Dairy tradition continues at ‘Ag Day’

A large crowd gathered in the Elk Lake gymnasium at Ag Day, visiting vendor displays and sampling ice cream and cheese offerings from the Dairy Promotions program. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

A large crowd gathered in the Elk Lake gymnasium at Ag Day, visiting vendor displays and sampling ice cream and cheese offerings from the Dairy Promotions program. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY PAT FARNELLI

For years Elk Lake School welcomed farmers, families, businesses, and social service agencies to an annual expo focused on the dairy industry and agriculture.

This year the event dropped “dairy” from its title and is now known as “Susquehanna County Ag Day.”

WGSI_AgDay_princesses

2013-14 State Dairy Princess Lu-Anne Antisdel and Susquehanna County Dairy Princess Mercedes Spickerman serve up samples of ice cream and cheese during Susquehanna County Ag Day – formerly known as Dairy Day – on Friday, at the Elk Lake school. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

Event organizer Michele Kowalewski said the name change is a better reflection of the entire agricultural community in the area and the vendors that participate in the expo.

But the strong tradition of dairy farming continues in Susquehanna County with a new generation taking the helm of family farms.

Doug Brooks, 20, a 2012 Elk Lake graduate is learning the ropes of the family farm, like his father before him, John “Buck” Brooks, and his grandfather John “Billy” Brooks – both of which are still working on the farm.

Doug said his family is thankful for the gas royalties that enabled them to hold together the farm acreage; continue dairy farming; make improvements to the house and barns; and add equipment, as well as cows.

“We just switched from parlor milking back to pipeline, and it is going faster. I’m done in 45 minutes,” he said.

He noted that his dad and grandfather both milk a group of cows from the herd.

The most recent building improvement was an extension added to the barn.
“We are grateful for the gas royalties,” he said. “Things were really tough before we had that income.”

Kevin and Pam Marshall started out by raising poultry on their Springville farm. They began buying farm animals for their son, Brant’s enjoyment.
“It’s more like a petting zoo,” Pam Marshall said. “We even have llamas.”
But the Marshall’s have also ventured into the dairy business.

Kevin Marshall said, “I am milking 70 cows now, and my milk check is more than my royalty payment.”

Joe Vanderfeltz, who raises prize-winning Jerseys and Holsteins, has 230 cows a day at his farm near Elk Lake. He said he does three milkings per day.

Ben and Jen Hoover are raising dairy cows on property that was an active dairy years ago. Ben’s father, Danny Hoover, is also involved in the family farm.

Tracy Zeller of First National Bank had a booth at Ag Day, with a display about refinancing and second mortgages. She said that two farmers stopped by, one interested in purchasing a major piece of equipment and another wanting to finance a new block farm building.

Zeller said some farmers have sought loans for expanding their business but for some, the gas royalty income is there and they don’t need to borrow the money.

Some local dairy farmers have sold their dairy cows and switched to beef cows, while others continue growing corn or other feed crops and haying.