A world without cattle?

Growing the Land

By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)

A world without cattle would be no world at all.

GL45-Earth Day(Bunting).jpgThe health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we celebrate Earth Day and as climate change discussions are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat are healthy for the planet and its people.

How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?

This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.

A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel…

View original post 1,062 more words

Road to recovery

KansasFire4.jpgBy Sherry Bunting April 7, 2017

If there is one thing to come down the road of recovery from a tragedy in agriculture, it is the sense of community that agriculturalists make business-as-usual. It is the matter-of-fact way in which people are prompted to help each other, and the humility with which help is offered that allows proud and self-reliant fellow farmers and ranchers to accept.

All know that livelihoods and legacies are on the line, pending the external forces that cannot be controlled, and that, in an instant, a storm, fire, or other natural disaster could change everything.

KansasFire5

While driving through Ashland and Englewood, Kansas on Saturday heading back to Pennsylvania from other work in the Midwest, the post-wildfire realities stretched for miles.

Kansas250.jpg

Intermittent wheat pasture is credited with saving hundreds of lives.

It was a rain-soaked day, just what the land needs to recover. New life was springing forth, adding lushness to the intermittent wheat pastures that had provided refuge – credited with saving hundreds of human and animal lives as they interrupted the fires that spread rapidly through the dry grasslands and provided a safe haven for evacuees when roads were blocked during the fire.

Kansas246.jpg

Timely rains are softening the charred lands with emerging hints of green, red and gold, framing the wildfire zones as the Painter slowly re-fills this empty palette. Residents say that the rain has helped a lot, and the grasses will explode within the next two weeks in some areas. The hay being sent has been a godsend. And the move by the Trump administration to authorize emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas – the three states which were most heavily impacted by ongoing wildfires – will help.

Kansas7.jpg

But it is the Sandhills of southwest Kansas that catch your breath. The Starbuck fire — that claimed over 500,000 of the total 711,000 acres burned in Kansas the first week of March — had burned so hot, sinking down through the sandy soil like a sponge, that many wonder if the grasslands will come back more than spotty at best in areas where windswept sand dunes present a desert-like appearance. There are areas with nothing on top, leading to lingering concerns about feeding surviving cattle.

Firefighters noted this was unlike anything they had seen in their 20 to 30 years. They described driving 60 to 70 mph, and being outrun by the fast-moving fire, seeing it move right past them.

Only time will tell how some of the acres will respond to the timely rains.

rain.jpg

One thing is for certain, the help of fellow farmers and ranchers via donations of hay, fencing supplies, work crews, orphaned calf care, and fundraising — all of it represent blessings beyond measure.

As Ashland resident Rick Preisner put it: “Everyone here was shell-shocked at first. Everything changed in an instant. It was difficult to know where to start. Then the help came pouring in and it lifted this community up.”

w2017MW-265

Ashland is ‘home’ for Roddy Strang with sister Rhonda at Gardiner Angus, where their father worked 26 years.

“No one here is saying no to the hay that’s been coming,” said Roddy Strang. “They know they will need feed for a while here.” Strang trains horses and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife and children, but he grew up in Ashland around the Gardiner Angus Ranch, where his father worked for 26 years.

Not only did he fill his livestock trailer with 250 compact alfalfa bales and some fencing for the trip “home” to the annual Gardiner Angus production sale Saturday (April 1), he helped connect the dots for Lancaster County dairy farmer Aaron Hess of Hess Dairy in Mount Joy and his neighbor Arlyn Martin. Martin drove the 1500 miles last week with a load of 36 large square bales from Hess, along with 1800 fence posts and 91 rolls of barbed wire the men procured with funds they had raised and with many companies offering equipment and supplies free or with discounts.

They worked with Kevin Harrop, of Harrop Hay and Bale, Exton. Harrop grew up on a dairy farm and today runs a hay brokering and custom harvesting business in southeast Pennsylvania. Between Harrop and James Hicks of Meadow Springs Farm, they filled another truck with 42 large square bales. Harrop and Martin set out for Kansas early last week, delivered the hay and fencing to Ashland Cooperative Feed and Seed by Wednesday, and were home by Saturday.

w2017MW-283.JPG

For Strang, the mission was personal. He stayed for the Gardiner Angus sale Saturday, where a few cows were purchased for the return trip to Virginia.

For those involved with the donations from southeast Pennsylvania — as for the numerous others organizing convoys over the past three weeks from Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, northwest Pennsylvania, and more — the mission to bring hay to fire-torn regions in four states was something they didn’t really think twice about. And it is something they don’t want recognition for.

The only fanfare being given to these hay donations is the sentiment of “God Bless America.” As Harrop explains it: “We saw it the Facebook posts, and we knew people out there, so we called to see what was going on and to figure out exactly what they would need,” he said in a phone call from the road last week.

Harrop put it best when he explained that people helping out do not want publicity or pats on the back for their own sakes, but they sure don’t mind if others share and publicize what they are doing for the sake of showing the world how farmers and ranchers network and move forward to get things done.

“In a small way, we just want to help keep this network going,” said Harrop. “The need is great in the wildfire zone. The mainstream media and the government are ignoring this. Farmers all over the country have responded.”

In fact, hundreds of trucks with hay and fencing and other needed supplies have poured into the affected areas of southwest Kansas, eastern Colorado and the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle region. While some areas are saying they have enough hay, for now, southwest Kansas is particularly hard hit in this regard, and people are thankful for the trucks that continue to come – 200 of them, in fact, last Saturday, alone. The list of states represented is too numerous to be sure to acknowledge them all. Relief organizers say they have received calls from over 20 states. Plans are also underway for moving 1000 large bales that have been donated in Greene and Washington counties, Pennsylvania in the near future.
RainHelpsHayToo

“That is their lives out there. That’s what they do, and it’s not like they have a lot to fall back on,” said Aaron Hess after securing a load of large bale hay from his dairy onto Arlyn Martin’s truck. “I was just seeing the posts on Facebook, so I called up the Ashland co-op and they put me in touch with the guy in charge. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Teams of volunteers have helped remove damaged fencing. Crews, tools and materials to re-fence perimeters are the priority now.

Strang notes that the recipients are amazed by the outpouring of people wanting to come out to the middle of nowhere and help. “It is emotional,” he admitted. “There are some good people in a bad way. They aren’t going to ask for the help, but we see the need and we know if it were us, they would help.”

Even in this time when agriculture is taking such a severe economic hit, people step up. That’s how agriculture rolls.

20170401_162921.jpg

(Above) “From the Ashes” artwork displayed Saturday by Joel Milford of Fowler, Kansas from a photo captured by Cole Gardiner as he found this cow and her newborn calf a day or two after the fire. Milford’s painting was auctioned Saturday during the Gardiner Angus production sale, raising $35,000 and prints are still being sold for $200 each to benefit the wildfire relief efforts of the Ashland Community Foundation. Nearly 100 prints have been sold thus far. To purchase a print for wildfire relief, contact Jan Endicott, at the Stockgrowers Bank in Ashland, Kansas at jan@stockgrowersbank.com or 620-635-4032. Prints are $200 plus $15 shipping and 6.5% Kansas state sales tax. 

How you can help

Wildfire relief organizers are indicating that the best way for distant donors to help is to provide monetary donations for transporting nearby hay and resources to the areas affected by the wildfires.

Supplies and funding for the volunteer care of orphaned calves is also requested. Follow the progress of 4-Hers and other volunteers caring for these calves at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas.

In addition, auctions are being organized to benefit wildfire funds. For example, a heifer donated by Oklahoma West Livestock Market was auctioned 105 times on March 8 to garner $115,449 with proceeds going to the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief Fund. Similar ideas are creating a ripple response throughout the agriculture community and can be replicated anywhere. Visit Livestock Marketing Association  for these auction notes and efforts.

Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize this idea to fund the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the fire-ravaged areas of the High Plains through means of raising cash. For information about how to participate in this and to find a list of upcoming auctions, as well as how to set one up, contact Trent Loos at (515) 418-8185.

To give supplies and trucking or to donate funds to foundations for direct wildfire relief, contact the state-by-state resources below.

Kansas

Monetary donations: Ashland Community Foundation/Wildfire Relief Fund at www.ashlandcf.com or P.O. Box 276, Ashland, KS 67831. The Kansas Livestock Association/Wildfire Relief Fund at 6031 SW 37th St., Topeka, KS 66614.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Call Ashland Feed and Seed at (620) 635-2856. (Ashland Feed and Seed is also taking credit card orders over the phone for feed and milk replacer or other supplies for ranchers in the area.)

Texas

Monetary donations: Texas Department of Agriculture STAR Fund.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Ample hay has been received for two to three weeks, so call to see if and when more is needed. Fencing supplies are needed, which can go to the Agrilife supply points. Contacts are J.R. Sprague at (806) 202-5288 for Lipscomb, Mike Jeffcoat at (580) 467-0753 for Pampa, and Andy Holloway at (806) 823-9114 for Canadian.

For questions about donations or relief efforts, contact Texas A&M Extension at (806) 677-5628.

Colorado

Monetary donations: Colorado Farm Bureau Foundation Disaster Fund at 9177 E. Mineral Circle, Centennial, CO 80112 and visit http://coloradofarmbureau.com/disasterfund/

Hay, trucking and fencing: Contact Kent Kokes (970) 580-8108, John Michal (970) 522-2330, or Justin Price (970) 580-6315.

Oklahoma

Monetary donations: Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief at P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148 or www.okcattlemen.org.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Contact Harper County Extension at (580) 735-2252 or Buffalo Feeders at (580) 727-5530.

Other states organizing deliveries

Several states outside of the wildfire area are organizing assistance and deliveries. Find those resources at http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High plains fires take lives, spark spirit

Convoys of trucks bringing hay to the areas affected by March wildfires have come from central Texas, southwest Oklahoma, central Kansas and from Nebraska, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio and now funds for fuel are being raised to bring 1000 round bales from western Pennsylvania to southwest Kansas… as farmers and ranchers across the country pull together in amazing ways to help their peers with forage for cattle after wildfires decimated grasslands and stored hay in the High Plains. Derrick Carlisle of Claysville, Pennsylvania reports that nearly 1000 round bales of hay have been donated from farms in Greene and Washington counties, and a trucking company has agreed to transport the hay to Ashland, Kansas “at fuel cost.” Now, funds are being raised quickly to buy fuel to transport the hay. Individuals and businesses wanting to help provide funds for fuel, should contact Washington County Cattlemen’s Association president Brian Hrutkay at 724-323-5815.

To help with the ongoing relief efforts for ranchers affected by the wildfires, visit http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx to see various contacts for ways to help listed by the states affected as well as coordinated efforts in other states like Kentucky and Minnesota that are planning deliveries.

 Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize a rebuilding effort through means of raising cash. Various auctions are already set and the idea can be replicated. For information about how to participate in this, contact Trent Loos at 515.418.8185 or check out his Rural Route radio
Texas3254(TAMU)

“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion.”

Recap reprinted from Farmshine, March 17, 2017

ASHLAND, Kan. — High Plains ranchers are always on guard for the combination of March winds and wildfires. When the two conspire together, the result can rapidly turn devastating and deadly. That was the situation last week in southwest Kansas, the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle and eastern Colorado.

All told, the wildfires on March 6 consumed around 1.7 million acres of grassland, 33 homes, over 200 farm structures, an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 adult cows along with untold numbers of calves, horses and wildlife. In Texas and Oklahoma, over 5000 hogs perished in separate facilities.

Tragically, some of the affected ranching families in the Panhandle suffered the ultimate loss of loved ones. Seven people lost their lives, at least five while trying to herd cattle to safety before becoming trapped in the rapidly moving fire when the high winds changed direction.

The livestock losses are particularly heavy in southwest Kansas, where a local veterinarian estimates 3000 to 6000 beef cattle have perished; however, an accurate assessment is still weeks away. In the Panhandle, Texas A&M Agrilife extension reports preliminary loss estimates of 2500 adult cows, plus additional calves.

Two consecutive years of above average moisture provided the good grass growth that ended up fueling multiple fires in early March. The previous 60 days had turned it tinder-dry, together with the high winds of up to 60-70 mph, creating the perfect storm. The rapidly moving ‘Starbuck’ fire in northeast Oklahoma and southwest Kansas will go down as the largest and most devastating single fire in Kansas state history. In the Panhandle, the March 6 fire is being called the third worst in Texas history.

While there are some dairies in these areas, extension agents and veterinarians report that no dairy cattle were impacted. But dairy producers and calf ranch operators are among the ag community throughout the region, and beyond, responding to the immediate needs of the region’s ranchers.

Occurring at a vulnerable time, the fires have orphaned many newborn calves. In fact, one purebred Angus operation in Ashland, Kansas described the confluence of emotion – simultaneously dealing with the grisly task of locating and putting-down hundreds of adult cows while gathering to the corrals over 100 survivors for further monitoring and evaluation – 30 of them having their calves in the days immediately following the fire.

Many of the ranchers have lost much of their stored hay supply, and the region’s unburned grasslands are a good 60 days away from greenup — provided they get rain. Surviving cattle are being pulled onto wheat pasture and into corrals — making the immediate priority that of acquiring the hay necessary to feed a good 15,000 surviving livestock in southwest Kansas and over 10,000 in the Panhandle.

With fences to build and repair, feed to secure, cows still calving and long term plans and decisions to make, there’s no time to bottle and bucket feed calves two and three times a day, particularly those ranchers who have also lost their homes.

OrphanCalves01(K-State)County 4-H clubs put the word out early, that youth members would take-in bucket calves to help the ranchers who have so many other things to do in the recovery. (Follow them on Facebook at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas)

Veterinarians are reaching out to colleagues in the hard-hit areas. Dr. Randy Spare at Ashland Veterinary Center has been organizing some of the needs. He received a call late last week from Dr. Tera Barnhardt.

The 2014 K-State graduate operates a solo bovine practice for dairies and feedlots two hours north of Ashland. While doing preg checks at Deerfield Calf Feeders — where dairy replacement heifers are raised near Johnson, Kansas – Dr. Barnhardt and the general manager Cary Wimmer came up with the idea of offering temporary homes and care in the calf ranch hutches for orphaned calves from Ashland.

OrphanCalves02(Barnhardt)

Many ag companies have donated milk replacer, feed, pharmaceuticals and other animal care products — and along with hay donations from other ranches — have come personal items for the families who have lost their homes and belongings.

“Our hearts go out to the ranchers,” said Dr. Barnhardt. “I’m just glad we could help connect some dots and take something off their plate.”

Some of the orphaned Angus calves now at Deerfield are from the Giles Ranch, Ashland, where three family members lost their homes and where they had significant cow losses. At Deerfield, as with the 4-Hers who have volunteered calf care, these baby calves will get the individual care and supervision they need while their owners deal with the recovery process.

“All aspects of this industry are coming together,” said Barnhardt. “It has been impressive. Even the workers at the calf ranch are inspired and proud to take care of these babies.”

As the immediate hustle to triage cattle and secure feed and care for survivors shifts to a longer term plan for coordinating the ongoing relief efforts, those close to the situation are encouraging people who want to help to consider monetary donations needed to cover trucking costs to get donated hay and materials to the affected ranches.

“We don’t want to turn down hay because some of our ranchers are just coming to grips with what their losses are and what their needs will be,” said Dr. Spare. The biggest issue with hay donations right now is the trucking bottleneck. In the short term, the tangibles have been necessary because it takes time for the various foundations to pool monetary donations and get resources to the ranchers.

“Farmers have called from as far away as Vermont and Wisconsin wanting to donate hay, and right now we have 800 bales available nearby in Waco, Texas if we could find the trucking,” said Spare.

Convoys of trucks — semiloads and pickups hauling flatbed trailers — brought an estimated 3000 round bales to the fire-affected regions over the weekend. With more hay available in central Texas and nearby Nebraska, the biggest need at the moment is more trucks or funds to help pay the fuel costs to transport the donated hay.

OklaHayConvoy6593(Massee)

(above) Convoys of trucks with hay headed to the wildfire-affected areas over the weekend. This one was organized by Mike and Conner Franetovich of southwest Oklahoma carrying 260 round bales to the ranchers in northwest Oklahoma. Photo by LaQuita Massee/Images By LQ

“When the hay trucks rolled in, it was like the cavalry arrived,” said Greg Gardiner of Gardiner Angus, Ashland. The well-known Angus breeder lost over 500 adult cows, mainly donor cows and spring calvers. They have over 1500 survivors but lost all of their hay — over 5000 round bales and their horse hay as well.

Greg’s brother Mark and his wife Eva lost their home, three of their horses and their dogs to the fire, despite their efforts to free them as the fire changed direction. He was behind them with the horse trailer when the black smoke descended making it impossible to see. He spent a half hour not knowing if they made it out.

“This thing is of biblical proportions, but it all seems small to me. My brother is alive,” said Gardiner. He described the landscape that burned from one end of the ranch to the other as an “apocalyptic wasteland” that will eventually come back stronger with enough rain.

“We’re praying for rain,” said Spare, describing dirty skies as the wind lifts the gray sand over charred soils.

Texas3316(TAMU).jpg

While prayers are most coveted, those who want to help are urged to contact organizers in the various affected states (see below) to see what the needs are as community leaders develop an ongoing relief plan.

“We are still contacting ranchers,” said Spare. “Some are saying they don’t need hay and feel embarrassed to take it, but the grass is all gone, and we are 60 days from good grass (in unburned areas) if it rains, so we are trying to help people understand as they make their plans, that they will need to have something to feed.”

Texas3341(TAMU)

Make no mistake, this will be a long recovery for ranchers who have lost 50 to 90% of their herds and multiple years of income, as well as their stockpiled forage and grasslands.

“I told CNN that we as ranchers are stewards of the grasslands, and that the only way we have something to sell for an income is to sell grass through the cows that are eating it. We are working to take care of that and start all over again,” said Dr. Spare, who had significant losses among his own cow herd and was relieved when his son showed up in the driveway Tuesday morning, taking time away from vet school before spring exams to take care of the home front while he worked with other ranchers and their cattle.

As the reality sinks in…

“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion, from the people who come alongside with prayers and help,” said Spare. “Many don’t know how they’ll get through this, but we know we will get through it.”

Texas3300(TAMU)

 

 

 

 

Ode to long days, warm sunshine… see you next spring.

Ode to copious doses of vitamin D, long days, warm sunshine and rural life.

Growing the Land

daisies

As I sort photos for a newspaper story… flipping past those randomly shot from the road, it seems a good time to share a collection of random thoughts recorded while driving through America’s Heartland from deadline to deadline the last few summers. Much of it, the things I see, but don’t have time to stop for as I’m always running late for the next deadline. Enjoy this ode to copious does of Vitamin D, long days, warm sunshine, and rural life… 

Birds of flight soar between tufts of congregating clouds. Snowy white egrets glow sunset silver above crystal blue lakes… Appearing out of nowhere, they punctuate the landscape and reflect the vivid sky.

thingsyousee100

Working metal parked by barns take on the rust red hue.

thingsyousee82

Birds dance atop fields of corn … a burst of orange Tanager, brilliant Blue Bird, the acrobatic, ever-present Swallows, A woodpecker’s crisp white-wing slices  the air…

thingsyousee5752

and swallow-like … the sweeps and turns of the yellow crop-duster —…

View original post 400 more words

Thanking the Milkshake Man for his heart of gold

SmithGoldenMilkshake6657w2.jpg

Waiting in the wings so as not to spoil the surprise, Dave Smith’s family was on hand to celebrate the ‘milkshake man’s passion, dedication and commitment to Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers and the next generation, which earned him the unanimous appreciation of his peers in the form a special Golden Milkshake award. Not only have the milkshake sales helped get fresh milk into the hands less fortunate but also helped the Dairymen’s Assn give $1 million in grants over the last 15 years for programs geared for the next generation of dairy farmers. Dave and wife Sharon are flanked by son Joel (left) and daughter Erin and her husband Aaron Wachter. 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 17, 2017

LANCASTER, Pa. — Leaders of the Center for Dairy Excellence (CDE), Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association and Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP) pulled off a surprise honorary service award during the 2017 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit here at the Lancaster Marriott last Wednesday evening, February 8.

Dave Smith, known practically everywhere as ‘the milkshake man’ was presented a special Golden Milkshake award for his dedication and commitment to Pennsylvania’s dairy industry.

Not only has Dave been the driving force behind the ubiquitous Pennsylvania Dairymen’s milkshake sales, and more recently fried mozzarella cubes, at the Pennsylvania Farm Show and other venues, he was instrumental in the launch of the Fill a Glass with Hope campaign — facilitating dairy relationships with Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and Feeding Pennsylvania to raise money to put fresh milk in food banks across the state.

dave-smith6637A surprised and humbled Dave Smith was speechless at first, but quickly took the podium to say:

“You dairy farmers are truly the reason for the success of the milkshakes.

“This is your product. You work hard to make a quality product. Consumers want what you have.”

SmithGoldenMilkshake6648w.jpg

Dave (left) was lauded by his peers Don Risser (second left), president of the CDE Foundation, Doug Harbach (right), president of PDMP and Reid Hoover (second right), president of the Pa. Dairymen’s Association for his continual focus on improving the state’s dairy industry for future generations through promotion and combining this with avenues for getting dairy into the hands of those less fortunate.

In addition to serving as the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association executive director since 1995 and serving on the board for six additional years, Dave has been active in leadership with Young Farmer’s, 4-H dairy club and 4-H dairy judging as well as being an active member of Lebanon County Farm Bureau and the Pennsylvania Guernsey Breeders’ Association.

“Dave has given tirelessly to our organization and its mission for the past 22 years,” said Hoover, who credited his oversight with the Association’s success in selling milkshakes and dairy foods at the Farm Show. “Dave is continually looking ahead to find new markets for fluid milk and to put milk in the hands of those who need it most.”

381302_3132924326184_1096442989_n

Dave shows the mozzarella blocks bought and cut into cubes for Farm Show fried cheese cubes. In 2014, Dave estimated the Dairymen’s Assn moved 3 tons of mozzarella in 8 days in this delicious Farm Show treat that is only growing in popularity at Farm Show since then.

Through expansion and new product introduction, gross sales have been increased approximately 500% in 15 years, allowing for $1 million in grants to be distributed to dairy and agriculture programs focusing on next generation development.

“We appreciate Dave’s active promotion and advocacy for dairy youth,” said Risser. “We are incredibly grateful for his efforts that bring success to these programs.”

Recently, Dave has been working out the details for the Calving Corner, a cow birthing center that will be part of the 2018 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

The fourth generation of his dairy farm family, Dave grew up raising and caring for the Guernsey herd in Annville, received his B.S. in Dairy Science from Virginia Tech and co-managed the farm with his father for a number of years, including the former dairy store where Ja-Mar Dairy’s milk was processed, bagged and sold until the late 1980s.

Today, the milk cows are gone, but Dave and his son Joel raise 140 head of cattle and farm 400 acres of ground.

milkshake

403087_3132926006226_781277188_n

smithgoldenmilkshake6657w2

Fire extinguished. Help, hope ignited.

worden4042w

2013 Photo: Chuck and Vanessa Worden

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, Jan. 20, 2017

CASSVILLE, N.Y. — On Saturday evening, January 14, the entire Worden family was together at the dining room table celebrating Chuck and Vanessa’s birthdays, including daughter Lindsey who was home visiting from Vermont.

By daybreak Sunday, the family was facing an uncertain future, but was lifted forward by friends and neighbors showing up when news spread quickly of the fire at Wormont Dairy, Cassville, New York.

“I had just walked through the cows and done a little clipping that night, so proud of how the whole herd looked and how well they were responding to the changes we had been making in the ration and fresh cow protocols,” Lindsey Worden reflected. “Less than four hours later, I was calling 911.”

Worden1.jpg

Photo from Kate Worden

Wayne and Mark Worden, who live off the farm but nearby, were throwing on clothes to come down and join their father Chuck and brother Eric in rescuing calves and heifers penned in the box stall barn adjoining their parlor/holding area and office, which was totally engulfed in flames.

Their mother Vanessa had gotten up in the middle of the night and saw the flames from the window.

“Just as Eric was carrying out the last calf, the fire trucks arrived and the barn was totally filled with smoke and starting to catch fire as well,” Lindsey reported. “Volunteer firefighters, friends and neighbors were pouring in. We managed to wrangle all the baby calves and young heifers into a bay of our machine shed, and got the older show heifers into our heifer freestall, while dad and the boys were helping the firefighters.”

Amazingly, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction of its usual course – sparing the main freestall barn and Wormont Dairy’s 270 milking cows from damage.

By 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning, “It was quiet,” Lindsey shares. “At daybreak we met to try and figure out a game plan for how to get 275 cows milked on a farm with no milking equipment.”

16143230_10106250973416047_629635797440443966_n.jpg

Photo provided by Lindsey Worden

Not one person or animal was harmed, and the family was so thankful, but reality was sinking in. Now what?

“It was amazing,” said Vanessa. “There are no words for the way people just showed up and lifted us up.”

Chuck said a neighbor started the ball rolling to place the cows, and people came with trucks and trailers lining the farm lane. “I didn’t make one call, people just came,” he said.

As Wayne and Mark noted, “It was humbling.”

Worden4.jpg

Photo provided by Lindsey Worden

Before long, with the help of some awesome neighbors, the Wordens had figured out two farms that could take the majority of their milking cows (heifers and dry cows are staying), and a short while later, cattle trailers started showing up, as did more friends and neighbors to help get them loaded.

“At one point, we had at least 10 cattle trailers lined up out the driveway, and we got animals relocated more efficiently than I would have ever imagined possible,” Lindsey reflects. “We are so thankful to the friends and first responders who showed up at 1:00 a.m. on Sunday morning to help get our immediate emergency under control.”

Friends and neighbors came from near and far – bringing trailers, helping to get cattle loaded and moved, helping to get scared cows milked off site.

“People brought enough food to feed an army for a week,” said Vanessa.

“At 7 a.m., my first thought is that we were probably just have to sell everything, but then as neighbors showed up, and connections were made, and trucks started moving cows, you start to feel how hope can change the whole outlook,” said Vanessa. “By 3:00 p.m., our friends and neighbors had given us hope that we can do this. I was actually happy yesterday. There is no way I could be sad after all that everyone has done, after all the hope they have given us.”

Each member of the family has so much gratitude for the dairies that opened their barns and took in cows. The 270 cows were moved to three locations by 3 p.m. Sunday.

“What an incredibly humbling day,” Wayne shared Sunday evening. “There are no words to describe the support we received and are still receiving with the cows. Thank you is not enough to say about what we were all able to accomplish today. What an incredible community the dairy industry is.”

chuck-and-sons.jpg

2013 photo Wayne, Mark, Eric and Chuck Worden

Electricians worked all day Sunday to restore power – light, heat and water. “And companies worked with us quickly to help us with things like restoring our DairyComp records on a new computer, getting basic medical and breeding supplies and all those little things that we need to keep the wheels on the bus this week,” Lindsey observes. “It is a really strange feeling to literally have none of those everyday supplies like calf bottles, navel dip, ear tags, IV kits, etc.

Everyone who reached out with suggestions for help or just kind words, prayers and encouragement, by call, text message, email, and facebook, or dropping by in person. We are so very grateful.”

Eric shared how “truly overwhelmed” he was by the amount of support received from farmers across the state following the fire. “Thank you for making the day go easier,” he said. “This is a tough blow for my family, but we will come back stronger than ever.”

Adds Lindsey, “By some miracle, not a single animal was lost, not even our lone barn cat!”

While there is no question, “we’ve got a tough road to hoe to get back on our feet over the next several months,” said Lindsey, “with some luck and the attitude everyone in the family has maintained over the last two days, I have no question we will come out on the other side.”

“Words cannot express how thankful we are,” Vanessa said. “The way people reached out to us in those early hours gave us hope. Hope is an important thing. It’s what we give each other, and it is amazing.”

As the family meets with insurance adjusters, lenders, builders, equipment specialists and others to chart a course for moving forward, the ready support of others in the darkest hour serves as a continual reminder of what the dairy community is made of – people who keep putting one foot in front of the other and helping their fellow producers get through times like this.

Even more importantly, the family notes that this dairy community is quick to give each other hope — that they’re not alone when confronted with a life-changing event — that when it seems everything is coming to a halt, it is the hope brought by others that carries everyone forward.

Crews from six fire departments responded to the fire at Wormont in the wee hours of Sunday morning, January 15, with others on standby.

Cleanup continues as the family pulls together to make decisions for the future – a future that they say reinforces how special the dairy industry is and how humbled they are to be part of it.

chuck-eric-lindsey.jpg

Aug. 2016 Eric, Lindsey and Chuck at county fair

wormont

2013 photo Wormont Dairy

Navigating Obamacare in Rural America

Some tips, no easy answers: Experiences vary by age, income, zipcode, family size

The flip has flopped: How ACA has produced a new class of ‘uninsured’ and ‘under-insured’ – The middle-aged, middle-incomed, middle-America who have paid in all their lives now have trouble accessing health insurance and affordable care.

buffaloprairie6872x

 

Reprinted from Farmshine, Dec. 30, 2016

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — From discussions in person and by posts to Facebook and Twitter, farmers and small business owners — deemed self-employed in Pennsylvania and across the country — were finding a rude awakening ahead of the December 15 deadline to enroll for January 1, 2017 health care insurance coverage.

In addition, those who had a plan in 2016, were automatically enrolled in new plans with premiums that increased by 30 to 60%, for which they have already received bills and were not permitted to cancel (until after December 21) – without first working with a marketplace administrator to replace the automatic plan with something else “from the market.”

From personal experience, I can say this was a cruel joke.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) marketplace exchange — otherwise known as “the marketplace” at healthcare.gov — conducts open enrollment only once a year from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31. The first of the deadlines, Dec. 15 for Jan. 1 coverage, was extended to Dec. 19. Those enrolling between Dec. 20 and Jan. 15 could start coverage Feb. 1, and those enrolling Jan. 16 to 31, could start coverage March 1. After Jan. 31, the whole deal closes – until next year.

Thoughts on the marketplace coverage vary depending on one’s age, zipcode, income and the number of family dependents.

From firsthand experience, the 50-something empty-nesters, like my husband and I, have found that in our zipcode of 17519, the lowest plan available was $1609 per month with a $12,000 deductible. In fact it was the only “bronze plan” available. The gold and silver options were upwards of $2200/month.

While families with multiple dependents have a higher income threshold for getting a government subsidy to pay part of the premium, couples of middle age with no dependents have a subsidy income threshold of $65,000 combined total income. But at $70,000 a year, a $1609/month premium is 27% of annual income. Now add in some health care bills all the way up to the deductible of $12,000 and the combined out-of-pocket for both care and premiums would be 44% of annual income.

When inquiry for catastrophic coverage only, the marketplace administrator said this option is available only for individuals 30 years of age and younger.

It is no wonder that many farmers and self-employed small business owners responded to my request for feedback on their marketplace experiences with this sentiment: “We are opting out of the insurance for 2017 and paying the fine and hoping that the new administration will fix the insurance mess.”

Those without qualifying insurance in 2017 will be fined 2.5% of their income when filing their 2017 income taxes, but that is certainly less than the 27% the premium would cost a couple of humble means. The government deems that you can afford said insurance if you make more than $20,800 a year for a couple and $10,400 a year for an individual.

While the results of the recent presidential and congressional elections bring the potential for replacement of the Obamacare system that is clearly squeezing the middle-aged and middle-income of middle-America, there are some immediate concerns voiced by farmers and small family business owners.

For starters, the ability to purchase group plans for businesses made up of family members has ended. That ended in 2014. Today, a farm that employs full-time family members without any full-time W-2 employees getting coverage on payroll cannot purchase group plans.

Inquiries to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau indicate that farms can continue to qualify for a group plan as long as they have one W-2 employee being covered by the plan in addition to an unlimited number of family member employees.

Such group plans are far more cost-effective than what is available to individuals, couples and families on the Obamacare marketplace or through an insurance broker.

There are commercial brokers selling insurance, but the plans they offer still go back to the terms of the Obamacare marketplace. In fact, in our personal example, the Highmark plan we had this year was of course discontinued (this was the case with almost every plan as new pieces of the Obamacare legislation came online this year). The lowest-priced option through Highmark would have cost us $1609/month for $12,000 combined deductible. The lowest-priced option through the marketplace at healthcare.gov was $1608/month for $12,000 combined deductible. A difference of one dollar a month and virtually no difference in terms.

Over the past six weeks, we, like others, received emails and phone calls from companies offering insurance plans, only to find out that these plans were not available to folks in our zipcode, after attempting to apply.

UPMC is one example. Upon hearing that a dairy producer in western Pennsylvania was able to secure better insurance for half of Highmark’s price through UPMC, I applied. After filling out all of the information and pushing the tab, a screen popped up: “Not available in your area.”

The zipcode struck again. Our area doesn’t qualify for multi-state plans.

As one farm family found in Pennsylvania’s northern tier, multi-state plans are available in only some zipcodes of the state. A multi-state plan is essential for families relying on doctors and health care providers on the other side of the state border. In some cases, these doctors and health care providers are far more accessible than anything in Pennsylvania, but finding insurance that allows use of these services was difficult, and expensive, for some border-dwellers.

One option people are exercising is off-farm employment. One producer noted that she specifically went back to work in an off-farm job for the sole purpose of providing health insurance for her family. “Everyone misses mom at home,” she writes. “But if we can save $1700 a month, it just made sense.”

Several producers reported hiring a part-time employee to cover ‘mom’s’ farm chores while mom gets a job to provide health care was a necessary trade off to get coverage this coming year.

On the other hand, an ag-related small business owner notes that his wife was going to pick up some extra hours at her part-time job to help pay the escalation in the premium cost of their marketplace plan. Upon further analysis, this extra income would put them over the threshold for the government subsidy, meaning that they would end up paying even more for their insurance if his wife worked more hours.

“In a way this system serves as a dis-incentive to work and earn income,” he wrote.

(That is true here as well. If my husband and I worked less at our self-employed businesses, we could perhaps qualify for a subsidy and be able to afford the rock-bottom bronze plan at a subsidized rate. Our combined income is about $5,000 over the annual threshold for our age with no dependents. So, instead of being incentivized to work and earn more to continue to build self reliance for our future retirement, we actually contemplated working less to get the subsidy. That contemplation lasted all of five minutes because it is diametrically opposed to everything we believe in and stand for as hard-working Americans.)

“I have clients doing a variety of things,” a dairy nutritionist reports. “My plain clients get their insurance through a church group plan. A few have a spouse taking a full time job and then hire part-time labor to do the farm chores.”

He observes that health insurance costs “have always been a problem for farmers, made worse since the ‘un-affordable healthcare act.’”

Some have suggested milk cooperatives offer member health insurance plans. A quick survey reveals this is easier for large multi-state cooperatives that already provide a long list of member benefits that can be purchased. For example, dairy farm member-owners of Dairy Farmers of America can purchase group plan insurance through DFA’s Agri-Services Agency.

ASA works with a long list of health insurance carriers across the country, and offers quotes for DFA members at its website. But these are group plans, not individual family plans.

Several members have reported this works fine for farms seeking group plans that include at least one W-2 employee; however, for farms that rely on all family labor, with or without part-time student labor, the alternative, again is to head back to the Obamacare marketplace exchange for a personal plan.

Some dairy producer associations are looking into developing group plans that can be made available to individuals and families in their states. Kentucky Dairy Development Council, for example, just began offering a group plan to the state’s dairy farm families. Director Maury Cox notes that the future of this program is uncertain, but that as the number of participants potentially increases, the plan available could become better and more affordable.

Meanwhile, many farmers and self-employed folks responded to my inquiry with reports of converting from conventional insurance to “health sharing” plans through Samaritan Ministries and Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM). These options qualify as insurance to avoid the tax penalty, however the operate differently from conventional insurance. Some farmers reported using CHM as their sole health insurance while others give to CHM to obtain help sharing their deductible costs of their regular insurance.

Those who have been with CHM for several years seem to have very positive things to say about health sharing. But there are caps. For severe situations where health care needs exceed $125,000, the outcomes are less predictable. The health sharing systems are not contracts to pay. Once costs are above the cap, members can donate to help that member cover their costs. In this way, the health sharing plans follow the Christian example of caring and sharing.

Meanwhile, there are those who have found the new Obamacare system and its subsidized marketplace plans to be of great benefit.

Two dairy farmers contacted me anonymously for this report — one from Pennsylvania and the other from the Midwest. They shared with me the details of their positive experiences. Both are in their 40s and have school-age and college-age children. Both qualify for the subsidy and will pay around $600 to $700/month to insure their entire families with a much smaller deductible (gold plan).

One of the two respondents indicated his thankfulness for the Obamacare insurance that allowed his wife’s severe medical needs to be covered with no waiting period for pre-existing.

The other disclosed gross income of over $80,000 a year and was able to qualify for the subsidy due to having a large family of dependents. He said that some say to him that they are paying for his insurance because of the subsidy, and yet he says he does “not feel poor.” He asked whether those who are having trouble finding affordable insurance are perhaps not taking the time to completely fill out the income statements when applying.

On the other hand, another dairy farmer indicated that she did go through all of the application hoops previously, and was rudely surprised at the end of the year that they owed money after their taxes were evaluated.

When they first applied at the marketplace, they were told that their income qualified them not only for a subsidy of the insurance premium, but also for special health insurance programs for their children. Then, after the government healthcare folks went over their tax returns with a fine tooth comb, they ended up not qualifying and owing the federal government money for the subsidy that had cheapened their insurance throughout 2016.

This is a tricky accounting process for farm partnerships and LLCs where members of the partnership and LLC own and depreciate income producing assets within the LLC or partnership. An LLC member’s income tax obligation are considered differently in terms of deductions when it comes to income assessment for health insurance.

It is all so complex, and suffice it to say, the Obamacare marketplace has become a government arm linked inextricably now to the IRS. A concerning precedent. In fact, several farmers noted for this report that they spend time with their accountants a little earlier this year to look specifically at the health care issue and implications for yearend tax planning.

All across the country, people are seeking to navigate these many issues with many unknowns thrown into the brew.

As one rancher reported, their insurance agent sees the dichotomy in the current system, and that the rising costs are due in part to those who do not have coverage until they get sick, and then the company is forced to take them. This includes non-citizens whose healthcare costs are covered.

Some have suggested that instead of fining people for not having insurance, there be accountability that Americans have one year to get into a plan, and after that, insurance premiums for those previously uninsured would be at a rate that covers some of the million-plus hospital costs.

When asked about whether the Affordable Care Act can be ‘tweaked’ or if it must be started from scratch, Trent Loos, a member of President-elect Donald Trump’s ag advisory committee, says “I love driving a team of horses with my chuck wagon, and this health care system is the largest wreck of a team of horses I’ve ever seen. The wreck is so bad that the wagon has completely fallen apart.”

Just 30 days before the November 8 election, the Obama administration came out saying the average premium increase for health care insurance was 24%, “but don’t worry about it because the subsidy will cover that,” Loos recalls. “How much more disconnected can you be?”

For much of Middle-America, the premiums have gone up 30 to 60% (in our case 60%) and the working middle class largely do not qualify for the subsidy.

“I don’t know of any agriculture group that is even talking about coming up with a program for their members because they don’t know where to begin,” Loos says of the extremely complex Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.

Loos expects this to be tackled within the first 100 days of the new Trump administration in Washington. “If it is not tackled in the first 100 days, then every hope for the future will seem to be gone,” he said in a phone interview with Farmshine last week. “This is affecting every family in agriculture and beyond. It affects every family that relies upon themselves instead of the government.”

The solution? “Scrap it and start over,” Loos says. “This chuckwagon is dismantled on the ground. How can we glue it back together. Duct tape and baling wire are not enough for this one. President-elect Trump is very aware that this is something that needs to be fixed.”

-30-