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Farmers face challenge

Businessman says finding workers biggest problem

Gary Long is passionate about agriculture but admits the industry is facing many problems.

Long said he grew up on a farm in Sinking Valley and started his business, Long’s Field Service, in 1998.

“When I started, it was unique. There were five others doing this, but they had other jobs. This was my sole income. I saw the changes in agriculture and saw there was a place this would fit in very well,” Long told members of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club on Thursday at The Casino at Lakemont Park.

Long said finding workers is one of the biggest problems facing today’s farmers.

“We have people coming across the border. They cross the border looking for jobs. They could be legal or illegal, but they are here looking for jobs,” Long said. “In the ag industry, we have people who do not want to work in an orchard or milk cows. Those people come saying they want to work 60 hours, get their money and get out of here.”

“Most of the jobs are not glamorous and are dirty, hard work jobs; people do not want to do that. They are jobs outside in the cold. It is hard finding people willing to get dirty,” said Joseph Diamond, regional organization director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Long said a government decision years go to clean up the Chesapeake Bay was not good for farmers.

“The regulations that came down were unbelievable on agriculture. When it was time to clean up, they looked at the ag industry first. They said nitrogen and phosphorus were going into the bay, killing the fish,” Long said. “Before, you could take your manure and put it where it was needed. They regulated manure. Now, you had to test it, and they tell us where and when we are allowed to apply it and keep records. If you have a chicken or a pig or a horse, you need to have a manure management plan. People don’t realize that farmers have to document everything that they do.”

Soil erosion controls also have become a burden.

“You need to make sure grounds are covered. You need to plant cover crops. You have to stay a certain distance from stream banks if you are hauling a load of manure,” Long said. “These things needed to be done, but the problem was we had to use our own money. The government gave us very little money to do this. The little farmer is burdened to make a living with all of these regulations.”

Long also discussed how technology has impacted agriculture.

“We have robots milking cows. We have equipment that can check nitrogen levels, look for weeds and tell us if fields need to be fertilized. I own a combine and a tractor. I have a combine smart enough to go down through a field and tell the tractor it is full. It is pretty wild what can be done,” Long said. “If I had a smart phone, I could run a planter and combine from my cellphone. The technology we have today is unreal.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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