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Farmers, lawmakers talk about the future of agriculture

August 4, 2018

DAVIDSVILLE — For the farming business to remain strong, farmers have to try new things and continue supporting proven traditions — while hoping for a little help from lawmakers.

So was the sentiment at the Somerset County Farm Bureau’s annual Legislative Farm Tour Friday. The event was attended by local, county and state officials or their representatives and farm bureau members.

This year’s event was held at the Hunsberger Farm. Bill Hunsberger grew up in Bucks County, where his father ran a farm for 30 years. He and his family later purchased a 200-plus-year-old farm near Davidsville that is the final resting place of Joseph Johns, the founder of Johnstown.

Six generations of Joseph Johns continued running the farm, with five of them buried atop a grassy knoll surrounded by a white picket fence. The small family gravesite was part of the farm tour Friday. The last Johns to farm at 687 E. Campus Ave. rented the farm to Hunsberger in 1977. The Hunsbergers bought the property in 1983.

Hunsberger and most of those attending the tour said one of their main concerns is with regulations.

State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar said that in cooperation with the farm bureau a series of regulatory reform farm bills have passed the state House and moved to the state Senate, which he believes is a first.

“The bills essentially hold the unelected bureaucrats, who are causing a lot of the problems, accountable and put them on a timetable where (they) must approve or do something on this timeline. There are no excuses,” he said.

The bills, Metzgar said, allow farmers to hire private individuals or firms to go through the permitting process rather than relying on “the actual bureaucratic agencies.”

“Some of these things are ideas that farm bureaus have come up with historically, and we’ve taken these things and applied them and made them into legislation,” he said.

Metzgar, R-Somerset Township, said complying with permits and the permitting process can be an onerous task.

“The regulatory system just gets bigger and bigger and more complex, and it will get you,” he said. “That is not the way it should be. If you are in the position that you are always looking over your shoulder but you are still doing the right thing, we have failed as a system. This is what those regulatory reform bills are trying to fix.”

State Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, agreed.

“You listen to what the issues are and you make sure you are mindful of that when legislation comes up or (when) amending legislation,” he said.

Meeting and listening to individual farmers helps in that understanding, he said.

Hunsberger told the group about his farming experience in Somerset County.

“We milked cows, and we got out of that, thankfully,” he said. “We sold 90 in ’08 and sold the rest in 2013.”

Then, he and his partners, his two sons, got into custom harvesting, started farming more land and it evolved from there, he said. They chop corn for other farmers.

“Right now the family farms about 1,600 acres of their own growing crops like soybeans, corn and wheat. We do custom harvesting for other businesses,” he told roughly 30 people who attended the farm tour.

The Hunsbergers go as far as Kittanning and cut 4,500 acres of silage a year.

“We also have a bed and breakfast at the house,” he said. “We started it about 15 years ago. We don’t need this big house. So, we started it and it’s a lot of fun. It’s not really something we depend on for income. It is nice. It is a way to meet a lot of nice people from all over the country, all over the world.”

The also have about 80 black Angus cows, along with calves.

The farm recently installed grain bins. The farm was taking its harvest to grain bins in Bedford County, but now the grain can be sold or used whenever the farm wants. There is enough storage in the bins for about 180,000 bushels, he said. The grain bins and the custom harvest machinery were part of the tour.

“It has been a long spring,” said Hunsberger, who brought two ears of corn to the farm tour. He had pulled back the husk. “Seems like it is still spring.”

“You drive around and you see a lot of fields that are not even. Those are wet spots. They didn’t grow right. It is too wet.”

Farming depends strongly on the weather.

“Farmers are eternal optimists,” Hunsberger said. “It is, maybe next year, maybe next year. I’ve been saying that for 40 years. Someday, you farmers, you know it is going to be really good.

“Well, I’m still waiting.”

He also lamented the price of wheat.

“Eighty-five years later we are still getting the same price for wheat,” Hunsberger said. “Who gets the same price they did in the ’30s? What’s wrong with this picture? We grow more, produce more, because we need more to make it and that produces a surplus and holds the price down.”

He said he stopped by a gas station and saw his friend holding a handheld apparatus. Hunsberger asked what he was doing and he answered that he was changing the price of gas on the signs.

“You need one of these,” his friend said.

Everyone laughed.

“I don’t want to complain, because nobody is holding a gun to my head and saying you have to do this,” he said. “But we do it because we like it. Everybody who farms. We are not in it for the money. It is a good lifestyle. A good place to raise kids. We have six kids and 19 grandkids who are around here all the time.”

Many farmers are trying to figure out what works so they can maintain that lifestyle.

“We can’t continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect a difference,” farmer Tom Croner said. “We have to adapt and try different things.”

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