Farmers give their side as officials visit Del. Willis observes livestock spread in Farm City Week

'Backbone of the country'

Municipal, county leaders also tour grain, horse farms

November 15, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Del. Ellen L. Willis spent time with 1,400 pigs yesterday, petting a few snouts, cuddling a days-old piglet and learning the latest in porcine technology.

Before the morning ended, Willis was asking questions about gilts (females), barrows (castrated males), sows and boars. She learned about finishing pens, waste lagoons, hog breeding and taking leaner pigs to market.

Frank and Julie Feeser invited the Democratic delegate and her legislative aide to their Taneytown farm to celebrate Farm City Week, an annual event that builds understanding between farmers and their urban neighbors.

Municipal officials and county administrators also visited grain, horse and produce farms yesterday.

"Our delegation needs to be familiar with what is going on," said Frank Feeser, a fourth-generation farmer who owns 240 acres. "I wanted to show her the operation."

He refers to his swine and beef production as a small business that "needs all the support it can get."

"Small business is the backbone of the country," he said.

"Legislators need to know small business is important in Carroll County, where agriculture is the No. 1 industry."

He said the tour helped him to make his case for tax incentives and for a better understanding of problems farmers face with government and environmental issues.

The Feesers have run a breeding operation for years, showing their stock along the East Coast. Their customers were often, like them, families running small farms. But many could not survive and sold to mega-operations.

Julie Feeser compared the farm to a local hardware store competing with a Wal-Mart. Government should help small businesses stay alive with tax incentives, she said.

"Small businesses are more efficient, more sensitive to cus-

tomers' needs and they take more pride in their work, because they are smaller and more in touch with their customers," she said.

Although Carroll County is a national leader in preserving farmland, it still loses about 1,800 acres a year to development. Farming in the 1990s remains only "marginally profitable," said Bill Powel, program administrator for the county's agricultural land preservation program.

'Sacrifice' required

"For a young farmer to get into the business and to hang on requires sacrifice in terms of standard of living," Powel said.

Sacrifice, hard work and long hours do not guarantee a farmer success, Frank Feeser said.

PTC "You need creativity, and you have to respond to the market," he said. "Consumers drive the production end of the business, but they don't always realize somebody has to raise it before it gets to the grocery store."

Demand is for leaner meat, he said. The Feesers are raising pork with less than an inch of fat -- a tricky business when too lean means no taste.

County offers help

The preservation program can help farmers stay in business, Frank Feeser said. The county offers as much as $2,000 an acre to farmers who place their land in permanent preservation.

"If ag preservation brings the price up, you will have all the land you want preserved," Frank Feeser told Willis.

Last year, before Willis was appointed to fill the term of now-state-Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, the county delegation refused to allow a referendum on a proposal that would increase the transfer tax and help fund more farm preservation.

Willis said she was awe-struck at the work involved in raising 1,400 pigs and nearly 100 Black Angus cattle.

Julie Feeser demonstrated to Willis the elaborate number system she uses to track more than a thousand animals.

She can predict when a litter will be born and give the age of any recent litter in the farrowing rooms.

The couple rarely take their hogs to shows now. Instead, customers come to them for breeder pairs. They sell swine to packing houses in Pennsylvania and to Frank Feeser's brother's butcher shop in Taneytown.

Willis visited outdoor pens, where hogs are fattened on feed. She toured the newest building, a $135,000 structure with climate-controlled farrowing rooms, nurseries and finishing rooms.

The delegate approached a fence and a pig nibbled at her glove.

'Intelligent, curious'

"They chew on anything," said Julie Feeser, while a piglet chewed on her slacks. "They are intelligent and curious."

Willis called the day a good experience that left her "mildly depressed" thinking about the future of small family businesses.

"I am also struck with the value of farmland," Willis said. "Farmers work all their lives, and the land is all they have."

The Feesers have a 20-year-old daughter, studying animal science at Kansas State University. They hope she will follow in their footsteps.

"My concern is, will farmers 20 years from now still have their land equity?" asked Frank Feeser.

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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