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Springtime brings renewed hope

Field Snapshot: This year’s Field Snapshot producers have already dodged Mother Nature’s curveballs getting into the fields.

Reid Hoover poses in a barn near Holstein cows
HOPEFUL FOR DAIRY: Reid Hoover, who helps run Brook Corner Holsteins in Lebanon, Pa., says while margins aren’t big on his farm right now, they are holding up. Lower dairy prices, combined with the fact that his farm buys a lot of corn and soybean meal, would be detrimental. Chris Torres

Editor’s note: No two farms are the same, especially in a region as large as the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes. And while USDA Crop Progress reports can be useful snapshots of what’s going on in a certain state, having boots on the ground is the best way to see what’s really happening on farms.

This year, we’re continuing our once-a-month series called Field Snapshot to provide you a view of what’s happening on farms through the region. Today, we hear from a dairy farmer from Pennsylvania, a crop grower from Maryland and a fruit grower from New York. In the coming weeks, we will also talk with producers from Ohio and Michigan.

We hope this new monthly series will be fun to read, but most of all, we hope you get something educational out of it, and something you can apply to your own farm to be more profitable and sustainable.

Reid Hoover planted cereal rye as early as last September. Now, it’s in the bunk, ready to be fed to his cows.

“All in all, it’s tested really well. Some of the numbers are really good,” he says.

Hoover runs Brook Corner Holsteins in Lebanon, Pa., and farms 650 acres in partnership with his son, Brad, a brother and a nephew. Much of his ground is planted in continuous corn, which gets chopped for silage. He also grows 30 acres of barley that will be harvested in early summer and then planted in double-crop soybeans.

The cereal rye averaged between 7 and 10 tons an acre. “So maybe the yield wasn’t quite as good as we could have had, but it’s a good mix. We like good quality,” Hoover says.

Only 25% of his corn has been planted thus far. Recent rains have delayed the farm’s manure drag lining. But compared to past years, Hoover says he’s a little ahead of schedule.

“I’m hoping for a few dry days to get the manure out and the rest of the corn in the ground,” he says.

Something new he’s trying this season is an in-furrow insecticide on his John Deere planter to battle corn rootworm. “We’re actually adding some insecticide in the row as we plant to see if that helps us out,” Hoover says. “We already have liquid fertilizer on there, so there is another tank on the planter to mix it.”

The dairy includes 370 milking cows, and more than 400 heifers and young stock. His farm-gate price is hovering near $21 per cwt.

“It could be a little bit better, but it hasn’t gone in the tank, so that’s good,” Hoover says. “We can live with that. We buy a fair amount of feed, and those prices haven’t been as bad. We buy a lot of corn and bean meal. When those things are high and the milk price is down, that’s when you have the problems. Right now, milk price is not great but not bad.”

Cows are milked three times a day. The farm’s rolling herd average is 30,000 pounds, with protein at 3.07% and butterfat near 4.0%.

Soybeans wait their turn

Chip Bowling has finally finished planting corn, but soybeans are still waiting their turn.

Mother Nature hasn’t been easy to work with thus far.

“I’m pretty average right now. I’m five days behind,” Bowling says. “In farming, that’s nothing. I would call it kind of average.”

He farms nearly 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in Newburg, Md.

Bowling says he would typically have soybeans in the ground by now, but rainy weather has forced him to delay planting until conditions are right. Even though many other producers have bought into the idea of planting soybeans earlier than corn, Bowling still likes to wait.

“We have such a forgiving growing season here on soybeans that it’s not beneficial for me to get them in early,” he says.

His wheat acres were slow to emerge and still don’t look great, but the wheat is heading and has started to dry out. “We’ve applied some fungicide and gotten some nitrogen out there. It looks good, but not great,” Bowling says.

The next step is sidedressing of corn, which he hopes to complete between Memorial Day and the second week of June. And if all things go well, wheat should be harvested by the end of June.

Trees survive cold snap

Despite an unexpected cold snap in mid-April, the blossoms on the 400 acres of apple trees at Teeple Farms in Wolcott, N.Y., appear mostly unscathed.

“We’re spotty in some places, but it’s still gorgeous,” farm co-owner Danielle Teeple says. “We’ll see after the bees do their thing.”

Founded in 1945, the fourth-generation farm grows an average of 300,000 bushels of apples a year — no small undertaking with only 12 year-round workers and help from 60 or more H-2A workers, and some local workers, during harvest.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant - Apple trees blossoming

Frank, Danielle’s husband and the fourth generation on the farm, receives help from their sons: Jackson, 16; Philip, 14; and Levi, 11.

Danielle has master’s degrees in rhetoric, English literature, special education and music education.

Although she applies her education to home-schooling her boys, it also serves her well in educating the public, an initiative she hopes to increase this year through agritourism with U-pick opportunities, tours and other events.

“I want people to come here and learn where their food comes from,” Danielle says. “We don’t have a lot of that in our area. Many aren’t truly growers but event holders with a few apples. We want to bring people to the farm to see real growing. I give tours of our storage and packinghouse.”

She is also hoping to increase distribution among local grocers, markets and CSAs by doing more cold calling.

The Teeples would also like to increase their certified organic acreage, a process that takes three years. This year, 50 more acres will be qualified as certified organic. The farm is the largest grower of organic apples in the Northeast at 100 acres, with 37 varieties overall between organic and conventional.

The seasonal farm stand sells about 10 bushels a day of the farm’s 300,000 annual bushels. But selling directly to consumers has proven a good way to stay connected to neighbors and engage her sons.

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About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes for the American Agriculturist from central New York.

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