There were owners of seven kinds of agricultural enterprises at Tuesday's session, from dairy farmers to orchardists to a goldfish farm, he said. "This is not one monolithic group," he said. "I'm learning how different their interests are."
Shuster said he also called the session to talk about and to help interpret the new farm bill and what benefits and problems it will bring to agricultural interests in South Central Pennsylvania.
Lee Showalter, a Waynesboro, Pa., orchardist, questioned ever-changing environmental rules that require growers to use new pesticides designed to destroy specific pests.
"They work well but they're more expensive," Showalter said. He said the new chemicals are not as effective as some of those that have been in use for years.
"Some insects are creeping through the new ones," he said. "I have worms in my apples this year."
Showalter said American growers are held to tougher pesticide rules than those in foreign countries that export their fruit to the United States.
Jean-Marie Peltier, counselor to Christine Todd-Whitman, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Bush administration, agreed with Showalter that the rules governing pesticide use on American fruits and vegetables are more stringent than those for imports.
Federal inspectors only get to check 1 to 2 percent of all incoming fruits and vegetables, Peltier said.
She also said more money is needed to help farmers work out their pesticide problems.
One farmer said the new farm bill doesn't do everything that farmers need. "We need farmers to write the bill, not some bureaucrats in Washington," he said.
The consensus was that the farm bill needs to be more flexible. "One size doesn't fit all," said Richard B. Pallman, executive director for Pennsylvania for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Neil Hinish, a Blair County, Pa., fruit grower, said it is sometimes better to let fruit fall to the ground and rot than it is to take it to a packing house.
He said his apple crop suffered early frost damage in the spring, which left the fruit spotted. As a result, the packing house offered him a price lower than what he could get from collecting his crop insurance.