Tell us about your farm operation
My wife, Edlyn, and I met at Delaware Valley College in the late 70’s and both graduated in 1979 with Bachelor of Science degrees in Animal Husbandry, Dairy Science and got married eight years later. While I was working for Agway, Inc., I got transferred in 1992 to manage the Union City, Pa. Farm Center and we bought a farm.
We rotationally graze both cattle and sheep on our 56-acre farm when Mother Nature will allow us. We take hay off additional 108 rented acres. Up here in Erie County, lake effect snow rolls in November and leaves in late March with average yearly totals of 120 to 136”. The benefit is a lot of soil moisture for upcoming season; however our ground doesn’t freeze under that snow pack. The heavy clay soils won’t support cattle without puck holes till early May. Grass starts growing when the evenings are over 45 degrees at night. So our grazing season is May 15 to October 1st.
We currently have around 140 brood ewes, 7 rams and lots of lambs. One of the breeds of sheep we raise is a Wiltshire Horned. If you cross a Wiltshire Horned with a Southdown, you’ll get a Horned Dorset. The breed was very popular in Great Britain before mechanical means were created for shearing – the first week of April the Wiltshire will start shedding their wool. You can literally pull off their wool at that time with your bare hands – we just let them do it themselves. All of our sheep shed their fleeces, some have wool fleeces and others are more of a course hair. We raise our sheep for meat and work with ethnic markets.
How did you become a Nationwide agent?
I became a Nationwide Insurance customer first. In 2004 we had an opportunity to purchase a flock of Wiltshire Horned sheep in Coffeyville, Kansas (hometown of Matt Dillion). On the way out the wind picked up the empty 16’ livestock trailer (I borrowed) and dragged us across Interstate 44 in Springfield, Missouri. When we stopped moving, the truck was between the interstate and a ravine – the trailer was down the ravine still attached by the safety chains & the lights on the trailer still worked. The insurance I had at that time didn’t properly cover the accident. After buying a new trailer in Kansas to haul home the sheep and give to our friend to replace the totaled trailer, we switched to his insurance company: Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance. I had been a Nationwide customer for four years when a friend mentioned that my agent was looking to hire a farm sales agent. Over the years I had learned of farmers who had poor customer/insurance experiences – I was determined to be accessible, honest and trustworthy. I enjoy taking the time to explain to potential clients what coverage they have now, what their risks are or could be, and creating a policy that minimizes those risks. I work for Bruns Insurance Services, LLC., one of four Nationwide agencies in Pennsylvania to receive Elite Certification status.
You chair the policy development process for Erie County Farm Bureau. Why is policy development important?
I joined Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (Clarion, Venango & Forest Counties) when I worked at Venango Conservation District. I had the opportunity to attend Annual Meeting, which awakened me to all this organization does. I interact daily with farmers and in listing to their conversations, I get ideas for policies for our county Annual Meeting. The key is recognizing the policy has to be specific and achievable not some vague theory. The challenge is to get enough people to understand the issue to make a change. Sometimes the change needs to be addressed by state or federal legislation; other times just local people. Policy development is recognition that the county listens to their members, any regular member can recommend a policy.
You have been involved with PFB’s State and National Legislative Conferences. What do you like about those events and speaking with lawmakers?
One of the best feelings is being recognized – whether it’s by a friend, family member or co-worker. It’s the same with our legislators. Very few people who work in Harrisburg or Washington, DC ever worked on a farm. By visiting the legislators’ offices as a group, Farm Bureau members remind these people of where their food comes from and what problems and hurdles are in our way.
Are you optimistic about the future of agriculture?
Of course I am. Being a farmer, I allow a lot of the burdens of farming to lie in the Lord’s hands – I don’t have control over the weather – too much or too little rain is very detrimental to a grazing operation. Are there difficult challenges – Yep, there sure are. Will what worked 20 years ago still be the best way of communicating or planting/harvesting - Nope!
Lastly, why are you a Farm Bureau member?
There are a number of monetary benefits and areas where you can save money with a Farm Bureau membership. They are nice, but true reason I belong is pride. When a group of people can discuss issues, come to a consensus based upon science, not emotion; and then publish these topics as policy that the whole organization will rally around until the proposed policy is accomplished-- that’s an organization I want to be part of. We first joined Farm Bureau after attending a public hearing about manure management. Neither of us had been to a public hearing before, and didn’t know what to expect other than the topic could become a burden to us depending upon DEP decisions. A few people spoke as individuals, then two gentlemen in suits took the podium speaking clearly and intelligently. After they were done, the DEP thanked the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau for their opinion – That sealed it for both of us. We want to belong to an organization that drove to DuBois at night for a public hearing about a topic that truly affects farmers; at that point the cost of membership didn’t matter.
After I joined, I tried to attend as many board meetings as possible. Any Farm Bureau member is welcomed to get involved. You will come to find that a lot of people recognized Farm Bureau, here in Erie County, in Harrisburg and in Washington D.C. It makes me Farm Bureau Proud!