US Agriculture Secretary Visits PA Farm Show

While touring the 97th Pennsylvania Farm Show, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called it an impressive display of what’s grown and produced in the commonwealth.  “It’s great to – in a sense – be back home, having been born and raised in Pittsburgh,” adds the former Governor of Iowa. 


US Ag. Secretary addressed the Farm Bill at the PA Farm Show.

The rural economy doesn’t always get the appreciation it deserves, and Vilsack wants to be proactive about the opportunities that exist.  He notes that half of the rural counties in the nation lost population in the last decade, according to the US Census. 

The first step in stopping the drain, Vilsack says, is passing a new, 5-year Farm Bill.  He calls it an imperative action in 2013.  “Everybody in the country has a stake in this five year program,” Vilsack explains. “It is about our food system, it’s about our water resources, it’s about our fuel & energy resources, it’s about jobs.” 

In PA, one in every seven jobs is related to agriculture. 

The Farm Bill that Vilsack envisions will start with a strong safety net for producers.  “You can be absolutely the best farmer in the world.  You can do everything right… no water, no rain, no crop.”  He also wants it to include flexible conservation and export programs, as well as an investment in the research that opens up new markets for farmers.

Later Friday, the US Department of Agriculture will announce $25-million dollars in research grants through a biomass development initiative.  Vilsack says $6.8-million of that will be invested in the Keystone State.

Cattle Shine at PA Farm Show

Many of the cows at the Pennsylvania Farm Show will never make it to market, instead they’re more than happy to live out their days on the farm.  Such is the case with Zinny, a Red Angus from Slate Wind Farm in Franklin County.  She won’t be a yearling until March, but Zinny has already been named the Grand Champion in the Farm Show’s “All Other Purebreds” class. 

Exhibitor Kevin Stahl tells us Zinny gets a daily rinse, blow dry and exercise.  “Working with the hair is the big thing,” he explains. 

In the ring Stahl works hard to set Zinny’s hooves just so, in order to look good for the judges.  He’s worked with her enough on the farm to know exactly which angles suit his 800-pound heifer best.       

The judges examine the cows’ composition to pick the winner.  “Their chest, their back… do they have a good undercarriage?  Are their legs and feet in good shape? All those things that you look at in an athlete or something, in terms of what kind of shape they’re in,” says beef cattle judge Dave Miller who came to the Farm Show from West Virginia to ensure an unbiased evaluation. 

Miller, a Texas Longhorn judge, reveals that a cow’s horns don’t factor into his critique all that much. “You can’t eat horns,” he says with a chuckle.

There are only a few more days to check out the 97th Pennsylvania Farm Show.  The beef cows have since moved out to make way for the dairy cows.  The dairy judging will take place Friday morning in the Equine Arena.

Heard it Through the Grapevine… at the Farm Show

The Farm Show celebrates agriculture.  It’s Pennsylvania’s biggest industry, and wine production is widely considered one of its fastest growing segments.  “The number of wineries has more than doubled within the past decade,” explains Pennsylvania Wineries Association Director Jennifer Eckinger.  “At this point we have more than 150-wineries throughout the state of Pennsylvania.  They’re located in every portion of the state.” 

Eckinger helped to award three of those wineries with the 17th annual Governor’s Cups this week.  The large trophies that represent ‘Best of Show’ wines went to Karamoor Estate Vineyards (Montgomery Co.), Greendance Winery (Westmoreland Co.) and Crossing Vineyard & Winery (Bucks Co.).

Crossing Vineyard & Winery vintner Tom Carroll Jr. knew he wanted to make wine from the time he was 10-years old.  After mastering the craft in California, he moved back to southeastern Pennsylvania to start his own winery on his parents’ farm. 

Carroll’s Best of Show Fruit Wine is called Wild Berry.  The concoction started out as a blueberry wine, but Carroll added some blackberries and raspberries to find just the right flavor.  “I remember the first time my dad tasted it he said, wow this is wild,” Carroll says of how the wine got its name. 

Carroll and all of PA’s winemakers are working every day to convince people that good wine doesn’t have to come from Europe or California.  Based on the crowds at the new wine tasting display in the Farm Show’s Main Hall… it would seem they’re converting hundreds of people this week alone.

Long Lines are Worth the Wait in the Farm Show Food Court

If you can fry it, you’ll find it at the 97th Pennsylvania Farm Show.  While this reporter can vouch for the tastiness of the fried cheese, mushrooms and blooming onions… you don’t have to prefer your food battered and dipped in hot oil to enjoy the Farm Show food court. 

For instance, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with some honey-sweetened waffles, topped with honey-sweetened ice cream.  Aaron Fisher of Mifflin County, a member of the PA Beekeepers Association, says the honey replaces the corn syrup and sugars of traditional ice cream.

“I’ve got a truck outside that door that’s full of ice cream, and we hope by the end of the week it’s all gone,” Fisher says, looking forward to a week of mild weather.  Last year they went through 750-gallons of honey ice cream. 

Across the room, you’ll find a bevy of maple syrup products, including cotton candy, which is a best seller for the PA Maple Syrup Producers Council.  “There’s no comparison… the imitation compared to the real maple syrup,” says Laura Dengler of Crawford County, who was offering up free samples.  Pure maple syrup is all natural with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, and Dengler says you can taste the difference.    

Both of these food court stands are prepped to dish out their goodies as fast as possible, but there will inevitably be food court backlogs.  To avoid the long lines, Fisher suggests snacking at off-peak hours and Dengler reminds us to be patient – because the Farm Show food court is worth the wait.

Researchers Need Public’s Help Tracking Stink Bugs

Once Penn State researchers have assembled enough data, they’ll be able to better predict where stink bugs will appear.  Entomologist John Tooker is asking Pennsylvanians to report stink bug sightings and damage online.  “People can visit and contribute any observations they may have, whether it’s one bug or 10,000 bugs.”

Stink bugs do not sting for bite, so they’re merely annoying to non-farmers.  However, they have been blamed for destroying large swaths of fruit crops in recent years.

It’s not all that different from weather forecasting.  “If we’re able to understand why the insects are showing up in say York County,” Tooker says, “then maybe we can take that information and help predict when and where they might show up in other counties.”

Most of the stink bugs seem to be in the southern tier counties.  While stink bug populations appear to be down this year, Tooker tells us this is the season when adult stink bugs start to become more apparent.

The more people that report stink bug populations to their website, the better success the researchers like professor Tooker will have.  “Citizens around the state have a whole lot more eyeballs than the entomologists do.”

Home Gardeners Beware

Late blight has been confirmed in four Pennsylvania counties (Blair, Franklin, Lancaster & Mifflin), and the count is likely to increase as additional samples are analyzed.  “It’s the same pathogen and disease that caused the Irish potato famine,” explains Penn State Extension plant pathologist Beth Gugino.

While late blight has only been found in commercial potato and tomato operations so far, Gugino says home gardeners should be alert for brown lesions on the leaves of their potato and tomato plants.  “When they flip the leaf over they’re going to see kind of a whitish-gray fuzzy growth, which is the pathogen growing out of the leaf.”  She tells us that fuzzy growth is how the pathogen moves between plants.

A close-up of a late blight lesion on a tomato plant.
(photo credits: Beth Gugino)

If you suspect late blight in your garden, Gugino recommends you contact your local Cooperative Extension office.  “We need to try to manage the disease as quickly as possible, because we tend to think about late blight as a community disease… and we want to take measures to manage it for the betterment of everybody.”

While some fungicides can help to prevent late blight, Gugino says there’s not much that can be done once the disease develops.  Plants showing the symptoms should be removed – or affected parts should be pruned out – and placed into a dark plastic bag.

Late blight is most commonly found in cool, wet weather.  The warm, dry conditions that many Pennsylvanians are experiencing can stop the disease from progressing, but cannot eliminate it.

Farmers would Reap Benefits of Vehicle Code Bills

Numerous vehicle code bills, designed to make it easier for farmers to use their equipment on Pennsylvania roads, have cleared the House Agriculture Committee with unanimous votes.  “The discussion on this multitude of transportation subjects has been ongoing for years,” says committee chairman John Maher (R-Allegheny).  “This is an important day of moving forward.” 

Farm equipment considered wide in the past is now standard industry size, according to Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill.  “A lot of the vehicle codes that are on the books now are really outdated,” he says.   

One of the major changes would increase daytime width restrictions for farm equipment on Pennsylvania roads from 14.5-feet to 16-feet.  Likewise, the nighttime restriction would increase to 16-feet with the proper safety precautions.  Weight limits and restrictions on miles traveled are also addressed in the legislation.    

O’Neill says all of the would-be changes keep the safety in mind.  “[Farmers] want to be able to use this modern equipment to get into fields, to plant and harvest food, in order to feed people throughout Pennsylvania.” 

Based on this week’s votes it appears lawmakers agree that updates are long overdue.  HB 2371, HB 2372, HB 2373 and HB 2374 now await action on the House floor.

Cooperative Extension Restructuring Underway

Cooperative Extension offices will remain in all 67-counties, according to Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Bruce McPheron.  It’s the administrative functions of those offices that will now be streamlined into 19 new districts.

“We had more than 50 Extension directors, administrators across the state,” McPheron tells Radio PA.  “This change alone resulted in more than 30 positions going from a primarily administrative role back to a primarily education role.” 

The restructuring is being driven by the need to keep the Cooperative Extension relevant in the information age, and financial pressures from all budget sources.  Over the past three years, the College of Agricultural Sciences has seen its funding cut by $18.5-million dollars.  Including Cooperative Extension, the college has lost about 200 of their 850 employees over that time. 

Dr. Bruce McPheron

“Our goal is to be able to continue to provide high-quality answers to folks who need that information, based upon the great science that we do here on campus,” McPheron says. 

Cooperative Extension offers educational programming and consultation to Pennsylvania residents on both agricultural and environmental issues. 

Governor Tom Corbett’s latest budget proposals would provide level funding to Extension and agricultural research by tapping the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund.  It’s a potential change that’s already sparked debate under the capitol dome.

Agriculture Budget Hearing Dissects Fund Transfer

$72-million may not seem like much in relation to a $27.1-billion dollar budget.  But plans to transfer $72-million out of the Race Horse Development Fund dominated the discussion when Agriculture Secretary George Greig appeared before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. 

The Race Horse Development Fund receives 12% of gross slot machine revenues.  That money is in turn used to bolster purses and otherwise support the horse racing industry.   The governor’s budget plan would transfer $72-million from that fund to help pay for agricultural research at Penn State, the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary center and payments to Pennsylvania fairs. 

“The funding that it’s headed toward, I think, is very relative to racing,” Secretary Greig told the House budget panel.  “I think it’s ag helping ag.” 

While some lawmakers wondered if it was actually ‘ag hurting ag,’ State Rep. David Millard (R-Columbia) pointed out that the fund takes in more than $5-million a week.  He thinks the horse racing industry will still flourish, even if these dollars are diverted into other agricultural programs. 

But the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition fears the transfer would pull the rug out from under the industry.  “People invested millions and millions of dollars in Pennsylvania with the expectation that they’d be able to compete for certain sized purses to recoup their investment and have the chance of making their money back,” spokesman Pete Peterson told Radio PA

In addition to the newly proposed transfer for agricultural programs, millions of dollars are already being diverted from the Race Horse Development into the General Fund.  Act 1 of 2010 provided for the annual transfers through fiscal year 2013.

The Battle for Bragging Rights at the Farm Show

Farm Show week in Harrisburg is about more than world famous milk shakes and baked potatoes – it’s about blue ribbons.  Awards are earned for everything from hay to heifers. 

Kendra Brown of Lebanon County showed “Diamond,” the grand champion shorthorn female.  “What’s really cool about winning this is that her mom won too,” Brown says.  While some shorthorns are bred for beef, Brown says she likes to show, and “Diamond” will be on Breezy Acres Farm forever. 

Over in the small arena, David Christian of Iowa had the task of judging 153 swine entries.  “We’ll look at how they move, how they walk, body proportions and so on,” Christian tells Radio PA.  The Supreme Champion gilt, which hails from York County, wound up selling for $2,500 over the weekend.   

The delicious judging takes place in the Farm Show’s Main Hall, where David Hively was lucky enough to taste dozens of competing maple syrup products.  “You want the good, sweet flavor,” Hively says.  “It should not in any way have a bitter taste to it.”  Hively says it takes about 45-gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.

Farm Show, Maple Syrup

Laura Dengler of Crawford County won "premier exhibitor" for her maple syrup products.

The maple products, honey products, mushrooms, vegetables, apples and wine can all be found flanking the Farm Show butter sculpture.  Just a few feet away, in the Macalay Street Lobby, Larry Snyder of Mahantongo Valley Farms in Northumberland County walked away with three ribbons for his Christmas trees.  “You need real strong branching, symmetry in the tree, good leader growth and color,” Snyder explains.  “You want to pick the trees that have excellent color.” 

More judging will take place throughout the week at the 96th Pennsylvania Farm Show.  On deck Monday will be open beef cattle and junior market swine.