Back in 2007, concern was generated in certain quarters that the natural gas boom from Marcellus shale would cause a sharp decline in local farming.
However, according to Mike Lovegreen from the Bradford County Conservation District, precisely the opposite occurred. Many local farmers, using money generated from natural gas royalties, upgraded their operations, allowing them to increase their productivity and profits.
It was an interesting twist on his presentation Saturday (Oct. 14) at the Dietrich on ‘Agriculture: The Roots of the Endless Mountains.’ Lovegreen shared facts that applied to the farms throughout the Northern Tier Region - include Wyoming, Susquehanna, Bradford and Sullivan counties.
Lovegreen cited information concerning farming in Wyoming County, according to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture: Number of farms - 508; Land in Farms - 68,749 acres; Total sales: $14,616,000; paid workers - 339; payroll - $1,661,000; and unpaid workers (owners and family members) - 1,791.
He explained that farming represents more than $1 billion in revenue in the Northeast.
In fact, he said, farms in the Northern Tier produce more food and goods than those in the entire state of New Hampshire.
Peppering his lecture with anecdotes and facts, Lovegreen provided insight on how farming produces multiple benefits throughout the Northern Tier.
Starting with some background history, he said that agriculture was an important part of the region long before the arrival of European settlers. Native Americans planted the ‘Three Sisters’ - corn, beans and squash - which provided a natural crop balance.
Jumping to 1850 - Lovegreen explained that there were 487,580 acres dedicated to farming in the Endless Mountains Heritage Region - which includes Wyoming, Susquehanna, Bradford and Sullivan counties.
Other figures from that era show how some things have changed - 14,367 horses were recorded; along with 13,155 working oxen, the ‘tractors’ of the time, and 39 asses and mules. Crops from 1850 included rye, Indian corn, Irish potatoes, and flax.
A graph provided by Lovegreen indicated that the number of farms in the Endless Mountains Heritage Region decreased from about 13,000 in 1910 to roughly 7,000 in 1960 - primarily due to mechanization. Farmers were able to work larger sections of land, increasing the size of farms while the number of farms decreased.
By contrast, the value of farms and buildings in the EMHR have remained fairly constant through the years. Another graph showed a peak of $45,000,000 occurred in 1910. By 1960, the value was set at $38,000,000.
During the Great Depression, Lovegreen continued, farming was the most popular industry the Northeast. Farmers and those working on them had the benefit of knowing they would at least have enough to eat during the hard times.
The years following World War II saw a drop in the number of people working on farms, as many found work in urban areas. But even today, farming remains an economic backbone throughout the Endless Mountains Heritage Region.
One of the problems with farming, Lovegreen said, is it is an almost ‘invisible’ industry.
A company expressing interest in bringing a plant or factory that would generate $1 billion would immediately come to the attention of local government and community leaders.
By contrast, although local farming generates that much money, the benefits are more subtle and harder to see. Most businesses benefiting from farming are smaller ‘Mom and Pop’ operations.
During the question and answer period, Ruth Warburton of Tunkhannock said that her family farmed just across the county line in Lackawanna County, and her brother, Ed Hopkins, 95, owns a farm in Falls.
She said that farm heritage is very important to the area, and schools should be encouraged to provide classes on agriculture to continue the farming tradition.