Future View of Agriculture in Lancaster County
by Mary Henry, Chair of the Lancaster County Agriculture Council, Messick Farm Equipment, Inc.
The future of Lancaster County agriculture begins with what we do today – to not only preserve our farms, but our farmers and the viability of their operations. Where we find ourselves today is the result of the passion of many generations before us in this industry – growing it to a place of prominence in our local economy – and maintaining its rich heritage.
The future hinges on how well we steward the County’s resources of land, water, and people. It hinges on how well we educate the public on the importance of this industry as part of the world food system – by protecting our ability to produce food, not only here, but on agricultural lands across this country – securing our food supply so that we maintain the blessing of having enough food on our tables.
Each generation is further removed from the farm; therefore, the future also hinges on how well we educate young children about the importance of agriculture and build our future workforce – igniting a passion for a career in agriculture and building bright minds that grow this industry for future generations.
Lancaster County’s geographic location and beautiful rolling farmlands have made it a highly desirable place for people to work and live. This is clearly evidenced by population growth statistics and the sheer volume of traffic on a road system that hasn’t kept up with that growth, making it difficult to travel across the county in any direction, and at times making it difficult to move equipment from one farm to another.
Lancaster County has become one of the nation’s top places to retire, and as past visitors have become residents, retirement communities and healthcare campuses have made their home on land once utilized in agriculture.
An increasing number of farms owned by aging farmers without a next generation to transfer to, or perhaps lacking the ability to remain viable – utilize the sale of the farm asset as their retirement plan. Competing interests will vie for that land.
Lancaster County is located in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. As such, the agricultural community’s stewardship of waterways has long been a focal point – often bringing with it criticism with many failing to see the significant measures farmers take each and every day on practices that preserve the environment and resources used in farming.
Each of these challenges serves as a potential threat to the industry if we fail to manage them.
However, just as the technology used 150 years ago has progressed to the technology used today – the technology that moves us forward will serve as an opportunity to face these challenges head on by saving labor and reducing expenses, gain efficiencies in production and land use, and place even more focus on environmental stewardship. It will likely look vastly different and be fueled by resources in development stages today – electric, methane, solar, and advancements in other renewable resources will continue to progress and become more prevalent. Autonomous equipment, robotics, augmented reality, global positioning and the development of even more instruments in space, maybe those only imagined today, will likely become the norm having filled workforce shortages and taken the business of agriculture to new heights in efficiency and production capability.
The reach and framework for ag businesses in Lancaster County will continue to stretch beyond Lancaster County much as it does today. It will be shaped not only by what happens here, but by policies and events that originate in the state, region, country and world. We have witnessed the effects of imbalances in trade policy, along with the more recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and the changes a global pandemic can have on food production and food security. How much more will global events likely play into the industry moving forward? It stands to reason that it will always bear significance.
Farmers are the original stewards of the land – toiling since the beginning of time to produce food for families and their communities. They are the original innovators finding ways to make work easier and more efficient. The Lancaster County agriculture community has been known to be an industry leader, and a sought-after place to work and observe farming practices. The industry’s devotion and innovation today will preserve Lancaster County’s ability to be an industry leader tomorrow.
Messick Farm Equipment, Inc.
Chair, Lancaster County Agriculture Council.