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Farm tour highlights ag concerns

Sunday hunting, milk prices, state budget topics at annual event

SKELP — Farm Bureau members remain optimistic Pennsylvania’s 2017-18 budget will be favorable for agriculture.

“The budget is still in limbo; so far agriculture looks fairly decent; we’ll be OK if they can get this thing to go through,” Blair County Farm Bureau President Gary Long said Friday during the bureau’s annual legislative farm tour at Maple Kroft Farms in Sinking Valley.

The state budget became law without the signature of Gov. Tom Wolf. The Legislature has yet to come up with a plan to fund the budget.

“We have a session Sept. 11, but we may get called back sooner. I would expect sometime soon there will be some kind of an agreement reached. There is a commitment to spend $32 million. The question is how do we get to the funding side?” said state Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona.

Farm Bureau members continue to be opposed to the legalization of Sunday hunting.

“Farm Bureau has been fighting this for years. As for me, we own ground; we enjoy the hunting; but we also enjoy our peace and quiet. We would like to have a day without someone knocking on our door,” Long said.

“I am afraid if we have this Sunday hunting, we may have to close off all of our land to hunting. I am definitely against Sunday hunting,” said Ken Brenneman of Williamsburg.

Meanwhile, on a national topic, dairy farmers continue to be challenged by milk price volatility and higher input costs, which often results in very tight margins, particularly in times of low milk prices. Unfortunately, the Dairy Margin Protection Program implemented in the last farm bill has not helped dairy farmers as the industry intended, according to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

The Farm Bureau supports changes to the Dairy Margin Protection Program to provide producers more flexibility and better coverage.

“MPP made $90 million from the farm bill; the federal government made money off of this while the farmer was starving. As a dairy farmer it is nice to have protection, but if we can’t market our products, no protection program is worth it,” said Brian Detwiler, who owns Maple Kroft Farms with his wife, Rachel, and her parents, Joe and Veve McCutcheon.

“The problem with the dairy industry is we are too good. When the price of milk drops, our bills remain the same, so we milk more cows. It is a double-edged sword for the dairy industry,” Long said.

On another topic, according to Farm Bureau, U.S. agriculture faces a critical shortage of workers every year as citizens are largely unwilling to engage in these rigorous activities and guest worker programs are unable to respond to the marketplace.

Without immigration reform, many farmers throughout the United States would remain extremely shorthanded in planting, growing and harvesting crops and raising livestock, and the same is true for farmers in Pennsylvania.

“We have to do something with immigration. We can’t close the borders. There are too many people working behind the scenes,” Long said. “White American people don’t want to do the work. We need Mexicans or the migrant workers. They are scared; they don’t know what will happen.”

Maple Kroft Farms, founded in 1950, is home to about 200 dairy cows, quite an increase from the 30 when the farm was founded, Rachel Detwiler said.

She said their farmhouse and barn were built in the 1850s.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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