Don’t take our technology: Farmers talk to legislators

TOWNVILLE, Pa. — The brisk, single-digit temperatures of the winter morning didn’t deter farmers, legislators or the media from gathering at Apple Shamrock Farm to learn about the impact of technology on modern-day agriculture.

Crawford County Farm Bureau invited state and federal lawmakers and the media from Erie to Butler to a forum to show and tell about the current technologies that are being used on farms today.

The event was held at the farm of Rob and Chris Waddell, who have been farming on this farm since 1976. They have about 400 milking Holsteins. Their son, Josh, 24, is an vital part of the management team on the farm.

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Changes

The Waddells have seen agriculture change over the years. To remain competitive, they have adopted proven new methods and technologies to improve their efficiency and their bottom line.

“We have used technology to survive,” Waddell said. “It doesn’t matter whether its genetics, or equipment where you can get across the field faster, or your corn. We used to get 100 bushels to the acre and were happy. Now if we don’t get 150 bushel to the acre, it’s not worth putting it in.

“Another example, we used rbST to supplement our cowherd so they could produce more milk.”

Waddell went on to tell that because they must sign an affidavit for their processor that they won’t use rbST, their milk production has dropped from a daily average of 89 pounds of milk per cow to 80 pounds. This has an impact of about $14,000 reduction of income per month.

Efficient

The Waddells began using their new milking parlor Jan. 9. It adjoins the new 100-cow facility that went on-line last fall. They are milking about 400 cows, three times a day.

To illustrate the extent of the impact of technology on this farm, Waddell led a tour for the legislators and press of the newest facilities. He explained in detail how they are able to save water and energy by the practices they have incorporated.

They are able to precool the milk to 39 degrees before in is put in the milk tanks, saving on energy. They are able to use water that has been used to wash the milk tanks to flush the parlor floors, saving water.

“As farmers, we all need to speak up. We need to educate the public.
That is a new job as part of being a farmer.
It is a new hat we never wore before. Now we do.”
Chris Waddell
Apple Shamrock Farm

The new free-stall barn provides maximum comfort for their cattle. The stalls are bedded with 10 inches of sand. According to Josh, the cows love it. When they get moved to a lower-producing group, they stand at the gate wanting back into the deep-sand stalls.

Josh anticipates converting one of their older free-stall barns to the deep-sand bedding.

Technology

The cows wear transponders on their ankles to communicate with the computer system that records all the production figures. Josh explained how he is able to tell when the cows may be ill, or in heat by the figures he analyses each morning.

Following the tour, Pa. Farm Bureau President Carl Shaffer spoke about the misinformation that is being given to consumers and the impact this has on farmers. Shaffer is a grain and vegetable farmer.

Last spring, when he went to sign his vegetable contracts, there was a new document among the papers. It had 10 items that he had to sign off on before the processor would accept his vegetables.

Some of the items on the paper included: “I will report any environmental violations I’ve had over the last three years. I will designate any ecological sensitive areas on my farm and will post them and stay away from them,” Shaffer said.

He asked the company why this was included; he was told one of their largest distributors wants to be able to say their farmers care about the environment. They have to do this because their competitors are.

Green impacts

“Who’s going to be the greenest company?” Shaffer said.

Small, very well-financed groups are driving this.

He said consumers think they are doing the right thing for their families.

“A consumer will think ‘I hear rbST is bad for you, so I buy milk labeled no rbST.’ The label is implying that if that would be in the milk, it isn’t safe,” Shaffer said. “There lies the problem.”

The product has been used safely for 15 years. It has been through all the tests and proven to be a reliable product for dairy producers to use. There is no test that can distinguish the rbST that is commercially made, from bST that is produced by the cow naturally in her body.

“This is the American dream to work hard over 30 years and build up to a nice business, this successful dairy farm,” he said.

Shaffer pointed out that before the Waddells had planned this expansion, they had a set of numbers that helped them decide how much debt they could carry and projected what their income would be.

The changes in their processors’ requirements are having a very negative impact on the income.

Food supply

“We are very fortunate in this country to have a safe, very affordable, plentiful food supply. Currently, we export about 30 percent of the food produced in the U.S.,” Shaffer said.

He asked if the American consumer really wants to be dependent on a foreign food supply after experiencing the uncertainty and high cost of a foreign oil supply.

In 1949, the American farmer fed nine families. Today the American farmer feeds 147 families. That can be done because of technology. The food supply of the future depends on continued research so new and better ways of producing food are developed.

“Once a technology has been developed and proven safe, agriculture has to be able to utilize that,” Shaffer said.

Communication

Farmers are going to have to increase the time they take communicating with consumers.

“As farmers, we all need to speak up. We need to educate the public. That is a new job as part of being a farmer. It is a new hat we never wore before. Now we do,” Chris Waddell said.

A number of times throughout the tour and program, cow comfort was addressed. John Frey, executive director of the Center for Dairy Excellence, continued the theme when he talked about the importance of the dairy industry in Pennsylvania, and one of the best ways to increase milk production statewide was to increase production per cow.

Cows that are well nourished and have the cow comfort they need produce more milk.

Frey discussed the efforts of the center to stabilize Pennsylvania’s dairy industry and work that is going on to support dairy producers across the state.

Several farmers who have decided not to stop using rbST talked about the impact this decision has had on their farms. Some have seen significant increases in their hauling fees, yet their milk is going to the same plant as the milk from a neighboring farm.

Mike Isiminger, Crawford County Farm Bureau president, concluded the meeting with this message: “We couldn’t do what we do today without the technology we have.”

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