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Area dairy farmers holding their own

October 16, 2007|By JEFF SEMLER

Washington County is tucked into the Cumberland Valley and, on brisk fall days, it is not hard to understand why our ancestors would have spilled over South Mountain or drifted across the Mason-Dixon Line.

At one point, this county was thought of as part of the bread basket of the nation. Many of the early settlers were of German descent and they brought with them the practice of growing wheat and spelt. If you question that, look at all the roads named "blank" Mill Road.

Today, the beauty of the county continues and wheat is still grown, but dairy has replaced it as the largest segment of the agricultural landscape. The bucolic vistas of corn fields and cows grazing now draw people from other areas to our home.

While many dairy farmers are facing potential feed shortages, thanks to severe dry weather, they have been enjoying good milk prices after the record low prices of 2006. So, in short, they are holding their own, as increased income will help offset the rising costs of electricity, fuel and feed. What 2008 will bring is an unknown, as with a lot of things in agriculture.

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Recently, while our sports-crazed culture has been obsessing over the future of Joe Torre's employment, several Marylanders have been garnering acclaim at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. The Shank and Creek families of Palmyra Farm, just south of Hagers-town, won their third consecutive Premier Breeder Banner at Expo for their Ayrshires.

Meanwhile, Clear Spring High School graduate Hannah Smith and her teammates took second place in the National 4-H Dairy Judging Contest (See story, below). The rest of the team was Derek Lease, Carroll County; Laurel Moore, Queen Anne's County; and Amy Yeiser; Anne Arundel County. The team was coached by Mike Allen of Glen-Toctin Farm, Jefferson, Md.,, who topped the 4-H Contest himself in 1981, and Kiera Finucane from the University of Maryland.

The team placed second in Oral Reasons and Jerseys, third in Holsteins and fourth in Brown Swiss. Hannah finished sixth overall, second in Oral Reasons, and fifth in Holsteins and Brown Swiss. This success is a long tradition for Maryland 4-H, as they have won the contest 27 times with the next closest state, Wisconsin, compiling nine wins. Last year was the most recent Maryland victory.

One of this year's team members, Amy Yeiser, traces her roots here to Washington County, as her mother Gail is a Poffenberger. Amy's sister, Emily, also excelled in judging, being the top 4-H judge in 2002.

So, not only do we milk a lot of cows here, we also know what a good one looks like. Which brings me to my next topic of dairy management: Thursday, Oct. 18, will be our final pasture walk for the 2007 season. We invite you to travel to our hosts Mark and Clare Seibert's farm on St. Paul Road, just east of Clear Spring.

The Seiberts just started their operation in the spring of 2007, so we will see how they have managed the dry weather in their first year. Their operation is a seasonal grass-based dairy and they milk in a parlor that looks more like a greenhouse.

Please come join us at 10 a.m. Thursday, as we walk and talk about managing both cows and pasture during dry weather. To reach the farm, travel west on U.S. 40 from Hagerstown or east on U.S. 40 from Clear Spring, and then north on St. Paul Road. The route from U.S. 40 will be marked with "Pasture Walk" signs. We hope to see you there. In the meantime, drink milk and pray for rain!

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