Another growing season is upon us, and farmers in northeast Pennsylvania are already ahead of most gardeners. Last year’s crops are turned under to plant anew and machinery is serviced and ready for another busy year. It’s a difficult way of life that was in danger just 15 years ago. With the help of natural gas production in the region, many farmers have been able to turn a profit again.
Thomas Murphy, Penn State Extension director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research expressed that many dairy farmers were in trouble as he looked back to 2007, about a year before natural gas exploration in Pennsylvania’s northern tier began. “Farmers were looking for ways that they could generate additional income from their farms.” Some options included timber and alternative crops like different types of forage and higher quality hay for horses at race tracks.
“The dairy industry as a whole is a roller coaster,” noted Charlie Clark, a farm owner in Springville Township, Susquehanna County. “There are good years and bad years, and there seemed to be more bad years than good.” Charlie has four daughters who worked on the farm, and he was a 4-H leader invested in steering interested youths to ag-related futures. Extra cash on hand from gas and oil leases allowed the Clarks to build a new barn, upgrade their equipment, and invest in better cattle stock. “We wouldn’t have stayed in it this long had there not been an alternative source of income,” Charlie stated. “It has allowed us to put our daughters through college, debt free.”
“It is the American dream on display,” Rep. Jonathan Fritz said of the improvements to farms and the current agricultural landscape. “Susquehanna County is the shining example of the American energy renaissance.” Rep. Fritz is one of few elected officials who sees the stark contrast in the benefits realized through natural gas production in Susquehanna County and his constituents in Wayne County, where the industry has been stymied.
Chris Hoffman, director of ag education for the PA State Farm Bureau shared that “farmers have an opportunity to beef up their operations with the support of the gas industry to help them supplement their income during hard times. It’s good for the consumers because they continue to have locally sourced food. The influx of dollars is really great for the community as well, especially when you are trying to get dollars back into agriculture.” Cabot has even helped to fund the construction of new buildings at the Harford Fair Grounds, where youths gather for events throughout the year, including the annual Susquehanna County Fair. “Funding from the industry has made our county fair what it is, and it helps other companies invest in the fair,” Charlie explained.
Those first few years Cabot started reaching out to landowners to explain our plans to develop the Marcellus Shale provided many opportunities for us to learn from each other. We learned what was important to the farmers and worked together to find ways to ease their apprehensions. These conversations led to best practices in this new landscape between natural gas and ag producers. We still observe and improve on them today!
“It’s been a great opportunity for us to come together and work together. We have a clean technology that’s out there to power the world,” Chris maintained. “I see a very positive relationship moving forward. Both natural gas and ag producers are often under fire from environmental groups, so we need to continue to educate folks on agriculture and energy. Both are what drives American into the future.”