By Rick Hiduk
Charlie Clark has made a life of dairy farming and truly enjoys it. He has owned and managed a farm in Springville since 1984 and has a herd of about 40 cows. As a father of four daughters, he has also proudly served as a 4-H leader for many years. His daughters reflect his love for agriculture and have taken up related studies, the oldest already working in the field of genetic research. Nonetheless, the hard work was not always paying off.
“The dairy industry as a whole is a roller coaster,” Charlie related. “There are good years and bad years and there seemed to be more bad years than good.”
He cites the arrival of the natural gas industry as the saving grace for many families in the area, including his own. “We wouldn’t have stayed in it this long had there not been an alternative source of income,” Charlie stated. Extra cash on hand allowed the Clarks to build a new barn, upgrade their equipment, and invest in better cattle stock.
Better cows require a higher level of maintenance, he explained. “The financial gain has enabled us to take better care of them,” Charlie said, adding, “We farm for fun now.”
The Clarks signed a lease with Chief Oil & Gas in 2008, one of the earliest landowners in Susquehanna County to do so. Watching the process evolve from exploration and well pad building to drilling and pipeline construction was new to everyone, Charlie explained. “In the end, it has been a good partnership. Chief has treated us well. It has allowed us to put our daughters through college, debt free.”
Charlie’s interest in the various processes of the industry also led him to starting a new business. When the installation of a pipeline across his property began, Charlie noticed some aspects of the job that he felt he was better equipped to handle. When he approached the company doing the work, they were receptive to his ideas and provided the criteria that he would need to provide services for them. He and a fellow farmer were soon providing follow-up maintenance for right-of-ways but, more importantly, they developed a seed mixture that was better suited for the soil and climate of Susquehanna County than what Charlie referred to as the “Texas blend.” This allowed them to take on bigger projects and expand their client list. “We’re doing things we never thought we’d be doing 10 years ago.”
The robust economy of Susquehanna County owes much to the gas industry, whether directly or indirectly, Charlie related. It may be hard for some, he continued, to see how the investments by Chief, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, and Williams Mainstream benefit the community in unexpected ways. “They don’t understand far the money trickles out,” he stated, citing the county’s annual Harford Fair as a good example.
Cabot has helped to fund the construction of new buildings on the fairgrounds, floors and better drainage in others, making the event more attractive to visitors. Rejuvenated farms have helped the county’s 4-H become one of the largest in the state in terms of participation. More than 100 youths are showing higher quality pigs and cows, which are then put up for auction. Residents and business owners with more disposable income can offer much higher bids, which allows the 4-H to disburse more and larger scholarships.
“If a kid applies himself, he or she could probably pay for the first year of school with scholarships,” said Charlie. “Funding from the industry has made our county fair what it is, and it helps other companies invest in the fair.”