State and local elected officials gathered together for a crash course on dairy farming at a local farm compliments of the Fayette County Farm Bureau.
With several bills pending in the state legislature, farm bureau representatives thought this was the perfect time to bring farmers and legislators together so they could meet and engage on the key issues facing not only local farmers, but farmers across the state.
“It’s a chance to get our representatives together in one place with the agricultural community to discuss our thoughts and wishes,” said Debbie Marella, past president and member of the farm bureau, the legislative voice of county farmers.
The tour was held at the Maple Bottom Farm in Dawson, owned and operated by Mike and Vickie Baker.
In attendance was state Sen. Pat Stefano, state Reps. Ryan Warner, Matt Dowling, Pam Snyder and Bud Cook, along with representatives from U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler and Gov. Tom Wolf’s offices, and Fayette County Commissioners Dave Lohr and Vince Vicites.
Marella was excited with the response to the tour.
“We’re very happy with the turnout - getting all of these representatives together in one spot,” said Marella.
Although the original plan was for Darrell Becker of the farm bureau to first speak on the group’s legislative agenda, once Vickie Baker started talking about how passionate she is about her cows, her farm, and her industry, Becker deferred to her.
Baker explained her family’s history and how they came to own the 190-acre dairy farm that includes 80 cows of varying breeds, including a number of Guernsey cows. They supply milk to Land O’Lakes, so Baker said this local milk may be in butter purchased at the grocery store.
Baker shared some concerns with lawmakers, including the fact that 35,000 cows have left the state in the last year and 82,000 the country. Each cow translates into $24,000 back into the state’s economy, which makes those figures all that more disconcerting, she said.
Their farm, like many other dairy farms, is exploring a number of different revenue streams, such as producing Golden Guernsey milk, which is a high quality milk. According to Baker, some who think they are lactose-intolerant or have an allergy, actually are reacting to the A1 milk protein in milk. Because Guernsey milk is produced without the A1 gene, often those people can drink this type of milk.
“We hope to bring milk back to people who think they can’t drink milk,” said Baker.
In addition, the Bakers are partnering with a Pleasant Unity farm in Westmoreland County to start producing cheese, looking into starting a bed and breakfast on the farm to tap into the Agri-Tourism industry. The bed and breakfast would educate their guests on what exactly occurs on a working dairy farm, along with informing them about where the foods they enjoy come from.
Currently, Becker said legislators can help by supporting three pending bills that support the farm bureau and farmers looking to enhance their income with these type of developments.
It’s vital, Becker said, to the survival of farms in Pennsylvania.
“Just milking the cows isn’t going to do it anymore,” said Baker.
The Baker’s farm relies heavily on automation, including a robot that milks the cows 24 hours a day. The cows wear a smart tag on their ears, which the robot reads to determine whether it is milk eligible or just needs to eat. In addition, a smart collar – or cow FitBit – also monitors the cows activities to inform farmers on the general health of the cow. There are also cameras that monitor the farm since the owners don’t live on site. If there’s a problem, they are notified by an app.
Reliable broadband access is another issue that concerns farmers. It’s vital to their operation.
“I cannot function this dairy without the internet,” said Baker.
In addition, legislators were asked to support legislation on labeling initiatives, small business tax reform, stormwater management, and transparency on gas well production.
Becker said because of the success of this event, he is interested in doing it again next summer but perhaps expanding it to a full day and visiting two different types of farms in the area.