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From the Desk of County Commissioner
Jim Martin

(4/2018) During the most recent County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) Conference many issues were discuss in session and out of session during free time. As a member of the CCAP Agricultural Committee we had an opportunity to meeting with the PA Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding. The most urgent subject of our session is quite familiar to those that have read farm news topics. That subject was the plight of PA dairy farms. The immediate future looks very bleak for at least 42 dairy farmers. They have been given a 90 daysí notice by their milk purchaser to terminate future purchases of their milk.

This is devastating news to their families and future, being unable to cover outstanding operating costs and debt payments. The factors that are contributing to the situation are the changing demand for PA liquid milk and its oversupply acerbated by tons of eastern European milk entering our markets. This has also caused an extremely low price for raw milk for all dairy operations. The low price (approximately $10/100wt) has been an ongoing issue, but termination from milk sales adds a death blow to already struggling dairy operations. Reports have been circulated that at least one farmer committed suicide over the financial stress.

Agriculture is a major industry of the state and our county and dairies are a large component of that industry. This industry needs to be sustained within PA and our county. Recently I sat among the board members of the Adams County Chapter of the Farm Bureau. They, too, voiced their difficulty dealing with milk prices. So it was timely that dairy farming was a priority discussion with the Secretary of Agriculture. Remedies were discussed; their solutions require money and time. Compounding this is the ever present threat of Wal-Martís venture to contract mid-west dairy operations totaling 20,000 dairy cows. Wal-Mart plans to ship that milk east, likely to reach Pa. stores.

Effective PA marketing and new product processing plants are part of the solution but will not solve the current problem in the short term. In speaking to Secretary Redding I characterized this as an emergency situation. As a solution, I proposed an emergency loan program that would refinance and extend payment terms to allow time for the milk market to improve. He said that those serious discussions have been held with the banking community.

If farmers cannot pay their debt they will face equipment repossession and possible foreclosure of their homes and land. The new extended lending terms would also allow operators time to restructure their operations. The question is, "Will agricultural lenders participate in such a remedy?" Additionally, operators without good financial plans would be obligated to develop a viable financial plan strengthening repayment ability. If there is not participation from lenders or the USDA Farm Service Agency in such a venture, perhaps the $37 million in the Stateís budget for agricultural land preservation could leverage such a program. Redirecting the funds in such a manner would actually be helping to preserve productive farmland.

In the mean time I encourage everyone to do their best to acquire Pa. dairy farm produced milk. It may be time to begin discovering new uses for milk. If you have any new uses, please come forward. Also remember the new energy drink is chocolate milk, which is fact and not fiction.

At our agricultural committee meeting we also discussed another serious threat to sustaining the agricultural industry. Presently this threat exists in the southeast portion of Pennsylvania and is known as the Spotted Lantern Fly (SLF). A picture of the pest can be found on the Adams County web site. We hope that that is the only appearance to occur in Adams County. If you missed the latest Adams County Commissionersí Forum which addressed the Spotted Lantern Fly, I encourage you to become familiar with its existence and habits. The publicís help will be very valuable in gaining the control of this pest.

The SLF has no natural predators which makes its migration from the southeast corner of the state difficult to contain. For a number of years these counties have been battling the pest, but have not diminished its presence. Its numbers have steadily increased and it has advanced eastward. Quarantines, requirements to ship product, vehicle inspections and removal of breeding sites are some of the methods in place to win the battle. Recently the SLF has advanced eastward into Lebanon and Lancaster Counties. To stop its advance and eliminate the SLF, the USDA and Pennsylvania are putting millions of dollars into a joint project. If the SLF reaches our county it would devastate our fruit industry, which is conservatively estimated to have an economic value of $580 million. And, if it reaches our forests it will destroy valuable timber. Many people are not aware that Pennsylvaniaís timber industry brings to the state the most income of any exported product. So the elimination of the SLF is extremely important to protect the valuable income from fruit trees and hardwood timber.

Based upon our discussion the Penn State Extension Services will be use to educate and train residents locally, and provide professional services to the fruit industry. Also DCNRís Forestry division and Parks and Recreation will be engaged in the line of defense.

From these two issues, the dairy industry and SLF, we realize how important it is to take aggressive measures to protect the agricultural segment of our stateís economy. So, the decisions and actions that take place in the coming year will likely play an important role in protecting what we already enjoy. Remember, a day without PA milk is like a day without its full potential. Letís MOOOOOve in the right direction.

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