Susquehanna County Ag Day Evolves with the Industry

More than 70 vendors representing businesses and agencies who support and partner with farmers fill the Elk Lake High School gymnasium floor. Lunch in the high school cafeteria is a much-anticipated social activity that has also become a hallmark of Ag Day. The meal is sponsored by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation and is free for all pre-registered attendees and vendors.

Photos and story by Rick Hiduk

(Also published in Farm to You)

A highly-anticipated social and educational event geared to farmers, landowners, and the businesses and non-profit entities that support them returns on Friday, March 6 with some new features. Susquehanna County Ag Day, conducted annually at Elk Lake High School in Springville by the Penn State Cooperative Extension, brings together vendors of ag-related products, experts on almost everything that grows, youths who believe strongly in the future of agriculture and others who are growing weary of winter with spring still several weeks away.

It’s a good day to catch up on what’s going on across the county,” said Penn State Extension educator Linda Falcone. As soon as each Ag Day comes to a close, she noted, Extension educators and Ag Day committee members begin brainstorming as to how to keep the event that was first called Dairy Day relevant to the changing interests and needs of landowners. “Farmers are diversifying what they have to offer, and the evolution of Ag Day reflects that.”

There have been two big catalysts for change over the event’s 30 year history – a substantial decrease in dairy production and the arrival of the natural gas business, the latter of which helped long-time dairy farmers not only to afford to keep their farms but also to pursue different agricultural interests, such as planting more feed crops or raising pigs, goats and sheep.

Everyone knows that dairy in Susquehanna County has decreased to only a few farms,” noted retired Extension secretary Evie Goff, who has never missed the event and is looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones on March 6. Evie and her husband Bill operated a dairy farm north of nearby Montrose until about seven years ago. Their livestock auction was a sad day for the family, but Evie still supports the dairy industry and hopes for a comeback.

She credits then Susquehanna County Extension director Nick Place with getting Dairy Day off the ground. An Auburn Township resident and Elk Lake graduate, Place had the contacts to pull together like-minded people and organizations like the 4-H, Susquehanna County Dairy Promotion and the PA Farm Bureau.

Nick was the kind of person who was very good at putting things together on his own,” Evie noted. Soon, a committee was formed, and Place worked with the ideas suggested by its members of what Dairy Day should entail.

The conversation started in 1989, and our first Dairy Day was in March 1990,” Place recalled. He sought advise from Dave Andre of Andre’s Feed Mill; Ted Hirsch, a milk equipment vendor from New Milford; Dale and Peggy Empet, long-time farmers from the Mountainview area; Vic Cappucci of Farm Credit and others. “My main focus was dairy, and our impetus was to do something for the dairy farmers,” he explained.

Place made a presentation to the school board after discussing the idea with then superintendent Richard Serfass. “He was very community-minded, and the school board liked opening up the school and getting the farmers there,” Place related.

About a decade ago, event organizers saw the need to change the name of the event to Ag Day, which Evie recalled “really opened the doors to a lot of individuals and businesses that people didn’t realize were involved in agriculture.”

More than 70 vendors and another two-dozen non-profit organizations, including healthcare providers, fill the gymnasium and main hallways of the school, which is otherwise closed for the day. Penn State educators, Master Gardeners, and other experts in a variety of fields conduct workshops or host exhibits in the classrooms.

Topics to be covered this year will include seed starting, agronomical updates and pesticide credits, raising sheep and goats, risk management planning, Pennsylvania’s solar future, planting for pollinators, stress management for farmers, water resource management, right-sizing your dairy stock, basic food preservation, entomology, shale property owner updates, modern pig production, soil testing, and the evasive Spotted Lanternfly.

Place left for a similar job in Florida in 1999, but Evie continues her involvement with Ag Day, working closely since 2000 with the dairy princesses and Susquehanna County Dairy Promotion program. Dairy royalty serves up ice cream, cheese, and cartons of milk, and the 4-H youths submit more entries to the pie contest and auction each year. Evie is appreciative of Falcone, who is relatively new to Ag Day, for bringing fresh ideas to the table.

There are probably more programs going on through the Extension at Ag Day than ever before,” Evie suggested. “I hope that everyone can attend at least one of the workshops that the Extension presents. There are a lot of opportunities.”

In addition to new workshops and vendors each year, Ag Day 2020 will feature an Ag Producers Market. The Penn State Cooperative Extension is inviting local agricultural producers to sell goods made with locally sourced products. The PA Dairymen’s Association will be on hand to serve free milkshakes – the same famous milkshakes that they sell for $5 each at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

For a second year in a row, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, the largest natural gas producer in Susquehanna County and the company with which most farmers and landowners communicate on a regular basis, will cover the cost of lunch in the high school cafeteria for all Ag Day guests and vendors. More than 800 lunches were served last year.

Cabot will also pay for the milkshakes. For each shake served, the Association will donate one dollar to the Energy Education Fund, which supports energy education and STEM initiatives like the Mobile Oilfield Learning Unit that visits schools across the state.

They might come for the ice cream and milkshakes,” Evie said of this year’s guests, “but I’m hoping they go home feeling that it was a worthwhile day and having a renewed sense of satisfaction and respect for our agricultural community.”

Registration for lunch is required by calling 877-345-0691 by Wednesday, March 4.

Additional Photos by Rick Hiduk

Susquehanna County’s many 4-H clubs are well-represented on Ag Day.

The Susquehanna County Farm Bureau has a long-standing tradition with Ag Day.

A family learns about bees and honey production from an Ag Day vendor.

Penn State Cooperative Extension staff greet Ag Day guests as they arrive at the event.

The health of those involved in agriculture is of great concern to Ag Day organizers.

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