Digging Deeper…Next Generation Agriculture
It’s harvest time in Blair County…the time when our community’s agricultural economy becomes even more a part of our home and past time; from corn stocks and pumpkins to hay rides and mazes drawing us to the very fields from which they came. While we always appreciate the rich history agricultural plays in our economy and overall well being for that matter, we should be reminded of just how big it is and how it can influence our economic future.
There are more than 500 farms encompassing more than 90,000 acres in Blair County. These farms represent a total annual market value over $110 million. The majority of the value results from dairy and livestock production. Most of the milk produced here supports the production of butter which is processed and distributed by Land ‘O Lakes. It comes to rest in almost all of the dairy coolers east of the Mississippi.
There have been significant efforts in recent years to ensure that land is preserved for future and ongoing agricultural production here in Blair County. So we will remain a County where agricultural is the largest part of its economy base.
Beyond primary crop and livestock production, communities like ours have been leveraging it for new economic opportunities. The U.S. Census of Agriculture shows an increasing trend in “agri-tourism” and related recreational services. Between the 2007 and 2012 censuses, 10,249 farms grossing $546-million in income increased to 13,334 farms grossing $674-million. Farms with gross farm receipts of $25,000 or more, increased from 3,637 farms to 4,518. That apple stand, farm maze and bed and breakfast are more than just stand-alone family destinations. Together they are big business and one we should work to further develop.
On the entrepreneurial front, new technologies to support agricultural production present new opportunities for research, testing and innovation. Remote crop monitoring, sensors, embedded technologies, software, and satellite communication are converging to create new businesses to improve crop yield at lower costs. This is one of the fastest growing technology sectors in the country.
To build on these opportunities, the Agriculture Committee of the Altoona Blair County Development Corporation created an exciting new event for middle school students in Blair County called Agriculture Career Day. The inaugural event was held in May this year at the Kulp Family Dairy in Martinsburg, PA.
Hundreds of students representing our next generation of agriculture workers participated in hands-on workshops to spark interest at a critical age. The event focused on careers in Dairy Farming, Veterinary, Engineering, Accounting, Lending, Information & Technology, Genetics, Insurance and more. The second annual Ag Day event will take place next spring.
While livestock and crop production is what we see most, tourism, technology, research and business services are needed to support the next generation career opportunities. It’s more than just a pumpkin patch you’ll be visiting this fall. It is big business. Enjoy the harvest!