Don't let the butter sculpture, the milkshake booth or the “Farm Show's Got Talent” contest fool you.
The Pennsylvania Farm show, which opened Saturday, may be a lot of fun, but farming in the Keystone state is serious business, bringing in $6.7 billion in annual receipts statewide. The state's 62,200 farms cover 7.75 million acres.
Milk production alone is a $2.34 billion business, with Pennsylvania dairy farmers' production at 1.2 billion gallons annually.
This year farmers producing that milk are under extra stress. The cost of the feed corn given to dairy cows, which was $2.50 a bushel just five years ago, now it is hovering around $7 a bushel. A bushel is generally about 56 pounds of corn.
The price tag has been driven up by two factors: the nation's use of corn to produce ethanol as a fuel additive and the midwestern drought that struck hard this summer and damaged crops.
When corn prices first spiked in the middle of the summer and the fall, Virginia Ishler, the dairy complex manager at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, said “a lot of guys were panicking.”
“We were telling folks, you need to sit down and look at the numbers for your farm,” she said.
Farming is not for the arithmetically challenged. There are costs of equipment to be factored into the reoccurring costs of fertilizer, seed and pesticides; veterinary care for the animals; and then, for those who do not grow enough to feed their animals, feed.
For every 80 pounds of milk a dairy cow produces, it eats 120 pounds of feed. That can add up.