Pennsylvania farmers must adapt to survive, advocates say

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert discusses the changing nature of agriculture during the organization's annual meeting in Hershey on Tuesday, November 19, 2019. (Rachel McDevitt/WITF)

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert discusses the changing nature of agriculture during the organization's annual meeting in Hershey on Tuesday, November 19, 2019. (Rachel McDevitt/WITF)

A major advocacy group for Pennsylvania farmers says many have had to change the way they do business to stay afloat financially.

Speaking at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s 69th Annual Meeting, President Rick Ebert said it used to be farmers were encouraged to specialize in one product, but now the key to stability is to diversify.

He said the state’s farmers don’t have the resources to dramatically scale up production.

“We don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have the land base to support those kind of industries,” Ebert said. “So, farmers have to figure out how to change and adapt and keep their farms going for the next generation.”

He added his own farm has been a traditional dairy operation, but now he’s working with his sons to diversify.

“One wants to do a little vegetable production so we’re in the process now of putting up a high tunnel greenhouse. We’ve had conversations with local restaurants and they’d be happy to buy our products,” Ebert said.

Ebert said diversification will look different for each farmer, but could include adding processing capabilities or opening a roadside farm stand.

The Farm Bureau supports measures at the state Capitol that aim to help farmers diversify.

One would reduce liability for farmers who open their land to agri-tourism ventures, like apple-picking and hay rides.

Another would set standards for renovating historic barns into wedding venues.

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