Monday, January 28, 2013

Guest Viewpoint : Farmers Have Special Link With Land

Written by Erick Coolidge Since the mid-1800s, my family has owned and operated a dairy farm in Tioga County, Pa. Today, our son represents the fifth generation on Le-Ma-Re Farms. I am proud to tell people I am a farmer, and am humbled by the opportunities agriculture has provided me to produce a quality food product, to provide for my family, and to serve my community. These opportunities to serve include 17 years as a Tioga County commissioner and my role as vice chair of the USDA’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee. Here in Tioga County, agriculture is our No. 1 industry. Our farms support multiple generations and represent a rich history of this region. The land we maintain is our heritage, our livelihood and our home. As farmers, we respect this history and appreciate the opportunities our land affords us. In this region, we are finding the balance between production agriculture and other land-based industries, including those related to our natural gas resources. We know it’s critical to understand the opportunities this exploration brings, and to mitigate potential pitfalls. For the past six years, I’ve served as co-chair of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas task force, which prepares communities for changes that come with natural resource exploration. In many ways, we’re still on the front-end of this exploration. But we are all well aware that how we handle things today will affect our children and their children. The Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence, a nonprofit group of which I am a board member, recently surveyed 300 dairy producers in Northern Tier counties. More than 80 percent of responders shared they “intended to remain in the dairy business in the event [they] received income from the sale of natural gas.” Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) said they would invest revenue in farm modernization projects. New industry development and farm success, then, are not mutually exclusive. To imply that natural gas development is responsible for fewer cow numbers and decreased milk production is an incomplete statement. Labor, fuel prices, seed, feed costs and other variables all affect on-farm production. Irresponsible statements about the agriculture industry, the dairy sector, or the oil and gas industry do not serve the public’s best interest. As a dairy farmer in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, our farm has never been more strongly regulated than right now from an environmental standpoint. My family also works closely with our veterinarian and our milk company. Milk is tested multiple times from the moment it leaves the cow until consumers pick up a carton. Abundant, safe milk is my family’s livelihood. We still have conversations about the development of our region, exploration of natural resources, food safety and farm preservation. My hope is that these continue to interconnect. Only by working together can we ensure a future in which we all prosper. Coolidge is a Wellsboro, Pa., resident

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