to offer,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “The producers, processors and industry partners who call our state home have an opportunity to highlight their products at this exciting event, and we hope those partners will join us at this celebration for Pennsylvania agriculture.”

    Partner organizations interested in supporting this event through in-kind product donations can offer contributions to the proposed menu. A wide range of sponsorship opportunities are also available. Supporting organizations will have names or logos displayed during the event and receive complimentary tickets.

    Additional information including ticketing and sponsorship opportunities can be found online at www.farmshow.pa.gov.

    PA Preferred® is the official brand of agricultural products made or grown in Pennsylvania.

    — Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

    Article courtesy of: Morning Ag Clips

  • Turkey Hill Dairy Leads the Way on Lancaster County Farms

    Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

    Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is an astonishing place. Of the 650,000 acres that make up the county, 425,000 acres are used in agriculture. The county is home to almost 6,000 farms, of which 99 percent are owned locally.

    Lancaster is ranked No. 1 in the United States for productivity on nonirrigated soil, and the value of market products sold annually is $1.5 billion. Farms in Lancaster provide pork, poultry, eggs and milk for millions of consumers.

    These remarkable numbers do not come without a cost, though. More than half of Lancaster County’s 1,400 miles of streams are impaired.

    Take a look at any pollutant-loading map and Lancaster is easy to find. Clearly outlined, without any political boundaries, the county shows up bright red for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. Lancaster alone is responsible for 21 percent of the nitrogen load calculated for Pennsylvania’s watershed cleanup plan for 2025.

    While Pennsylvania requires all farms to have a conservation plan, or agricultural erosion and sedimentation plan, and has done so since 1972, it is estimated that only about half of the county’s 6,000 farms have a plan.

    Increased pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has resulted in a greater focus on compliance efforts from conservation districts in the state. Lancaster County has the largest conservation district staff in the state. But at current capacity, it is estimated that it would take 30 years to support every farmer in the county in developing a conservation plan. Resources for implementation continue to be a challenge, but new leadership rising in the private sector could be the game changer that is needed.

    John Cox, president of Turkey Hill Dairy, an ice cream distributor based in Lancaster County, is stepping up. Cox has been passionate about Lancaster’s waterways for quite some time, and he serves as the chairman of the Lancaster Clean Water Partners, an organization that coordinates water quality restoration work along with many other partners in the county.

    After attending one of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Businesses for the Bay forums, which urged companies to consider how they could change their operations to improve water quality, Cox was inspired to think about Turkey Hill’s direct impact.

    Knowing that Turkey Hill is Lancaster’s largest dairy distributor, and that the dairy sector has one of the largest agricultural footprints in Lancaster, Cox decided the company’s focus needed to be its farmers, however indirectly. Turkey Hill does not conduct business directly with the dairy farms; rather, it buys its milk from a dairy cooperative — a collective of farmers who market their product together.

    Timing was on Cox’s side because Turkey Hill’s reconsideration of its environmental footprint coincided with the rebidding of its contract with dairy cooperatives.

    During their contract negotiations, Cox and his team added requirements that all farmers providing milk to Turkey Hill would not only have a conservation plan but would be implementing the practices called for in the plan. Once all farmers achieved this, Turkey Hill would pay a premium for the higher quality product. The Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, which has members in Lancaster, responded positively to the idea, and was selected as Turkey Hill’s dairy co-op.

    Meanwhile, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Turkey Hill had partnered to receive a Conservation Innovation grant from the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service — to support the farmers who could not afford the cost of a plan or its implementation.

    This led to the Turkey Hill Clean Water Partnership, which includes the Turkey Hill team, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Maryland & Virginia co-op. The goal of that partnership is to give the co-op farmers as much support as possible. This partnership hit the ground running last winter and started strategizing how to best inform and support Turkey Hill’s farmers.

    Alliance staff have met with Turkey Hill’s 130 farmers to explain the new goal and discuss options for assistance. The goal is for all of the farmers supported by the NRCS grant to have their conservation plans in place by winter 2019. The Alliance is in the process of seeking additional funding and resources to help those farmers.

    At the Alliance we’ve learned that adding partners to the equation allows us to accomplish much more than we can on our own. Turkey Hill is leading by example and bringing about a systems-level change in how the dairy industry operates in Lancaster. Their leadership is going to catapult the county forward in achieving its conservation goals. When the public and private sectors work together in partnership, our ability to scale up implementation is tremendously enhanced. Leadership from within the private sector, like Turkey Hill’s, is the catalyst that Lancaster County, the state of Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay have been waiting for.