County USDA office holds open house to advocate programming and funding
MONTOURSVILLE – County residents and local farmers were able to acquire a wealth of information during an open house on Wednesday, February 21 at the County Farm Service Agency in Loyalsock Township.
Michael Sherman, County Executive Director, said this is the second year they have organized such an event and plan on offering it annually. Representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture were available to answer questions on various topics such as shale law, dog law enforcement, conservation, Master Gardeners, pest control, organic farming, crop rotation and much more.
The event was held from 8 a.m. to noon, and earlier in the morning students from South Williamsport, Montgomery and Montoursville school districts attended to learn more about the county’s farming resources. Sherman discussed different careers with them and how to get started in the agricultural field.
Sherman, who has been director of the Lycoming County Farm Service Agency for the past ten years, raises cattle on his farm on Brouse Road in Montgomery. He said he wants to give a big push for consservation efforts to improve farms. The students were able to tour the various offices and review some of the programs offered through the Lycoming County Conservation District which is one of 66 throughout the state of Pennsylvania. The agency is a sounding voice for local producers according to Sherman. “It is a county committee with three elected board members each serving a three year term,” he said.
Currently serving on the board are Scott Moore of Jersey Shore, Bill Schon of Loyalsock and Wayne Fogelman of Muncy. Nancy Jarrett is the advisor. “They reach out to the county and help with the administration of the program.”
Sherman added that through the Farm Bill, three million is distributed annually for federal funding. “There are sign-up periods, plus numerous programs are always evolving.” Often many are unaware of the various programming and funding available through these government agencies. For example, there are resources for veterans, ranchers and new farmers. Each program has different requirements.
Currently there are over 1,000 active participating farms in the county related Sherman. “If we can help, we will meet the farmers on site.”
The USDA will try to match the goals of the farmer to see which programs will fit for some federal funding. For example, there is an interest in organic agriculture, and a high quality regulatory program is in place to benefit organic producers. The county USDA will help with the certification process, marketing and some funding.
In 2011 Sherman said flooding destroyed local fields, so his office was able to assist with funding through national grants. The county was able to procure $200,000 to help restore farmers’ fields.
Funding also is available to assist with independent producers who want to generate and create new products or expand marketing opportunities.
There is a Conservation Stewardship program that offers free technical assistance and wetland conservation assistance for crop growers. Farmers can also apply for loan financing for a renewable energy system in a rural area.
Six agencies work together from the County Farm Road office located just off Warrensville Road. They are: Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, Lycoming County Conservation District, the PA Dept. of Agriculture, Penn State Cooperative Extension, and the Penn State Master Gardeners.
“There are several programs out there, and having the cross training and knowing what every one has to offer, and forward the information on, makes more of a cohesive unit that way,” added Sherman.
Farming is still Pennsylvania’s largest industry.