This week’s #onthefarm took me virtually to Pennsylvania for a visit with @PAfarmgirl, Genny Christ. Genny is an agronomy educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Genny has a great blog that tackles agronomy, conservation and nutrient management. It’s a very good read, and I would recommend it for those wanting to learn more about agriculture. Along with Andy Kleinschmidt of Ohio State, who blogs at http://agvanwert.wordpress.com/, Genny is on the cutting edge of using the Web to share tips for farmers and providing background on projects she is working on.
I learned quite a bit about Pennsylvania ag during the interview, including the state’s connection to mushroom farming (thanks to @farmingmagazine for the excellent link to one of it’s articles during the chat!). Genny was an excellent guest, and she’s a good person to follow online.
Thanks to all those who followed the interview and who visit the blog to read the transcript.
n_web: Hi everyone, about 10 min away from this week’s segment with @PAfarmgirl. Quick bio coming in next couple tweets. Genny is an Agronomy Educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Cumberland Co, focusing on field crops and soils. She also focuses on nutrient management and NM plan implementation, and organizes field days and meetings for farmers. You can learn more about her and her writings at her blog: http://pafarmgirl.wordpress.com/ . Reason for me to interview Genny: crazy year for farmers. What did she learn as an agronomist? What are tips for 2010
PAfarmgirl: I am ready to go!! Thanks for the
n_web: Q1: I gave a quick 420 character intro :) I’m sure you can tell us a bit more about yourself and what you do.
PAfarmgirl: I grew up on a tiny beef cow/calf operation in western PA. Went to PSU and focused on Animal Science and Agronomy. Now I work in extension educating anyone interested about crops and soils. & when I get a chance I do some animal education also
n_web: Q2: Can you give us a background on what type of ag is practiced where in Pennsylvania?
PAfarmgirl: PA ag is diverse. we have 3 major crop regions: southeast, north and Appalachian plateau, and the rest of the state. SE is warmer & most productive. N & Appalachian Plateau is higher elevations and colder. Major crops in PA based on dollars: grain corn, forages, and mushrooms. But PA is more a livestock state than a crop state. $513 billion Cattle industry, $183 billion hog industry
n_web: Q3: Mushrooms?!?! Never knew that. Can you explain how/why? This is uncharted territory for #onthefarm . . . Definitely want to cover livestock in a moment . . . the mushroom comment intrigued me though . . .
PAfarmgirl: I am not an expert on mushrooms but a few counties seem to be good at growing mushrooms, one farm actually grows them underground.
n_web: Q4: OK, sorry for my aside. What’s the status of the livestock industry in PA? How are farmers doing? Hanging in there?
PAfarmgirl: The livestock industry is surviving. The economy is making it hard on everyone. It’s all about economics anymore. if you can stay out of the red or at least not in the red for long, you will survive. One challenge I’ve noticed is livestock mortality. More and more farmers are struggling to find ways to dispose of dead
n_web: Q5: Is the terrain one reason why PA is a livestock state? Or is it soils? Or weather?
PAfarmgirl: I think PA is a livestock state for all of those reasons. We have alot of very productive soils, but also marginal soils. I also think it has to do with the people and the “culture” its what their parents did so.
n_web: Q6: The “culture” comment is interesting. I guess some folks you talk to, their families have been there since Colonial times.
PAfarmgirl: There are alot of farms that have been in the family for generations. In addition there are alot of Plain Sect people. Farming is what the majority of them do. The farm is passed father to son
PAfarmgirl: PSU is working alot on cover crops and energy crops. I started my job to late in the season to be directly involved. Challenges in 09: the weather, the economy, proper inoculation of soybeans. We also saw alot of crop diseases this year. This year I will have some herbicide plots out on local farms. PSU also does alot of variety trials. successes I saw in 09: increased use of cover crops and conservation tillage.
n_web: Q8: Good transition: Talk about cover crops. Maybe I miss something, but it appears they are used more in your neck of the woods?
PAfarmgirl: Cover crops are very important!! They are something that is pushed by PSU, NRCS, conservation districts, etc. cover crops are very helpful in reducing erosion and improving soil quality. They are also great for winter manure applications. Here in PA manure is an issue, especially with the Chesapeake Bay, so cover crops provide another crop to receive manure.
n_web: Q9: So more PA farmers are using cover crops? Has it been tough to convince farmers? Or do they get it? And just takes time?
PAfarmgirl: Every year more farmers are definitely using cover crops. It has been a challenge getting some farmers to use them. Providing them with examples, field demonstrations, and facts about the benefits definitely help convince farmers. It also helps when they know someone who has planted cover crops.
n_web: Q10: What are you preparing to educate farmers on for 2010? Any tips you can share here, that help PA and US farmers?
PAfarmgirl: I am focusing alot on soil conservation, nutrient management and scouting for diseases, insects, weeds. I do have a few tips to share: 1. soil test at least every three years, knowing what nutrients are in your soil is important. 2. scout, scout, scout – wasting $ on useless pesticide applications is bad for your bottom line ($$) and the environment. 3. accurately calibrate your sprayer and spreader for precise applications
n_web: Q11: What’s your goal in having a blog? Do area farmers read it? Is it an outlet for you to post current info you’re researching?
PAfarmgirl: I blog b/c I want to do whatever I can to educate people about agriculture. I enjoy being able to write about things I care about
n_web: Final Q: What’s the outlook for Pennsylvania ag in the next few years? Economy is tough, but what can farmers be excited about?
PAfarmgirl: I don’t really know if many farmers read my blog. The hardest part to blogging is getting people to realize you are out there. PA ag is very diverse and this will help us to survive and grow stronger. The ag industry in PA is focusing on providing a good quality, safe, product to its consumers. Farmers need to be excited about new technology and what it can offer them: money savings, increased yields, etc. Farmers also need to think about the environment. Many are already stewards for the environment and more are coming on board.
n_web: Thanks for your time today, Genny! This was fun. Know ya gotta run, but if you have a final thought or two, feel free to share.
PAfarmgirl: I appreciate the opportunity you provide me today and would like to thank all those who were following along!!
n_web: Yup, thanks to the followers, Hope you found it enjoyable! I’ll have the transcript on the blog over the weekend.