SALEM, Ohio — Diversified farms and soil types. Plenty of moisture. Optimism about the future.
Farmers of all ages, plus agribusiness and political leaders, said these were the good things going for agriculture in Crawford County, Pa.
But those who turned out over the past couple weeks for public discussions on the topic also identified some drawbacks to keeping agriculture alive and well: banks that don’t understand ag lending, property taxation issues, government overregulation.
Their feedback was meticulously recorded and will be the root of the county’s Future of Agriculture program.
Penn State Extension educator Dave Dowler said the program, a visioning and strategic planning process, came out of the university’s ag economics department this past summer.
Economists there, plus a four-person leadership team and 36-member task force made up of Crawford County residents, are in the process of gathering feedback from locals on the pros and cons of farming in the county. Then, they’ll put those ideas in motion.
Their goal? To get a handle on the strengths, weaknesses and expectations of farmers, and improve the local business climate for agriculture.
Some feedback has already been compiled, thanks to a series of four ‘Let’s Talk’ sessions held in the county over the past couple of weeks.
Dowler described those meetings as “quite successful” with about 25 farmers and those interested in agriculture — 4-H’ers, beekeepers, swine, dairy, poultry or grass farmers, along with veterinarians, politicians, ag business people — showing up at each session to lay out what’s good and what’s no so good about the county’s agricultural climate.
The next step is a 70-question survey, developed from those topics, to be asked of some 125 farmers and agribusiness operators in the area. Teams of volunteers are currently conducting those surveys, Dowler said.
A cornerstone to the project’s success is community-wide involvement, organizers say.
Recognizing the impact agriculture has in the whole county means the non-farm public awareness and participation will improve and qualify the study’s findings, Dowler said.
In April, after the university analyzes the survey answers and pulls out trends, Dowler and the team will compile all the information into a document for the group to use to guide work to help agriculture stay strong.
“We’ve got to do what we can to help propel agriculture into the future,” Dowler said.
For example, if an overarching theme many residents identify is the problem with property taxes levied against agricultural parcels, a committee may be formed to work with political and farm groups to change the system, Dowler said.
“We’ve got some methods we can put into practice to get things done. Maybe in that case it’s tax incentives or homestead reduction,” Dowler said.
“The idea is that this all comes from grassroots efforts. It’s important we find out the things people see as vital to the sustainability of agriculture, and then we’ll work on those issues.”