Farmers voice concerns over internet and runoff | News, Sports, Jobs

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WILLIAMSBURG – Internet access, stormwater runoff, solar farms and roads were all topics of discussion Friday morning during a tour of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Legislative Farm held at Clover Creek Cheese Cellar.

More than 20 people attended the event which was held in the backyard of the Dave and Terry Rice family farm along Clover Creek Road in Williamsburg.

The attendees were a mix of farmers, agricultural bureau members and lawmakers and their representatives who tasted cheeses and talked about some of the challenges faced by rural farmers, one of which is earning enough money to keep farms in operation.

Senate Bill 191 was reintroduced this season, State Senator Judy Ward said after it failed to gain traction in the last legislative season.

The bill, introduced by Ward, R-Blair, would make it easier for farmers to rent out their farm buildings for events, such as weddings, and help farms generate profits.

Currently, event venues are required to have sprinkler systems as well as a myriad of other security measures. Barns aren’t built that way, Ward said, noting that installing a sprinkler system could cost farmers $ 40,000 to $ 50,000.

SB 191 would exempt farmers from the requirement to install sprinkler systems so that weddings and other events can take place in farm buildings. It would still require farmers to adhere to the safety standards set out in the bill, including installing smoke detectors, having fire extinguishers on hand, bathrooms accessible to people with disabilities and a sufficient number of exits. In addition, open flames would be prohibited, with the exception of sterno burners to keep food warm.

In an effort to bridge the gap between affordability and safety, Ward said: “We prepared what I thought was a very good bill.”

” We move forward “ Ward assured those in attendance, while acknowledging the many obstacles Bill faces.

“We will continue to work on this” she said.

Broadband access

Working to maintain the profitability of a farm can also depend on high-speed internet access, and spotty cellphone and internet service is a major problem in rural areas, due to the lack of towers and the many mountains that block it. signals.

Clover Creek cheese maker Anthony Rice said the farm not only relied on selling its cheese and milk in the on-site store and at local farmers’ markets, but also through its online store.

Blair County Commissioner Amy Webster said she and Commissioner Bruce Erb are concerned about the issue and hope to use some of the $ 23 million US bailout funds the county has received to expand the system.

Commissioners have yet to make a plan for the money.

“There are a lot of people here who need it for business, school, everyday life. she said of the Internet.

Laverne Nolt, a poultry farmer from Curryville who led the town hall, said it is frustrating that “You can put people on Mars” but getting internet service seems almost impossible.

Ward agreed.

“We must do better” she said.

Tiffany Hoy, an agriculture teacher and FFA counselor in the Tyrone Area school district, said the classes are very hands-on. During the pandemic, when schools were closed, students struggled.

“I had children who drove to a church to use the Internet” she said. In one case, the students turned on the video feed so that she could see several children of different ages crammed into the same car trying to get their homework.

The lack of broadband is “A huge problem in our region”, she said.

While some issues have improved over the past year, with new towers coming online, there are still pockets without reliable service, she said.

Tsunami

When the discussion turned to stormwater runoff, several farmers expressed frustration at a recent Mirror article in which the mayor of Williamsburg attributed the problem to no-till farming practices.

Mayor Ted Hyle said more than four inches of rain hit the Williamsburg area on Wednesday, causing runoff from the hills above the city to overflow the borough’s ditches and pipes.

The runoff is blamed for a collapsed foundation for a house on West First Street.

“No-till is like a sponge” said one farmer, pointing out that soil absorbs water better, unlike plowed fields where water only collects and settles.

“We will have meaningful discussions with Williamsburg”, said the farmers.

“What do they blame (the floods) on Altoona for?” “ another asked, noting that the city has had its own issues lately with the overflowing runoff from the system.

The possible charges for stormwater management are also a concern for farmers, people gathered at Webster, Ward and representatives from other lawmakers’ offices said.

Solar Farm Concerns

Speaking of money, Louis Brenneman warned everyone gathered to do their homework before signing on the dotted line to create a solar farm.

Blair County Farm Bureau member and Brenneman Brothers’ Farms co-owner Louis and his brother Ken spoke to at least two companies interested in installing acres of solar panels on their farms.

“They kept calling, and the rates seem very good”, said Louis.

The concern, the Brennemans said, is that companies may only be looking for green tax credits and then leave in a few years. The contracts are for 40 years or more and the fine print says there is nothing they can do with the soil during that time, even though these companies are gone.

There are also concerns about what happens after the contract ends and who is responsible for disposing of the panels, which contain harmful chemicals.

“I would like to see links on those”, Nolt said, adding that bonds can be a safety net if a company folds.

Additionally, the Brennemans said the contracts mailed out were not the ones discussed. They were told they would get $ 1,400 an acre, but the contracts are for $ 800. On one contract, a post-it was added giving the figure of $ 1,000 per acre, but the contract still stated $ 800.

“They told us to just sign and it would work out” said Louis Brenneman. He won’t do that.

“You have to have a good lawyer on your side and see if these contracts are really something you want to do” he said. “Beware of what you buy. “

Brenneman said he’s not against solar power because he uses it for his hot water and some electricity. It works great, he said, he just doesn’t trust those solar companies that keep reaching out to farmers.

“They are very vague. They wanted to take our best cultivated land ”, he said. “It doesn’t stick; there is something wrong, “ he said.

What worries him is that foreign companies are coming “To paralyze the farms”.

Labor issues

What paralyzes the farms to some extent is finding people to work, the farmers said.

Ward said during a visit to Penn State’s Ag Progress Days that she had heard that workers from other countries in the United States were now seeking higher wages.

Nolt said COVID-19 payments must be halted for people to work. Finding reliable workers is of great importance, he said.

” It is a problem. If we cannot find a workforce, we will be hungry ”, he said, urging the government to make visa programs more user-friendly so that migrant workers can be brought in to help.

Many farms are hiring high school and college students to help them out, but it has been difficult to find workers who show up to work and work, the farmers in attendance said.

“I would like to tell you that it will get better” Hoy said, but she sees the same problem in the school system.

“Attending school is a struggle” she said.

She doesn’t expect the situation to change until “We are changing the mentality of our young people. “

The trend is “Disturbing” Ward said.

Nolt said even the Mennonite community is seeing the trend.

“Work has changed” he said.

Before embarking on a tour of the farm and cheese-making facilities, discussions turned to the state of the roads in Blair County, Webster admitting “they are a mess.”

Webster said she didn’t do everything necessary to fix roads and bridges until she became commissioner. Previously, she had based her knowledge on a driveway paving project undertaken years ago, she said.

But if she had had to follow the rules and regulations that the county and state must follow when working on the roads, she would never have been able to afford her entry.

Webster said the county is doing what it can with the resources it has, and was asked how the county determines what work needs to be done.

“Engineers make recommendations based on conditions” she said.

When asked if there would be enough money to do it all in one season, Webster replied that it wouldn’t be possible.

“I was shocked at the cost of building the roads”, she said.

The roads are “A whole different ball game” versus a driveway project, she said.

Once the discussion was over, the group had the chance to see the cheese making area, the cheese wheels ripening and they headed out to the field to observe the 51 grass-fed cattle that provide the milk. for cheese.

Dave Rice told this group that the farm only needs about 30 cattle for the amount of cheese they make, “but I love cows.”

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