Another growing season is upon us. Ag producers in northeast Pennsylvania are already ahead of most gardeners in turning under last year’s crops to plant anew. They also also must make sure their machinery is ready for another busy year of agricultural production. It’s a difficult way of life that was in danger just 15 years ago. But many farmers operating in the Marcellus shale have not only been able to turn a profit again – they are back to enjoying their rural lifestyles.
Thomas Murphy is the Penn State Extension Director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research. He expressed that many dairy farmers struggled as he looked back to 2007, before gas exploration began. “Farmers were looking for ways that they could generate additional income from their farms,” he said. Options included timber and alternative crops like different types of forage and higher quality hay for horses at race tracks.
“The dairy industry as a whole is a roller coaster,” Charlie Clark, owner of a farm in Springville Township, Susquehanna County, explains. “There are good years and bad years, and there seemed to be more bad years than good.” Charlie has four daughters who worked on the farm, and he was a 4-H leader invested in steering interested youths to ag-related futures. Extra cash on hand from gas and oil leases allowed the Clarks to build a new barn, upgrade their equipment, and invest in better cattle stock. “We wouldn’t have stayed in it this long had there not been an alternative source of income,” Charlie stated. “It has allowed us to put our daughters through college, debt free.”
“It is the American dream on display,” Rep. Jonathan Fritz said of the improvements to ag producers and the current agricultural landscape. “Susquehanna County is the shining example of the American energy renaissance.” Rep. Fritz is one elected officials who sees the stark contrast every day between the benefits realized through natural gas production.
Chris Hoffman is the Director of Ag Education for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. He shares that, “farmers have an opportunity to beef up their operations with the support of the gas industry to help them supplement their income during hard times. It’s good for the consumers because they continue to have locally sourced food. And the influx of dollars is really great for the community as well, especially when you are trying to get dollars back into agriculture.” Coterra has even helped to fund the construction of new buildings at the Hartford Fairgrounds, where youths gather for events throughout the year, including the annual Susquehanna County Fair.
Those first few years that Coterra started reaching out to landowners and explaining our plans to develop the Marcellus shale provided many opportunities for us to learn from each other. We learned what was important to the ag producers and worked together to find ways to ease their apprehensions. This often led to best practices in this new landscape that we still observe and improve on today.
“It’s been a great opportunity for us to come together and work together. We have a clean technology that’s out there to power the world,” Chris maintained. “I see a very positive relationship moving forward. Both industries are under fire from environmental groups, so we need to continue to educate folks on agriculture and energy. Both are what drives American into the future.”