Conference aims to help farmers increase their income


December 24, 2006|By TED SHELSBY

It's farm economics 101: Farming is a business, and it needs to make money to survive.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Maryland's dairy industry. Monthly milk checks too low to cover the cost of production, pay the mortgage and put food on the table is a primary reason for the continued decline of the state's dairy industry.

Since 1990, nearly a third of Maryland's dairy farmers have succumbed to the financial pinch, sold their cows and gone out of business.

With this in mind, state Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley says repeatedly, "The best agriculture land preservation program is a profitable farm."

Boosting the profits of state farms is a primary focus of Future Harvest -- Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA), one of the most prestigious farm organizations in Maryland.

The nonprofit network of farmers, agriculture professionals, educators and consumers will hold its sixth "Farming for Profit and Stewardship" conference Jan. 12 and 13 in Hagerstown.

"It's the biggest farm education program in the state," Michael Heller said of the event that will feature more than 25 speakers.

Heller is manager of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's demonstration farm near Upper Marlboro and a director of Future Harvest.

"It's aimed primarily at the farmers of the future," Heller said of the conference. "Young people who want to move into farming can learn from people already in the industry."

He said a series of workshops will provide those who attend "with useful and practical information" on how to make their farms more profitable.

Heller said the conference would feature hands-on activities and discussions on how young farmers can implement proven practices.

Scheduled speakers include Phyllis Kilby, the operator of a 400-cow dairy farm in Cecil County who found it more profitable to turn her product into ice cream than to sell it as milk.

Kilby will discuss the investment in and the financial rewards of opening Kilby Cream, an on-the-farm store outside Rising Sun serving up homemade ice cream.

Alex Hitt will deliver the keynote speech, "25 Years of Building a Farm" on Jan. 13.

Since 1981, he and his wife, Betsy, have worked to turn their 5-acre farm in Graham, N.C., into a profit center.

They have reduced farm labor by improving their soil with cover crops and concentrating on high-value crops that grow well in their area. They grow 80 varieties of 23 vegetables and 164 varieties of cut flowers.

They market directly through a cooperative grocery store. Each of their acres returns a minimum of $20,000 a year.

Dale Johnson, a University of Maryland extension agent, will lead a discussion of the economics of grass-based dairying.

Under this system, cows get their feed from pasture as opposed to grain.

Although cows eating grass usually produce less milk, the cost of producing the milk is lower than under grain-fed operations.

Mary Ellen Taylor, co-owner of End Summer Harvest in Purcellville, Va., will discuss the growing of lettuce, greens and herbs in a state-of-the art, year-round greenhouse.

Chuck Mohler, a crop and soil sciences researcher with Cornell University, will talk about the ecology of weeds and how to manage them in an organic system.

The conference will be held in the Four Points Sheraton hotel, 1910 Dual Highway.

Check-in is 8 a.m. Jan. 12; the first workshops begin at 8:30 a.m. The first day ends with an ice cream social.

Day two starts at 7 a.m. with a continental breakfast and registration. The first workshops start at 8:30 a.m., and the program runs all day.

The price of admission for both days is $55 for students, $95 for members of Future Harvest and $150 for nonmembers.

Future Harvest CASA is based in Eldersburg. The telephone number is 410-549-7878. The e-mail address: fhcasa@verizon. net.

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