Building Fences with the STOCKade Staple Gun


Whether on a livestock operation where it is important to keep critters in or on a vegetable farm where it is important to keep critters out, fencing is an unavoidable task.

Building and repairing a fence is one of those jobs that are as much a part of rural life as riding a tractor. Whether on a livestock operation where it is important to keep critters in or on a vegetable farm where it is important to keep critters out, fencing is an unavoidable task.

Anyone who has done fence work knows how exhausting it can be to drive nails or staples into an endless row of fence posts.

Andy and Sam Gardner know about fencing. At their Gardner Brothers Land, LLC, they feed out replacement heifers for dairy producers in the Northeast and along the mountains into Virginia. At any given time they may have as many as 600 to 1,000 head of curious heifers on the farm. They feed out the heifers, returning them to their home dairy when they are about to freshen.

In-between times, they do custom fencing for farms, businesses or government agencies.

The Gardner brothers are sold on the STOCKade ST400i staple gun. Although sold under the STOCKade name, it is made by a subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works. The 400i is the fuel cell version of the ST400, a pneumatic stapler that has been on the market for several years.

“With the 400i and the STOCKade insulators, we were able to install a line of fence with 500 insulators in less time with less fatigue on our guys and on us,” said Sam. Though they are still tweaking their routine to get the most efficient way to move between posts and install insulators, he said he is sold on the gun.

The stapler was developed for use at the sheep stations in Australia and New Zealand. The manufacturer since has begun marketing it elsewhere in the world. As part of their beta testing, several users in the United States were given units to try under local conditions.

“We don’t own one yet,” Andy said. “But we’re happy to have our hands on this loaner.”

Rick Jackmas, president of McArthur Lumber and Post, McArthur, Ohio, also recommends the ST400i stapler for fast, easy fence work. The unit shoots a 1.5- to 2-inch staple. “It will work with any type of wire that you would use that size staple with,” he said. “It will go in any rural fencing with any wood over 1.5 inches thick.”

Since most fencing jobs in this part of the world work with 1.75-inch staples, the unit fits right in with most users’ sweet spots. The unit is a top-loader for simple access.

“The 400i sets two, 2-inch staples every second. They are fully embedded in the wood with twice the pullout power of other staplers,” Jackmas said. “In fact, the staples are almost impossible to pull out.”

His business, McArthur, both sells the 400i and uses it for work for the states of Ohio and West Virginia and even for Victoria’s Secret.

“It takes 54 seconds to move between posts, putting four insulators per post,” Andy added.

He timed his efficiency on a run of 50 posts. “It took us just under a minute to install each post,” he said. There are two staples per insulator.

“I think it is very important to use the insulator that goes with the gun attachment,” Andy said. He noted that early vendor literature did not make it clear to use the insulator for high tensile applications.

“We are extremely satisfied with the product and will continue to use it in our applications/business, but I want the rest of the professionals out there like me to fully grasp what is being sold,” he said. “The prices are competitive so that’s not an issue.”

The crew working for Gardner Brothers Land is a professional bunch. “We hire good guys and pay them well,” Andy said. They also provide the crew with the best of equipment.

“We know we are spending good money on more efficient equipment,” Andy said. “But in the end we find we are saving money.”

Preventing Farm Theft


Thieves are opportunistic. They seek out easy targets and choose items that can quickly be tossed in the trunk of a car or a truck bed.

“In a lot of cases things are stolen because they are in an unlit, unsecured spot,” said Adam Reed, a Pennsylvania State Trooper and public information officer.

Tracking details related to farm theft is difficult. The law does not distinguish between farm theft and other types of theft. Instead, reports of crime involving larceny or theft are based on dollar amount, not the type of property stolen.

Arrests reported to the Department of Criminal Justice Services are defined by Penal Law offense, for example, first-degree burglary, petty larceny and fourth-degree grand larceny. There is nothing specific in the law to distinguish a farm from another business. Similarly, reports of motor vehicle theft do not distinguish between farm vehicles and other vehicles.

Insurance companies that provide coverage for losses offer the best insight into the types of property stolen from farms. Between January 2012 and September 2015, Nationwide Insurance received 187 claims for farm-related theft or vandalism. “The most common items stolen were listed as personal items,” said Christopher Stollar, public relations consultant for Nationwide.

Of those farm-related thefts, Stollar explained that “personal items” cover a range of property categories. The 187 farm-related claims submitted to Nationwide included:

  • 58 claims for electronics, cash, jewelry and guns
  • 49 claims for tools
  • 26 claims for mobile equipment
  • 10 claims for copper pipe or wire
  • 7 claims for livestock

Farm thefts are largely driven by trends in the economy. David Swartz, district director of Penn State Extension for Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties said, “In the previous few years, I started to hear instances of animals taken from fields, especially young cattle because of the high prices of livestock. Now that prices are going down, I’m hearing less of that.”

“Anecdotally speaking, the rate of farm-related crimes has stayed about the same in Pennsylvania,” Reed added.

Statistics are scarce, but one thing is for certain, it’s important for farm owners to take action to minimize the opportunity for thieves to enter and make off with valuable assets.

The three “D’s”

Law enforcement agencies encourage farmers to implement the “three D’s” in an effort to reduce crime. An article posted by the Penn State Extension explains the three D’s are deterrence, delay and detection (

Deterrence strategies include lighting, gates, cables across field lanes, fencing, no trespassing signs, security systems and dogs. To deter thieves from stealing livestock, Swartz suggested avoiding pastures that border highways. “When possible plan crops for those areas and keep livestock closer to buildings,” he said. However, it’s not always practical because of the terrain, soil type or rocky outcroppings.

Detection techniques employ a system to alert you when someone enters your property. This can include dusk-to-dawn lights, lighting on timers, lights with motion detectors, cameras or other sensors. It could also include visual surveillance by employees and or neighbors.

“It’s often the case that dairy farms keep their young replacement heifers on rented land with an absentee landlord,” Swartz said. “If it’s dark and no one is living there, it can lead to an easy mark.”

Dusk-to-dawn lights and other signs of inhabitants discourage thieves from entering the property.

Delay is another technique that can diminish a thief’s opportunity. Anything that slows access to your property, equipment and livestock protects your assets. This may include cables across field lanes, fencing, locking doors on equipment and shops and possibly parking equipment away from public viewing when left in fields overnight.

Swartz acknowledged that reports of equipment being stolen from fields are out there, but it’s not a theft he personally has heard a lot about. “Nonetheless, it’s a good idea not to leave the keys in the ignition,” he said.

Finding a way to secure areas where tools are stored also makes it difficult for a thief. Securing tools can be especially tricky on farms with three-sided pole structures that were once very common in the Northeast. “Try to put a door in and secure the tools so they are not readily available,” Swartz added.


Photo courtesy: NatalyaAksenova/istock

Think like a thief

The best way to prevent a theft is to think like a thief and attempt to thwart their efforts. Consider what items thieves might find of value on your farm.

“As farm’s non-farm neighbors increase they don’t likely know the value of farm-specific equipment. However, they know the value of general tools and that they can be easily resold,” Swartz cautioned. That makes tools an ideal target. Maintain an inventory of the tools you own, a replacement value and keep them behind locked doors.

Then look for places where they can gain access to those items and use the “three D’s” to derail their plans.

While Stollar estimated that the majority of thefts are committed by people unknown to the farm owner, it’s not impossible for employee thefts to occur.

The Penn State Extension offers suggestions for limiting employee theft. If you have employees, be sure to manage your locks and keys. Keep a record of all locks, the location of each lock and the number of keys that exist for each lock.

Make a list of any employee that has each key and inventory all keys periodically. Do not issue keys for convenience and then follow through on proper return. Buy locks of highest security quality with keys that are not easily reproduced. These locks are pick-resistant and all keys are marked “Do Not Duplicate.” (

Nationwide encourages business owners of all types, including farms, to conduct background checks on applicants during the hiring process. It’s not a guarantee an employee theft won’t occur, but it can alert you to an individual who may have a criminal record for stealing.

Reporting a theft

Don’t wait to report a theft. As soon as you discover something has been stolen, call the authorities. Remember, it is a crime scene. “Don’t touch anything on the scene before the police arrive,” Reed said.

Once the police arrive, provide them photographs, written documentation and serial number of stolen items if possible. “We enter items with serial numbers into a database and flag it as stolen property,” he said. Doing so can help law enforcement officers recover items from pawn shops and other sales outlets.

While organized groups of neighboring farms isn’t common in the Northeast, it has worked out west for ranchers who have banded together to help one another. “It’s good to get to know your neighbors and to have an extra set of eyes watching,” he added.

Above all else, it’s important to be vigilant. “If you see anything out of place or you see a suspicious vehicle or person around the property, call the police,” Reed concluded. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Cover photo: sjharmon/istock

Preparing The Next Generation Of New England Farmers

Kies Orr holding a laptop

Over 85 percent of young farmers continue in some farming related field and that almost 100 percent of them will stay engaged in agriculture in some form, even if it is not their full-time occupation.

At Fort Hill Farms, in Thompson, Connecticut, 24-year-old Kies Orr and her boyfriend are preparing to take over her family farm, a 500-head dairy operation with perennial flower and herb fields, blueberry fields, a corn maze and a creamery.

“We run the farm in two shifts: a midnight shift and a noon shift,” said Orr, who recently graduated from the State University of New York-Cobleskill with a degree in agricultural business. “I’ve been up since midnight today. I’ll sleep a couple hours tonight and be back up at midnight. This schedule is year-round.”

Being a young farmer has special challenges, and Orr credits the Connecticut Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer & Rancher Program (YFR) with offering useful information and camaraderie that have helped her and other young farmers get through the tough times. After five years of membership, Orr became chair of Connecticut’s YFR in 2016.

Throughout New England, state farm bureaus offer programs for youth and young farmers that vary from state to state. In Vermont, an “Ag-Tivity” book filled with coloring pages, puzzles and fun facts about Vermont agriculture “edutains” young children. Approximately 30,000 such books have been distributed. Vermont Farm Bureau also offers a scholarship to a member student who completes their first semester at the University of Vermont or Vermont Technical College while enrolled in an agricultural program. This scholarship and others are offered through the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.

In Maine, the YFR provides farmers ages 18 to 35 the chance to actively participate in leadership development, legislative awareness, educational conferences, networking with farmers and competitive events. In an effort to build Maine’s YFR into a bigger, more dynamic program and strengthen the success of such programs, Maine Farm Bureau Chairperson Nick Smith posted a call to action online seeking young farmers from around the state of Maine that would like to participate on the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.

“I took the reins in February and have talked with former committee chairs, members and parents of past members to get a feel of what this committee has been in the past and what we will be in the upcoming years,” he said. “An active committee will not happen overnight. Those that are interested in becoming a member of the YF&R Committee can have the membership fee waived if you are a first-time member under the age of 35 years old.”

Orr said the biggest challenge of running Connecticut’s YFR is keeping everybody committed. Of the 40 members, only about 15 actively participate.

“I understand life gets in the way. I serve dinner (and) try to make it as fun as a meeting can be,” she said. “The new farm bureau office is in Wethersfield (about 90 minutes to 2 hours each way for many members). I’ve moved [the meeting] to UConn (University of Connecticut) to make it easier for some people to travel. I’ve asked people what I can do to keep them committed and interested.”

Beyond camaraderie and support, YFRs help young farmers understand that their voice matters and that, as the next generation of farmers, they can influence public policy and the perception of production agriculture.

The Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation’s YFR committee provides personal growth to its members by helping them

  • acquire cutting-edge information through participation in educational conferences;
  • build a network with fellow farmers, ranchers and agricultural enthusiasts;
  • earn recognition for achievements in business and leadership; and
  • continue their professional development.

A tentative social calendar online shows events occurring at least once per month from June through December. Events include farm tours, a field trip to the Montreal legislature, a tour of a meat processing plant, a camping trip, meetings and the New England Fruit and Vegetable Conference. All are welcome to attend meetings and take part in discussion or planning. However, each county designates two representatives to vote on issues.

In Rhode Island, the YFR program hosts meets and debates on topics viable to ag and farming. RI-YFR members have attended the American Farm Bureau National Conference in January where the winners of the meets compete for prizes ranging from farm equipment to full-size trucks and scholarships. Rhode Island Farm Bureau President Henry Wright III said, “Here in Rhode Island, we have a farm bureau scholarship for our active members who have college students enrolled in ag-related studies. At present we are working on an ‘Ag In The Classroom’ program, which we hope to have up and running in the next year.”

At press time, Wright and the Rhode Island Farm Bureau were planning to hire a new executive director whose duties would include running “Ag In The Classroom” (AITC), a program for younger children. “In the past, we have had members read the AFB Books of the Year at schools around the state. Unfortunately, though we desire to reach out to those age groups, we are at a standstill until our current situation changes,” said Wright. “Once we hire the executive director we would follow the excellent curriculum provided by the National AITC.

“A lot of programs are based on the push around STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” said Wright. “However, there are really great things like Journey 2050 interactive games. The Journey 2050 is quite creative, and the kids really like it.” (Download the interactive games)

Rhode Island’s previous youth program ran about five years. Because its AITC wasn’t funded, teachers didn’t have the resources to teach it. “Hopefully with the push on local foods and sustainability, these types of programs will once again find their way back into the classrooms of many of our schools,” he said.

Kies Orr pushing a wheel barrow

In Connecticut, Orr is concerned about cuts to ag education that have been proposed in the state’s budget. In early 2017, CT-YFR held a “Do Ag or No Ag” rally at the state capitol. Subsequently, the state Governor Dannel Malloy said he would not cut the department.

“Cuts to ag schools will hurt the next generation. In 2025, they’ll be going through colleges and starting to pick careers. We need them in agriculture to survive,” Orr said.

Orr attended one of Connecticut’s Agricultural Science and Education (ASTE) programs before attending college. Located at a comprehensive high school, each ASTE program prepares students for college and careers in animal science, agribusiness, agricultural mechanics, aquaculture, biotechnology, food science, marine technology, natural resources or plant science. The ASTE programs incorporate a hands-on, active curriculum that integrates subject area skills and knowledge, applied skills in the core subjects of mathematics, science and English/language arts while incorporating leadership skills and work-based learning experiences through the National FFA Organization and supervised agriculture experiences.

Orr said, “It got me ready for college. I felt more prepared for my career, to go into my degree.”

Like many of her peers, Orr has a passion for farming that extends beyond her property and into advocacy. In New Hampshire, the winner of the Young Farmer Achievement Award is also the host of the following year’s Young Farmer Legislative Breakfast. Attendees include members of the New Hampshire House Environment and Agriculture Committee and staffers from their Congressional Delegation. During the event, Young Farmers explain to the lawmakers what they do and the challenges they face. It allows legislators the opportunity to associate a face with the agricultural community in the state.

“We really want the Young Farmers in our program to leave with a passion for advocating for agriculture along with the knowledge, maturity and leadership to do so,” said Josh Marshall, communications director and Young Farmers Committee coordinator for NH Farm Bureau. “Whether it be as president of their own County Farm Bureau, as a state representative, or whatever they choose after aging out, our program aims to help guide them along that path.”

New Hampshire YFC is open to agricultural enthusiasts between the ages of 16 and 35. The group holds a monthly business meeting to plan projects, activities and trips. Many of the events they plan throughout the year take a lot of work and commitment from the Young Farmer volunteers and staff. “Our biggest fundraising event is a local food booth at the NH Pumpkin Festival each year,” said Marshall. “Young Farmers solicit donations from local farmers to make and sell homemade macaroni and cheese, shepherd’s pie and more. We also host a silent auction during the Fall Growers’ Dinner at East Hill Farm in Troy, New Hampshire.”

Money raised from Pumpkin Fest and the Growers’ Dinner helps fund other YFC events, trips and training. One such influential program is called Harvest for All, which is a partnership between farm bureaus and Feeding America that provides food to food banks and soup kitchens. “Here in New Hampshire, our Young Farmers coordinate with other local farmers to pick up and deliver fresh farm produce to our area food banks. Last year alone the NH Young Farmers organized the collection and donation of over 8,000 pounds of locally raised food. Included in that 8,000 pounds was 300 pounds of fresh ground beef raised on the farm of our committee chair Amy Matarozzo and her husband, Brian,” said Marshall.

New Hampshire’s YFC has also traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby, attended leadership conventions and engaged in other community service initiatives like bringing farm animals to area nursing homes. In 2016, the group launched a “Young Farmer Facebook Takeover” campaign to allow Young Farmers from NH to “take over” the state Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Facebook page for one week and showcase the great work they are doing on their farms and in their communities.

“This has provided a great opportunity for our members to engage with the public on what they are actually doing on their farms and how hard they work to provide the public with a safe and nutritious food supply,” said Marshall.

Joan Nichols, director of member relations and community outreach, Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, said involvement in YFRs teaches young farmers how to tell the story of agriculture, bringing a personal and fresh perspective to their story.

Nichols estimated that over 85 percent of young farmers continue in some farming related field and that almost 100 percent of them will stay engaged in agriculture in some form, even if it is not their full-time occupation. Many have grown up on family farms or will become active partners in the family farm. Some are pursuing higher education to become agri-science teachers. Many started out involved in 4H and then moved on to FFA when they were in high school. Their interest in agriculture developed at a young age, and they are pursuing this interest by attending undergraduate colleges in agriculture related fields of study.

“The biggest benefit to the Connecticut farming community of having this program is it instills a sense of confidence and leadership in our next generation of farmers,” said Nichols. “It empowers them to make a difference in their communities and to recognize that their voice is powerful and critically important to the future of agriculture not only in Connecticut but across the nation.”

Farm-to-School Programs: Exploring New Horizons In Ag Education

students working in a field

Farm-to-School programs have grown more meaningful as the local food movement has taken hold. Explore new horizons in agriculture education.

Farm-to-School programs have grown more meaningful as the local food movement has taken hold. Over the past 20 years, every educational program from pre-schools to post-graduate programs have incorporated some component of the farm-to-school philosophy into their school’s mission. From planting a school garden and harvesting the bounty for the cafeteria, to procuring local apples, efforts often have focused simply on re-establishing that missing connection between field and table.

lady busy in the field

Farming as curriculum

Walter Biddle Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences, established in 1943, predates the farm-to-school movement. It’s a specialized educational opportunity for Philadelphia high school students, run by the city’s school system, and serves over 500 students from all of the city’s ZIP codes. The 130-acre campus features a working dairy herd as well as swine, sheep, poultry and horses. There is a nursery, field crops, pastures and more, all of which play a hands-on role in the educational curriculum.

W.B. Saul is “a fully comprehensive school,” said G. David Ruvarac, an agriscience teacher and representative. “The only elective we offer is agriculture. It is all very hands-on.”

students at agriculture school

The school’s mission is to prepare Philadelphia school students for agricultural careers and offer them opportunities normally unavailable to urban youth. “So few of them actually know about the full components of agriculture.”

The school has four primary study areas: agricultural and food products processing; animal science; applied horticulture; and natural resources management and policy. As freshmen, students rotate through all four agricultural disciplines, with one period of agriculture a day. Then, they declare a major in one agricultural study area. Each year, the amount of time spent in the agricultural elective curriculum increases.

Students work in the school’s greenhouses and orchards; grow organic vegetables; raise meat animals – which after being sent out for slaughter, they then learn to butcher; work with reptiles and amphibians; learn about hydro and aquaponics; build hardscaping projects and learn landscape design; and oversee an active composting operation, which sells finished product to the community. They complete annual projects at the Philadelphia Zoo, the Philadelphia Flower Show, the PA Farm Show and for the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, connecting students to the community and its organizations.

students in the field

Although it isn’t known exactly what ag-related jobs graduates eventually pursue, 90 percent of the students graduate from the program, and 80 percent continue on to college. Of those in college, 50 percent are agricultural majors, over 30 percent focus on the sciences and the remainder on law and politics.

Other high schools across the nation have embraced an agricultural focus, including those with working farms. Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Massachusetts, which boasts 500 acres of land with livestock and agricultural mechanics programs, and the Forrest County Agricultural High School in Mississippi, offering both livestock and horticulture facilities, are two examples.

These programs are well established, but newer programs, even those in traditional high schools, are going beyond the standard introduction to agriculture courses as farming becomes trendy again.

student taking a nap

University farms

You don’t have to go to a traditional agriculture-based college to see student farmers at work. Colleges and universities around the country are growing food for their own use, as well as to sell to students and faculty. Participating students are learning where food comes from and how to grow it. But they aren’t necessarily studying agriculture.

It isn’t surprising to find farming happening at Cornell University. After all, this land-grant university is renowned for its agricultural research and curriculum. But you might be surprised to find the Dilmun Hill Student Farm, where sustainable farming has provided food for thought for the past two decades.

dilmun hill holding organic vegetables

“Dilmun Hill is an organic, student-run farm that seeks to foster community and empower students through active engagement in ecological agriculture,” said Samantha Hackett, wholesale production manager. “Dilmun Hill is open to anyone and is a place for experiential learning, group collaboration, research and outreach.”

The 12-acre Dilmun Hill Student Farm grows food that is sold to students, faculty and staff via a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. They also sell wholesale to some campus eateries.

Crop management is planned by five student managers, each responsible for a different aspect of the farm’s production – wholesale fields, CSA fields, high tunnels – who work in conjunction with a professor. The farm does make a profit, but that’s not the main goal.

greenhouse - crops

The CSA operates with volunteers, bringing students onto the farm via work parties. Students can also purchase CSA shares or attend farm-based tours, events and other programs. Student researchers are also welcomed on the farm. In exchange for weekly work hours, research projects appropriate to a small, sustainably managed farm can be granted approval.

“Many students that do participate in work parties that have an educational background or interest in agriculture think that it is important to have this opportunity for experiential learning,” Hackett said. “Others in non-ag majors come, too, and are enthusiastic to learn about farming. But we wouldn’t say that they come so that they can go into farming as their career. We hope that they come because Dilmun creates a genuine community for those interested in farming, sustainability, food systems and social justice.”

At Hampshire College, the organic farm dates back to the 1970s. But its focus has changed, from sheep-based research to today’s local food system emphasis. Work at the Hampshire Farm is done by work-study students, overseen by professional farmers.

organic vegetables

“Vegetable and grass-based meat production” are now the emphasis, with the goal of providing food to the college community via a CSA program, said Nancy Hanson, director of farm programs. “We are a production farm. We do have production goals. We are big enough that we really need to have professional farmers working with the students.”

All students have access to the farm, not only via the purchase of CSA shares, but through learning activities on the farm. Art students, for example, often use the farm for projects. Students in entomology classes come to the farm to study the insects. And student projects, such as breeding pigs, are often allowed on the farm and, if successful, may become an ongoing part of production. The farm provides a lesson in food system studies, social justice and more.


“The farm gives them a real, tangible example” of what they are learning in the classroom, no matter whether it is an ag-focused course or not, Hanson said. “Having the farm right here, the students can actually see it and have an understanding of at least a small part of food production and a greater respect for the people growing our food. We’re teaching eaters. They can touch the food system.”

The campus dining service purchases about 75 of the 200 vegetable shares. The farm gears itself toward fall production, when campus eating is in full swing. Stored root crops and winter salad greens are also emphasized.

pigs drinking water

“We’ve adjusted our crop scheduling, and we’ve adjusted what we’re growing,” in order to meet the needs of the dining services, Hanson said. “The growing season doesn’t match the eating season on campus.”

Bon Appetit Management Company is the outside service provider for campus dining halls. According to representative Andrew Fleischer, they procure 27 percent of their produce from Hampshire Farm. Future plans call for increasing the ability of the dining service to process and store crops, leading to even more consumption from the student farm.

Aside from the seasonality issue, insurance requirements of the management company has been an obstacle in sourcing food locally. The college’s insurance policies can cover the student farm, but the burden on local, small farmers wishing to sell to the university can be a major impediment to farm-to-school sales. Some innovative programs lowering the insurance needs for small producers have been put into place.

Pricing, too, is often a concern, Hanson said. Meeting in the middle, so that local growers don’t have to beat the artificially low prices of California lettuce, for example, is needed.

Compromises on both ends can work this out, and not all local food has to be cheaper than that of large-scale industrial growers for farm-to-school procurement work.

“Find middle ground,” Hanson urged. “Flexibility on both ends” can bring balance to the economic aspects of food purchasing and make farm-to-school a reality.

students in the snow

School dining hall: Real food challenge

The emphasis on finding common ground to promote changes in food procurement practices is one familiar to those involved in the Real Food Challenge (RFC). Student eaters are in control of the RFC, a 10-year-old campaign to increase real food procurement on college campuses. The RFC incorporates a broad range of components involved in food production, from cultivation to worker rights.

A nationwide network of student activists helps to actualize the campaign’s mission “to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and toward local or community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources – what we call “real food” – by 2020,” as per the website.

students at work

The Real Food Standards 2.0, – revised with input from students, industry experts, producers and food system scholars – defines various levels of local, fair, humane, and ecologically sound practices. The goal is to provide universities with the knowledge and the tools to enhance the procurement of food that rates high according to the program’s standards, while avoiding food that does not.

Elizabeth Wilkes, a student leader with RFC, reached out to a variety of students on the RFC’s Communications Team, who provided a collaborative response to questions about the program’s goals and impact.

students with animals

“Signatory schools are committed to sourcing at least 20 percent Real Food by 2020, meaning local farmers are guaranteed a chunk of that percentage. How strong the connection between farms and universities varies on a case-by-case basis, but every school chooses to purchase from some local farms,” RFC’s Communication Team representatives said. “Each commitment means access to markets they (local farmers) have otherwise been completely shut out of.”

Tools such as the Real Food Calculator allow students to audit purchases and identify means of shifting university food purchases toward the campaign’s goals. The University of Vermont (UVM) successfully met its Real Food Pledge after only three years of efforts and is now purchasing not only apples locally, but also other staple products.

student holding a flower

Efforts of Sodexo, the UVM campus dining service vendor, along with the student activists, have resulted in 100 percent of the eggs, milk, maple syrup and tofu coming from local sources. And, 100 percent of some other foods – such as coffee and bananas – meet approved RFC standards, too.

The student role in RFC goes beyond wanting to eat local, fair-trade, ecologically sound food. Their voice is needed to break through corporate barriers and turn the tables in favor of nonindustrial food sources.

“Students are the ultimate clients to which both university administration and food service must cater, making their voice much more powerful and impactful than internal advocates may or may not be,” the RFC Communications Team said.

students working in the bushes

“Beyond just pushing for good food options, students are also in a position to call out bogus corporate practices that are a part of the perpetuation of the mess we’re in, and don’t have the risk of losing their job.”

Students also educate others about the food system, using tools such as the Real Food Wheel to illustrate the interconnectedness of social, economic, environmental and cultural aspects of food production, and how the choices made by eaters do matter.

Izuma, a RFC student activist at the University of Washington, emphasizes the power of food systems education not only as a means for making individual changes in eating, but to make those systemic changes.

student raking the field

“When education fuels changes at an institutional level, economies, environments and communities are completely transformed.”

With over three dozen schools, from the University of California-Santa Cruz to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, pledging to procure Real Food, and many other institutions of higher learning utilizing tools such as the Real Food Calculator to help make procurement decisions, the RFC is impacting higher education from coast to coast.

“This means that I am bringing food and agriculture into campus and community discussion, with the understanding that food system problems are inseparable from pressing social and political issues and should be considered simultaneously,” Wilkes said. “I’d say student activism is essential to meeting the goals of the Real Food Challenge: it has been a core driving force.”


Today, a wide range of farm-to-school efforts take a variety of encompassing shapes. From farming-based educational experiences to university food programs, sourcing local food – as well as bringing the real labor of farming onto the campus – has become more than a novel idea.

It’s now a new way of approaching not only the school lunch, but school educational programming. Farm-to-School has grown up.

Photos Courtesy of Brookford, Dilmun Hill CSA, Hampshire College, Praireth CSA and WB Sauls

How Crystal Spring Farm Gives Dairy a Distinctive Appeal


This award-winning operation gives dairy a distinctive appeal.

Welcome to Crystal Spring Farm, a century farm (circa 1903) in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania. This farm earned the first Dairy of Distinction in Lehigh County and has been the recipient of multiyear recognition by Land O’ Lakes, receiving three consecutive milk quality awards.

Hubert Sell’s family primarily farmed potatoes, with some orchards and a little dabbling in dairy. In 1966, when Hubert and his wife, Grace, became the farm’s owners, they opted to focus on the dairy herd. Crystal Spring Farm is now home to 300 cows, with a Holstein milking herd of 130 head. The family grows all of their own feed for the cows, farming over 300 acres; breeds their own replacement heifers; and raises Holstein and Angus crosses for beef. They use 30 percent of their milk output in their own on-farm processing plant.

Milk money

“The freshest milk and ice cream in town” isn’t an exaggerated claim. At Crystal Spring Farm, soon after the cows are milked, the milk is immediately pasteurized – using high-temperature, short-time pasteurization (HSTS), which heats the milk to 168 degrees Fahrenheit, and then homogenizes and bottles it twice each week in the on-farm processing plant. But that’s not all – they make their own ice cream, too.

Early on, the family realized that they would benefit from processing their own milk, keeping control of their product from cow to cooler. That led to the establishment of the processing plant, café and farm store in 1975. These facets of the farm are run directly by the family.

The ice cream here is truly home-grown: The milk comes only from their herd, and it never leaves the farm, going from cow to cone without leaving the dairy. Although many other dairies purchase premade ice cream mix from regional processing plants and don’t use their own milk when making ice cream, Crystal Spring Farm uses its herd’s milk and cream to make its ice cream base. Natural flavorings are added; other ingredients, such as candy pieces, chocolate chips or cookies, are added in to make a variety of ice cream flavors.

Cream is saved and frozen during the winter months, when ice cream demand decreases, so that enough of the herd’s own cream is available to add to the milk for ice-cream making during the busy summer months. With a butterfat content of 14 percent, Crystal Spring Farm’s ice cream is smooth, creamy and solid, without a lot of air content.

Over 10,000 gallons of ice cream are made here each year. Crystal Spring Farm ice cream is only sold at the farm’s on-site retail store and café. The ice cream is sold prepackaged in quarts or half gallons, in Dixie cups, ice cream sandwiches and ice cream cakes, or served at the farm’s Tulip’s Café.

A wide variety of milk – skim, 1 percent, 2 percent, whole chocolate, orange, strawberry and other specialty flavors of milk, along with ice cream – is sold exclusively at the farm store, which was built in 1975. The store has a small grocery and a full-service deli. Tulip’s Café features homemade beef barbecue, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, pickled cabbage, salads, soups, pies, cakes and ice cream cones, sundaes, shakes and even soft serve, all made on-site from the dairy’s own milk.

“It’s pasteurized when it’s very fresh,” Scott Sell said, so the shelf life of their milk is longer than that of standard pasteurized milk from the grocery store. Because the family handles the product from milking to sale, the entire supply chain is under their control, avoiding issues with mishandled products.

This start-to-finish oversight also allows them to continually improve their ice cream, too. The precise amount of fat and proteins, and the ratio of ingredients, can make a difference in the product. Hubert continually researches and experiments to try to further improve the ice cream. Recently, they began cutting back on the small amount of skim milk powder, used as an ice cream ingredient, to craft a fresher, more flavorful product.

Hubert is in charge of making the dairy’s ice cream. He mixes, freezes, flavors, and packages the product, along with some assistance from grandchildren Ashley and Jacob. One son, Gary, is in charge of the fluid milk processing and grows the crops. Another son, Scott, handles the breeding, reproduction and animal care. Together, the brothers, along with one part-time employee, manage milking, feeding and other barn duties. Their sister, Audrey, is in the kitchen with her mother, Grace, and Scott’s wife, Lisa, helps prepare the homemade foods and baked goods. The youngest brother, Ronald, runs the family’s electrical business full time, and his wife, Sue, helps out in the café. Other family members pitch in at the store, handling customer service, inventory, and other job functions. The store and café also employ local workers in retail positions.

Gary and Scott Sell operate Crystal Spring Farm with 300 cows, including a Holstein milking herd of 130 head.

Cow care

There can’t be quality milk and ice cream without healthy cows. Having an average somatic cell count of a mere 55,000 helps keep the milk fresh and tasting best, too.

“What the cows eat has a lot to do with the taste of the milk,” Scott said. Consistent taste requires a consistently high-quality total mixed ration (TMR), which also provides the cows with optimal nutrition.

All cows are fed the same homegrown TMR, including the dry cows and heifers. The family grows its own rye, corn, oats, alfalfa and corn, and mixes its own feed. They feed a large portion of forage in the diet and don’t use soybeans or wheat.

“If you have a lot of top quality forage … that’s the way to make milk,” Gary said.

He works with a Cargill nutritionist who visits every two weeks to balance the ration. The ration is fed twice per day to the milking herd, along with a protein supplement, whereas the heifers receive the same ration once per day, plus a hay ration for its other feeding. Gary carefully monitors feed intake and any sorting behaviors, keeping the bunks full with a balanced “all they can eat” ration.

The milking herd is housed in a free stall barn, bedded with sawdust. The manure is scrapped twice per day into the pit, and manure from the heifer barn is piped in and combined. This slurry is stored in silo tanks until it is needed for field fertility.

The farm requires a balance – the right number of cows, enough crop acres to responsibly add manure without excess fertility concerns and planting the best crops for taking up the nutrients, as well as to provide the necessary nutrition for the ration.

“I need the 300 acres just to get rid of the manure,” Gary said, noting that all feed crops are used in the ration, with shelled corn being the only product grown in excess, which they sell off-farm.

Tulip’s Café features homemade beef barbecue, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, pickled cabbage, salads, soups, pies, cakes and ice cream cones, sundaes, shakes and even soft serve, all made on-site from the dairy’s own milk.

Calves are weaned, fed milk replacer and kept in individual pens for about 10 weeks. They are then moved to group pens, where bull calves and heifers are mixed together. The animals are grouped by age. Breeding age heifers and some steers are kept together in an older, converted tie stall barn with outdoor paddock. Here, heat is readily detected. A veterinarian visits every two weeks for pregnancy checks. Confirmed pregnant cows are moved into a separate pen.

“The dry cow program is key to everything,” Gary said. “They need nutrition, too,” and are fed the same high-quality ration as the milking herd. Dry cows are pastured during the growing season.

The herd is milked twice each day. The average cow stays in the herd for five years, with some there as long as 10 years. Although there are solid, nonslatted concrete floors in the barn, hock and foot health is very good. Scott monitors the herd at least daily, and if a problem arises, immediately treats it, preventing lameness concerns. Although the milking herd is housed in an older facility, the stalls are properly sized and bedded for comfort, and adequate ventilation has been provided.

The farm uses transponders to record cow data, such as feed required and amount of milk produced. The data is transmitted during milking and computer software programs then allow Scott to monitor each cow’s performance. The farm does not use the Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) program.

A Bray Breeding Calendar is used to keep track of the cow’s production cycles. When a heifer freshens, it is given a number. This color-coded system allows the cows to be tracked throughout their breeding cycles, and herd management activities can be tracked daily.

Meat and eat

Too many replacement heifers led Scott to explore raising cows for beef. He can eliminate raising a replacement heifer calf without affecting the milk supply by breeding his lower production cows to Angus sires. Raising this beef for direct sales provides an additional income stream to the farm.

With Tyson recently leaving the market for Holstein steers, cross-breeding made sense for various reasons. The crossbred steers finish sooner than pure Holsteins do, and the taste and quality of the meat is enhanced by the traits of the beef breed, Scott said.

The crossbred steers finish at 18 months. The Holsteins can take 22 months. That extra time means more inputs go into the cow. The crosses are also sold as young stock to those wanting to raise their own meat.

The steers are co-mingled with the dairy cows until about 12 months of age, when they are put into a separate pen and fed a steer supplement. This is a grain-based finishing diet and includes corn silage and dry shelled corn to add energy and put on the weight.

Two cows and one steer are sent out together for processing every four weeks, and the meat is combined into the farm’s hamburger, sold fresh and frozen by the pound or in patties. The steers also provide steaks, roasts, stew meat and more. Farm-raised frozen beef cuts are sold through the farm store. Dry beef, a smoked product sold by the pound through the deli counter, is a specialty. The meat is slaughtered and butchered under U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection at nearby Springfield Meats.

Beef barbecue, made from the family’s beef, is one of the regular menu items at Tulip’s Café. The café has a dozen tables inside the store, plus a large patio area, where diners can enjoy their meals and their ice cream.


Milk sales have dropped to about three-quarters of the amount they were back in l975, despite a growing population within an easy drive of the farm, Scott said. Sales of gallons have almost halted, with one-half gallons being preferred.

The local food movement hasn’t had as big an impact in the local community as it has in more urban areas, such as Philadelphia. The farm has the hardest time reaching those in the immediate vicinity, who often choose one of the four convenience stores in the area over the farm store for making a quick milk purchase. Consumer education about the origins of milk from processing plants, where milk from many herds and thousands of cows is mixed together, versus the one-herd milk available at Crystal Spring Farm, is still needed. The family uses social media to promote a “know your farmer” mentality, to communicate with customers, and to showcase the behind-the-scenes farming information, which can help customers better understand dairy farming.

“Facebook has done some good for us,” Scott said, allowing them to promote their products and as a way for customers to share their experiences and spread the word about the farm’s milk and ice cream, and the store.

Crystal Spring Farm is focused on quality, as they sell directly to the consumer. The quality of its milk, ice cream, meat and all food served through Tulip’s Café is evident to all customers. From cows to cones, this dairy – just like fresh cream – has risen to the top.

The Story of New York’s Trowbridge Angus Farms

trowbridge family

Here’s the story of New York’s Trowbridge Angus Farms.

Phil Trowbridge proposed a radical topic for his sixth grade science fair project back in 1967 – artificial insemination in Angus cattle. His project included a scale model of the female cow’s reproductive system. Few 11-year-olds had an interest in genetics and reproduction, but it was a way of life for the youngster growing up on his family’s Angus operation in Corfu, a small rural town in western New York.

Phil Trowbridge
Phil Trowbridge

It was more than the fact that he was interested in reproduction that raised his teacher’s eyebrows. He was a Catholic school student and in the 1960s, that subject was taboo.

“The nuns initially told me I couldn’t choose that topic for my project,” he said.

His father, Paul Sr., marched into school and countered otherwise. The Trowbridge family was deeply rooted in Angus genetics. The family’s first cow was a daughter of Prince Sunbeam of Shadoe Isle 78. On the farm, the family strategically planned crosses to improve the breed. Paul’s appeal persuaded the nuns to overturn their decision. Ultimately, Phil’s project was well-received, earning first prize in that year’s fair.

“It was a topic I wanted to learn about and even [I] had an intuition then that my future career would revolve around cattle,” he said.

After high school, Phil attended Alfred State College in Alfred, New York. He graduated in 1976 earning a degree in animal science. As one of nine children, he knew there wouldn’t be a future in splitting the family farm. He and his wife, Annie, settled on the eastern side of New York in Ghent. First, he went to work as a herdsman at Gallagher’s Angus Farm. Then, in 1978, the couple established a farm of their own. During the three and a half decades that followed, their herd swelled to 300 Angus cattle supported on a 900-acre farm.

All these years later, Phil still has his enthusiasm for pushing the envelope. He is an early adopter of new technologies, an advocate for the next generation and leads by example.

The bleeding edge

During the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, Phil experimented with embryo transfer work. By the 1990s he was among a small group of farmers to embrace genomics. Early on, he was keenly aware of the importance of genetics and sought to duplicate the superior traits of female cows and bulls. He estimates his first efforts with genomics were about 10 years ahead of their time and the financial feasibility forced him to pause the project until the corresponding technology caught up to his enthusiasm, but he’d do it again in a heartbeat.

“I’ve had a friend tell me that I’m not on the cutting edge, I’m on the bleeding edge. If there is something I believe in, I go after it full force,” he said.

Despite being ahead of the trends and investing in early technology, he has never lost sight of the importance of genetics. Today, every registered calf born on the farm receives an extensive DNA test. The results are used to improve carcass quality and efficiency.

The Trowbridge angus operation
The Trowbridge angus operation

“Cattle 20 years ago took 7 pounds of feed to gain 1 pound in weight,” he said. “We’ve got it down to about 4.5 pounds of feed to gain 1 pound in weight. I have worked my entire life to improve efficiency.”

Buyers purchase Trowbridge Farms cattle because of increased efficiencies. The farm’s cattle have been sold all over the United States and internationally, specifically to farmers in Argentina.

“Our bulls are able to move weanling rates up between 40 to 60 pounds compared with other producers. That makes a big difference in profit for farms,” he said.

Known for his sharp instincts and keen eye, he has a track record of recognizing a calf’s potential and spotting the breed’s most valued individuals. Some Trowbridge cow lineage, such as the Pure Pride family, traces back to a specific cow from Massachusetts with a genetic line straight back to the origin of the Angus breed in Scotland.

The pursuit of superior genetics would be for naught without adopting a recordkeeping system to track progress. That’s why Phil was among the first to use the National Farm Animal Identification & Records (FAIR) system.

“We have to embrace technology because we have to be more efficient. If we don’t improve efficiencies, we’ll fall behind,” he said.

Empowering the next generation

Phil said that a part of his motivation for being so active in the industry is a bit selfish – that it provides opportunities for his children and grandchildren to stay active in agriculture. He said he’s incredibly blessed to have family surrounding him in the business, including his son, P.J., who works with him. Although he says family inspires his involvement with youth, his actions reveal that he recognizes the importance of supporting all youth for the long-term sustainability of the industry.

Phil and P.J. Trowbridge.
Phil and P.J. Trowbridge.

“We have so many bright, talented young people, and we are going to need to rely on them to create more efficient processes for the future of agriculture,” he said.

He believes in staying open-minded to the next generation’s ideas. After P.J. graduated from State University of New York-Cobleskill, he brought home ideas that included progressive changes to the farm’s nutrition program.

“I listened to him and we made huge changes. We were able to feed exactly half the amount of feed that we previously fed and the cattle were still gaining the necessary weight,” Phil said.

As important as it is to encourage family participation, Phil knows it’s equally critical to encourage future farmers outside the family circle. In the 1980s, he and Annie established an internship program. Since then, they have hosted more than 100 interns. Their most recent intern showed them shortcuts for their paperwork processes. The intern streamlined a day-long paperwork procedure into an hour and a half process.

“Young people are so in tune with what’s going on. I believe that I’ve learned as much from them as they have learned from us,” he said.

Phil and Annie don’t solely focus on college-aged youth. They begin encouraging kids as young as 6 and 7 years old to get involved with the Columbia County Feeders 4-H Club. Through club activities, the kids learn about sheep, hogs, chickens and steers. They learn to keep financial records and are taught animal husbandry and grooming skills.

At the end of the year, the kids have an opportunity to sell them at auction and keep the proceeds. For those kids who don’t come from farming families, Trowbridge Farms finances the purchase of the animals and feed. The 4-Hers are even allowed to keep their animals on the farm if their family doesn’t have room at home.

“Every day after school you’ll see a group of kids out there taking care of their animals, grooming and teaching them to lead,” he said.

Aside from the 4-H component, Phil has stepped up to support youth in other ways. The farm regularly participates in the New York Junior Beef Producers Association’s frozen semen auction. In 2016, the group raised $11,000 through the sale, which auctions donations of frozen semen from several farms in New York.

In the past, Trowbridge Farms has participated in a fundraiser hosted by the American Angus Association’s Angus Foundation. The online auction sold donated embryos to the highest bidder. Proceeds benefitted the foundation and the 19 lots raised $4,000.

“Some of the money donated to the foundation goes into youth programs to help them become more efficient and better at what they’re doing,” he said.

Never one to pass on an opportunity to raise funds for youth programs, Phil placed the winning bid on a painting offered in a silent auction hosted at an American Holstein Association Meeting. The painting named, “Foster Mothers of the Human Race,” depicts how agriculture impacts the world and in particular youth.

“This was a must-have for us,” he said.

The Trowbridge family
The Trowbridge family

Leading by example

Ultimately, it’s those who lead by doing that leave lasting impressions for generations to come. And Phil is no exception. When the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association launched the Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program, Phil admits that his first response was to throw the letter in the trash. When he returned to the office the next day, he had second thoughts. Instead of ignoring the start-up certification program, he enrolled and completed the online course in eight hours on one Sunday.

“I knew that I needed to step up and take a leadership role,” he said.

He was the first in New York to complete the training. Now he requires every intern to complete this online training and the Beef Quality Assurance certification prior to finishing their internship. Aside from embracing programs that need early buy-in, he pursues state and national leadership roles. In November 2012, he was elected to serve as president of the American Angus Association for 2013.

“It was pretty hard to get elected. New York only has three votes at the national level,” he said. “I had to work really hard to get to know people. It was a very cool experience.”

Although his term on the national level is finished, he currently serves as the vice president of the New York Beef Producer’s Association.

Full circle

P.J. Trowbridge
P.J. Trowbridge

In the nearly 50 years that have passed since Phil’s ground-breaking sixth grade science project, a lot has changed in the industry. Residential and commercial development encroaches on farmland, technology propels efficiencies forward and the majority of the general population is at least one generation removed from agriculture.

Each decade brings its own set of challenges, but Phil believes that now, more than ever, farmers have to get better at reaching out to non-farmers.

“We’re terrible at telling our story,” he said. “If we don’t take the lead, we may not like the story that’s told.”

A few years ago, a reporter from The New York Times and USA Todayvisited Trowbridge Farms as part of a press event sponsored by the New York Beef Industry Council. As Phil led a tour around the farm, one of the young reporters turned to Phil and asked, “When did you start putting cattle on grass?”

“That’s when it really struck me that as an industry we don’t do enough to share our story,” he said.

Throughout his career, Phil has dedicated himself to elevating the Angus breed to new heights of greatness.

On the Trowbridge Farms website, an industry expert is quoted as saying: “In a short time, Trowbridge completely revitalized the grand old tradition of Angus families from a new and innovative perspective. It’s no accident the Trowbridge Angus Farms’ animals are considered to be an elite herd of super cattle, legendary in the industry.”

PHOTOS: Trowbridge Angus Farms

How to Deal With Trespassing On Your Farm


Every state considers trespass – as well as other forms of property and personal injury – a crime. Plan your response prior to intrusions.

The on-farm horror story typically starts innocently enough – a neighbor calls. Someone in a pickup truck is in the back 40 where you usually park your sprayer and cultivator. Is that pickup up to no good?

Or, perhaps the tension starts when your daughter notices that the wireless video camera monitoring the barn shows a shadow moving around. Who is out there at this time of night?

It is not always someone with bad intentions. Perhaps you notice someone crossing a meadow. Or you note that there are a couple of kids on ATVs tearing through your alfalfa field.

What do you do?

Take three deep breaths!

The law frowns on all forms of trespass. Every state considers trespass – as well as other forms of property and personal injury – a crime. All allow a property owner to sue for damages that result from trespass.

However, except in extreme circumstances like murder, it is a bad idea to go “Rambo” on anyone you find on your property.

Yes, those folks are trespassing. A typical definition of “trespasser,” one which would hold up in most state courts, is a person who enters someone else’s property for their own purposes without being authorized, invited or induced to do so by the landowner. Usually, the definition of landowner is expanded to include a property lessor or renter, hired person or other person who reasonably would be expected to have control or authority on the land.


Image Courtesy Of istock80 /istock

Just as the law will back you up if someone trespasses, the law also protects the trespasser. States all say that a property owner has a “duty of care” to interlopers on their farm.

For starters, farmers cannot just start plunking away with a 12-gauge or 30.06 when they spy someone on their ground. Most state laws say a property owner has a duty to keep from intentionally harming a trespasser upon discovery.

On top of that, setting up booby traps is forbidden – even if those booby traps are intended to catch trespassers. In short, stringing piano wire across a trail where mountain bike riders often run will cause trouble for the property owner.

The rules are totally different if a person is invited onto the property – say the holder of a hunting lease or a person who is on a pick-your-own operation. FARMING covered those scenarios in its November 2015 issue.

Don’t go macho

A scene from the recent movie “Hell or High Water” shows the danger of taking law enforcement into your own hands. After crooks rob a rural bank, a group of local cattlemen takes off after the getaway car. Each pickup truck has a gun rack. Many of the ranchers are carrying handguns. As the showdown plays out, it turns out the bank robber has an automatic weapon and quickly sends the townsfolk into a headlong retreat. The locals are happy to turn the situation over to law enforcement.

When confronting a criminal, one never knows what the bad guy will do.

One thing is for certain: in most states it is the landowner who will run afoul of the law if they do any harm or apprehend a criminal. The exception is if a felony – like murder – has been committed.

The concept of citizen’s arrest – where a private individual holds a person suspected of a crime – is shaky at best. Many states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire – require a felony situation before an individual can attempt a citizen’s arrest. Many states are silent on the issue. In Vermont, statute 13-59-4954 spells out someone not a sworn police official can hold a person charged with a crime in another state for extradition. But it is strangely silent on crimes committed within state borders.

New Jersey (which does not have the felony designation that other states have) says in NJSA 2A:169-3, “Whenever an offense is committed in his/her presence any constable or police officer shall, and any other persons may, apprehend without warrant or process any disorderly person, and take him/her before any magistrate of the county where apprehended.”

In many jurisdictions, the closest parallel to a farmer holding a person suspected of bad intent on a farm is a store owner holding a person suspected of shoplifting. It goes better for the owner if it is proven that the individual in question is, indeed, in the process of a wrongdoing. If the bad guy is blazing away with a gun, a landowner has every right to defend himself or herself.

New Jersey says a private citizen – farmer, shop keeper or homeowner – may lawfully arrest another person without a warrant if they know that a crime has actually been committed and that there is probable or reasonable cause to suspect that the person detained did the crime.

There can be no delay in notifying the law. When a citizen’s arrest is made, the detainee must immediately be turned over to legal authorities and a warrant must be issued based on the complaint.

However, the law often is not on the landowner’s side if the farmer causes harm to a person simply because that person is on their property or because they suspect that maybe the other person intends to or will harm their property.

In those states that do allow a citizen’s arrest, most require that the citizen making the arrest has actually seen the crime being committed. In other words, if your neighbor calls and tells you a black Ford F-150 was pulling out of your Back 40, you have no right to go out on the road, stop and detain the next black F-150 that comes down the highway.

Despite what many groups will maintain on the internet, the whole concept of holding another person at gunpoint (or any other way) because you saw or suspect them of a crime is fraught with danger – for you.

You read that right: the bad guy has rights, too.

You cannot detain a trespasser unless that individual has committed a felony. Being on your land is not enough.

The trespasser gives up that presumption if he demonstrates the ability, intent and opportunity to cause you or another person bodily injury or death.

Remember, a trespasser can sue you for injury or damages – whether you actively cause the injury or the trespasser accidentally stumbles into the situation while wandering around your property.

My home is my castle

Many states recognize some form of the “castle doctrine” defense. The common law principle of castle doctrine says that individuals have the right to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect themselves against an intruder in their home. This principle has been codified and expanded by numerous state legislatures.

The question on a farm is just how far out you can place the moat around that castle. Pennsylvania defines that area as a “building or structure, including any attached porch, deck or patio, though movable or temporary, or a portion thereof, which is for the time being the home or place of lodging” of the citizen. In Pennsylvania’s 2011 HB 40, the castle is extended to vehicles. The measure is explicit that property owners cannot invoke the castle doctrine if they know they can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating or by surrendering possession of a thing to a person asserting a claim on an item.

Some people refer to the castle doctrine as the “stand your ground” law. Maine gives citizens the right to stand their ground and defend themselves when they believe that deadly force is being or is about to be used against them. Maine Criminal Code Title 17A also allows the use of deadly force if someone is trying to burn down your barn or otherwise commit arson.

Maine’s 2007 law is quite broad and includes as part of one’s castle any land, private ways and buildings or structures thereon. Other states do not go so far as to cover cattle barns or hog facilities.

Ability to justifiably use of non-deadly force is simple and broad under Maine’s Castle Doctrine. “Non-deadly force can be used if you reasonably believe it’s necessary to prevent someone from trespassing, or about to trespass, on your land, private roads, or in any buildings on your land,” according to attorney William T. Bly, Biddeford, Maine.

Under Maine’s law, deadly force cannot be used against someone inside your own home until you’ve given them the opportunity to stop their criminal activity, by demanding they stop what they’re doing, and leave the premises, Bly said. “Using deadly force to defend your home is only justified if the intruder doesn’t immediately comply with your demand.”

With that said, Bly said that a property owner who reasonably believes that confronting the intruder would put you or someone else in danger, then demanding that the trespasser stop what they’re doing and leave is not necessary before you use deadly force.

In other words, you cannot shoot someone who stops when you catch them attempting to steal something from your barn. Nor can you shoot a bad guy who is in full retreat from you.

It is an interesting call – note all the professional law enforcement agents who face legal action for on-the-job shootings.

There are interesting exceptions to the Pennsylvania law. One is if the item being stolen is any amount of anhydrous ammonia. This does not imply that legislators want farmers to have a right to tall, green corn. Rather, they were worried about criminals using it to make bombs. There is an exception for firearm theft, too.

Given the landowner was operating within the boundaries of the law, Pennsylvania holds that person free of liability or damages.

There are 22 states with self-defense laws including Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. New Jersey goes further, asserting that civil remedies are unaffected by criminal provisions of the self-defense law.

Some state self-defense laws include provisions that address a property owner’s duty to retreat from an intruder in one’s home or from an attacker in other places, notes the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Maine, you must warn the intruder about your intent to use deadly force before doing so. Know what your state laws say.

Dealing with kids

All of the above applies to adults. The story is different with children.

There is a much heavier burden on a property owner when it comes to protecting children who may stray onto a property.

Whereas most adults would say “ugh” at the thought of swimming in a manure lagoon, a child might see it as an interesting place to play. And diving into a grain bin can be a fun prospect until the grain shifts.

In many states, however, livestock is not considered an “attractive nuisance.” So, if a child decides to pet a nice sheep and it turns out it’s a ram and that ram takes exception to the trespass, the landowner is somewhat off the hook. This situation varies by state.

Some states go so far as to exempt farm ponds and streams – any “natural” feature – from being termed attractive nuisances.

Whether adults or children, never assume that people are aware of what is dangerous on a farm. Even other farmers or farm children might not be alert to a danger on a neighboring farm.

This means that it is a good idea to eliminate dangers in places where others are likely to come onto your land. Posting warning signs is a first step. Fencing off such areas is another.

When you do such things, keep a record. A simple cellphone photo of your brother nailing up signs is a good start. So is a picture of the barrier around an open pit or other dangerous situation. It will not prevent people from moving the barrier – but it will show you did take due caution to help strangers avoid injury.

Bottom line

Most cops would make lousy farmers. They are not ready – either by training, experience or equipment – to do the job. By the same token, most farmers make lousy police officers.

If there is someone trespassing on your property, call local law enforcement or “911.” Do take notes – get good descriptions of the people and any vehicles used. Again, cellphone photos can prove valuable.

Unless there is a felony being committed – someone is shooting at you – forget about gunplay. Not only will you get into a world of trouble but cleaning up the aftermath of a shooting is a horrid job that usually requires hiring a hazardous materials team.

“Hurting or killing someone in self-defense is a life-changing event,” Bly said, warning that – after the actual conflict – you’ll likely face criminal charges, as prosecutors take you to court to test your claim that you were acting in self-defense.

Consult an attorney now to ascertain exactly what your state’s law allows and does not allow. In the heat of the moment, there will not be time to ring up your farm’s lawyer and ask what actions are defendable and which are not.

Read more: Preventing Farm Theft

The Symphony of Haymaking Equipment


Haymaking is a combination of both a nuisance science and art – a symphony. Each piece of equipment is its own musical instrument. The equipment used in this process each play a certain role to strike the right chord.

“One of the more important things to take into context is when you look at a piece of machinery, how does it feel in your overall operation?,” asked Jordan Milewski, brand marketing anager with New Holland. “If you have an orchestra playing and one instrument is out of tune, the music doesn’t sound very good.”

To make it all happen, the haymaking equipment used in this process each play a certain role to strike the right chord:

The mower section

Akin to a lead soloist, the mower sets the tone to get things started, or in other words, cuts to the chase. “Whether you want to cut 6 feet or 20 feet at a time, you’re going to have to mow that material and cut it down,” said Greg Pinckney, vice president and owner of Auburn, New York-based Main & Pinckney Equipment, Inc. “With dry hay, you have to work with Mother Nature to get that hay dry. There are a couple things that will do it: sunshine and dry air.”

Depending on the animal, farmers must achieve a perfect balance between your mower and other equipment.

“Ultimately, if you buy a new mower conditioner, make sure that it is sized to work with your rake and capacity of your baler,” Milewski said. “If you cut too many acres down from your capacity to bale, you have a much greater weather risk.”

Tedders and rakers

Tedding and raking equipment promote the drying of the hay, as the bass and drums section provides the backbeat and tone for a band’s sound. The two go hand-in-hand in helping the hay dry.

“They are the tools that we use in the orchestra to get that done. We have to spread that hay out. The more that it is spread out on the ground the faster it will dry,” Pinckney said.

Depending on where you live, you’re still at the mercy of mother nature. “If you’re in Arizona, it can dry quite quickly,” Pinckney explained. “In New York state, doesn’t always dry quick. If the sun is out and the breeze is blowing, we’re in good shape. But if it’s cloudy for three days straight, we’re out of luck.”

Back up balers

Once the drying is complete, it’s time to package your hay for later use akin to preparing the backup singers in a group to complete the musical sound.

“With forage we feed for cows, the quality of material never gets better from the point you cut it. It only gets worse. You want to take that hay and put it in a package someplace as quickly as possible.” Pinckney said. “Once we dry it out, spread it, dry it, we got to rake it back together. The baler pulls it back in. That is what’s packaging it essentially.”

Like backup singers, you have the tenors and bass voices. Balers also come in varieties. Notably, square and round bales are used depending on function and preference. Round bales are becoming more popular, Pinckney noted. “My kids call them cinnamon buns or marshmallows when they see them on the field,” he said. “Put it in a roll, then come along in a tractor to put it in your storage barn.”

Types of (hay) music

Like music has different genres, hay also comes in several forms. “When you are making hay, like making different types of music, you got dry hay, baleage or wet hay,” Pinckney said. “You got to have acreage and the field, plus you got to have whatever crop that you want to cut.”

A dry hay situation is different than baleage. In a baleage situation, the objective is for the product to stay green. It needs to be sealed with cellophane wrapper and made tight.

“When it is air tight, the anaerobic action starts to cook the product. It goes from green – in 23 days – to brown. It’s like going into an oven. And that’s what makes it more palatable for the animal,” Pinckney said. “That moist green heavy is what the cows like; some call it candy. They’ll eat the vegetables, but they like their candy.”

Band (equipment) changes

There are a lot of different avenues for farmers to use to get to the end product. With the right set of equipment, your haymaking duties are more efficient. However – like any underperforming band member – there’s always going to be time to make a change to your symphony lineup and bring in new equipment.

“It is necessary to upgrade the supporting cast of characters in your haymaking system to make sure you can fully exploit the capacity of that new purchase,” Milewski said.

Read more: Haymaking 101: Mowing, Tedding and Raking

Juniperdale Farms: Large Acreage Diversification


From a modest dairy, Pennsylvania’s Juniperdale Farms has grown into an expanded operation.

It all began as a small family farm, purchased in 1937 by the Fulmer family. When Brian Fulmer’s father and uncle took over after World War II, they began dairying. Brian Fulmer now oversees the farm, which he co-owns with his sister’s husband and his cousin Mark.

Per the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Pennsylvania has 16,600 farms in the 500- to the 999-acre range. Sixteen of those, one of which is Juniperdale Farms, are in Northampton County. The region’s population is growing, but its farms are shrinking. In 1982, there were 30 farms with 500 to 999 acres. About 20,000 fewer acres overall are being farmed in the county now than 30 years ago.

Those statistics are one part of what makes Juniperdale Farms so special. With a goal to always grow enough crops to feed their dairy cows, the farm had expanded from the original 160 acres to today’s almost 1,000 acres, 250 of which are owned and enrolled in the Farmland Preservation Program.

Becoming multifaceted

Determined to grow enough to “feed livestock in a bad year,” and have a surplus if it was a good one, was always a goal of the dairy, Fulmer said. Even so, dairying alone wasn’t going to offer another generation the opportunity to join the family business.

The Produce Crib began its humble origins with the family selling sweet corn from the back of a John Deere Gator. Needing to expand, they converted an old corn crib into a roadside stand sometime around 1998. The family increased acreage of potatoes and offered excess garden produce to attract customers.

Their produce journey began in earnest with Matt Fulmer, Brian’s son, who planted one-half acre of strawberries in 2000 and has been expanding each year. Strawberries now occupy 3 acres, with an active pick-your-own following. They also offer prepicked strawberry sales, selling 2,500 prepicked quarts during their month-long June strawberry season. Several acres of fruit trees, black raspberries and about 25 acres of vegetables complete the farm’s current produce selection.

“You’ve got to be diversified. That’s the only way you can survive this,” Fulmer said. “We’re just looking to make a fair living.”

The need to farm profitably enough to support the next generation meant further changes to the farm. The dairy was “not bringing in enough profit” to justify its continuation, he said, and the cows were sold in 2011.

That change and the continued expansion of The Produce Crib, offered new opportunities for additional family members to join the family farm. When Matt left the farm in 2012, seeking more expansive farming opportunities in Indiana, TaraLee and her brother Shane Fulmer, Brian’s niece and nephew, came to work full-time.

TaraLee is assistant manager for produce production. Shane primarily manages and works the fields and row crops. Brian’s wife, Eva, manages the produce stand. Many other family members help on a part-time, seasonal basis. There are no outside employees in this true family-run operation.

Making hay at Juniperdale Farms

Multiple revenue streams

The farm continues to grow soybeans, grain corn and hay on a large scale, although they no longer should worry about feeding the dairy herd. The 350 acres of soybeans and 425 acres of field corn find their way to wholesale markets. The soy is sold on the export market. The 750,000 bushels of grain corn primarily go to one egg-laying operation in New York state.

Juniperdale Farms is focused on decreasing risk and remaining profitable. Although the row crops don’t bring in nearly as much money per acre, they also don’t require as much inputs as does the produce portion of the business. The row crops have steady, reliable buyers and even serve a purpose in enhancing vegetable crop production, by serving as a rotation crop and decreasing weed pressure in vegetable acreage, Fulmer said.

While soy and corn make up 75 percent of the row crops, the farm grows some small grains, as well as 60 acres of hay. The hay market primarily serves small, local farms, many with horses. These crops provide three-fourths of the farm’s overall revenue each season.

The produce brings in one-quarter of the farm’s revenue, but requires a lot of money to be tied up in their production, Fulmer said.

The Produce Crib remains a roadside stand, but the family is now able to focus on expanding it and wishes to create a true on-farm market. Customers want to come directly to the farm, not to a commercial store location. They will be working to make The Produce Crib more comfortable, convenient and customerfriendly and able to be open for an extended season.

“People want to come to the farm and see where their food is raised,” Fulmer said. “We try to keep it a ‘farm-y’ experience and try not to show too much commercialization.”

TaraLee has focused on adding some educational but fun agritourism events to encourage families to visit the farm. A small petting zoo, a playground, hay wagon rides to the actual field where on-the-vine pumpkins can be picked and tours for small school or scouting groups are offered. Liability issues nixed the pony rides she had planned.

“We want people to hang out here, enjoy themselves, learn something,” TaraLee said. “People are always welcome to walk around the farm and see the animals. I have a few signs hanging up with facts about the different animals for people to read, so they can learn a little more about farm animals.”

The farm is expanding its pickyour- own options to include apples and possibly cherries. But keeping the focus on farming, not on entertainment, is the family’s goal as they expand this aspect of the business.

Planting sweet corn under plastic for the earliest season

Growing produce

The farm has three major produce crops — sweet corn, strawberries and pumpkins — around which the Fulmers have built The Produce Crib. Tomatoes, apples and peaches have become important secondary crops, and they are focusing on expanding availability by extending the season.

The farm’s produce line has grown as customers demanded more variety, wanting to come back to the farm for all of their produce needs, for as long a season as possible. Although the farm now grows many things, beginning with asparagus, rhubarb and some high tunnel lettuce in April and expanding to winter squash, apples and potatoes into the early winter, they don’t grow large amounts of most crops.

“We grow a lot of different crops, but not a huge amount of anything,” Fulmer said. “We try to have the best variety and what customers are seeking [and] focus on customer convenience.”

The Fulmers have experimented with growing crops under cover — both in high tunnels and in fields — as a season extension technique. They also grow many different cultivars, extending the season of any given product if possible. By spreading out the planting and maturity dates of any given crop, it’s likely that at least some of the product will make it to market, too, despite adverse events.

“We spread out maturity. We do that with all crops,” Shane said, not only to offer an extended season to customers, but also to guard against weather, pests or diseases that might cause crop loss.

This season, yield on tree fruit was much lower than 2015, due to frost damage and pollination issues. But with a variety of cultivars extending bloom times, the farm didn’t lose the entire crop. In 2015, they harvested 253 bushels of apples, but only 153 in 2016. Peaches, too, suffered a yield reduction of 40 bushels in 2016, while apricots — of which they have 24 trees — yielded a mere 18 pounds in 2016, a far cry from the 16 bushels picked in 2015.

“This is why you diversify,” Fulmer said again.

Apple season begins in late August and they pick the last apples in mid- November. Granny Smith, Gold Rush and Pink Lady are the three late-maturing varieties. Peaches, too, have a long season, with varieties picking from mid- July through September.

Orchards, originally semi-dwarf, are now being planted in a high-density system, on dwarf rootstock. Yields are expected to be over 400 bushels per acre on mature apple trees. Currently, there are 1 1/2 acres each of apples and peaches, which are not open to pickers. This year, one-half acre of high-density apples were planted for pick-your-own sales.

“You get your crop sooner,” Fulmer said of the high-density orchard plantings and it’s easier for pick-your-own operations, as no ladders are involved.

Tomatoes and cucumbers are grown in high tunnels, as well as in the field, to get the crop to customers earlier in the season and keep it available later. High tunnel crops such as lettuce, spinach, beets and scallions have the potential to bring customers to the farm even earlier in the season.

Innovation and risk

Despite their desire to meet customer demand, Juniperdale Farms treads cautiously. Start-up costs for many crops, such as the high-density fruit trees, or the high tunnel vegetable crops, add up quickly at about $5,000 per acre. Taking on more than they can realistically handle isn’t an option.

The farm expands, “as I feel we can,” Fulmer said. “I don’t want to jump into something huge.”

Some experiments have included growing red raspberries in high tunnels and creating a moveable high tunnel for cherry trees. The red raspberries, which they no longer grow, did very well in tunnel production, but spotted wing drosophila became a major problem.

They are just beginning to grow cherries on dwarf trees. Cherries are prone to cracking just before maturity. A high tunnel would protect the fruit and alleviate bird damage, too. The size of cherries grown under a tunnel is about 10 percent larger than normal, making them more desirable to customers. While cherries are a high-demand, highvalue crop, using their moveable high tunnel would mean either decreasing the amount of high-tunnel tomatoes or investing in another.

Sweet corn is grown under plastic here, to get an early jump on the season. The corn is covered with clear plastic at planting — they row, fertilize, seed and spray herbicide as well as cover the crop with plastic, all in one step — promoting faster growth. Corn is uncovered when temperatures under the plastic reach about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Scorching the plants is a concern. But when done correctly, the corn will be in tassle by the end of May. Without the plastic, the first sweet corn is normally planted in mid-April, with a mid-July harvest.

“They like our corn and they like it early. It brings in customers to buy other early vegetables,” Fulmer said.

Another goal is to begin selling retail cuts of beef. The farm currently has 12 head of cattle, which are sold at auction. They’d like to increase revenue by offering the beef to customers as The Produce Crib expands.

The Fulmer family practices conservation measures, including no, low or strip tillage; contour planting; integrated pest management; filtering field runoff through sod waterways; and applying fertilizers based on crop need. They utilize drip irrigation for the vegetable crops and drip emitters in the orchard. They plan to add gravity-fed irrigation from the farm pond.

“We’re very conscious of conservation practices,” Fulmer said, and educating customers about their farming practices is a part of their goal.

Juniperdale Farms and The Produce Crib have grown along with the Fulmers, evolving to meet the needs of the family, as well as those of their customers. The expansion in crops and production techniques continues, and the family remains focused on a multifaceted approach, diversifying their revenue streams incrementally and spreading risk while changing with the times.

Photos: Juniperdale Farms and The Produce Crib

Tax Season 101: What You Need to Know


To get the most bang from your tax filing, preparation should be a long-term, year-round planning process.

It’s that time of the year when everyone, it seems, is thinking about the income tax filing deadline. For those who shudder to think of planning ahead, tax experts say the best way to protect your income is by doing so and making decisions to decrease your tax liability.

“Self-employment is about taking care of you and your family,” Tom McConnell, West Virginia Small Farm Center program leader, said in an Annie’s Project webinar on farm income taxes. “Keep in mind what you’re trying to do. Some of this information requires planning.” (Search “farm income tax basics” on Vimeo for a helpful video.)

McConnell emphasized that every penny earned has a tax associated with it, which varies depending on your tax bracket and that any loss means less income to be taxed. Knowing how to take advantage of the legal, legitimate means of reducing income tax liability is crucial.

“It’s important to realize that your net farm profit is going to be subject to self-employment tax,” Kristine Tidgren, J.D., assistant director for the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University, said during a November webinar sponsored by the Practical Farmer of Iowa. Tidgren was accompanied by Matt Russell, an Iowa farmer and Drake University resilient agriculture coordinator.

Filing farm income taxes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) typically means reporting income on Form 1040, and filing various “schedules” that accompany the main form. Farmers who report as self-employed taxpayers or single-entity limited liability corporations (LLC), as do most family farms (though partnerships and “S” corporations have different requirements), report farm income on “Schedule F,” which allows the cash, rather than accrual, method of accounting.

In the cash method, expenses are deducted as they occur, and income is claimed in real time. It’s a simple method, with the basic requirement that income is reported as soon as it is made available to you and expenses get deducted as they occur. A legitimate contract stipulating that a sale occurs and payment will be made at a specified later date, such as a sale of product to a cooperative or feed mill, is required if payment is not claimed as income immediately.

“I can say as a farmer that the tax code is one of the most important things that we think about in our operation,” Russell said. “The tax code for farms is different than about any other business. The incentive in the tax code is for farmers to invest in their farms.”

That is a good thing for farmers, and one they should take full advantage of by planning for tax implications when making business decisions.

Farm income tax basics

Schedule F is “the key document that you’ll fill out for the IRS,” Tidgren said.

Schedule F is specifically for farmers and has two sections. The first section is for listing farm income. The second is for farm expenses. Understanding what constitutes farm income, knowing what items are allowable expenses and reporting various types of expenses correctly is the basis for proper tax filing.

“You need to understand key provisions of the tax code,” Tidgren said. “You have to understand what types of expenses you can deduct” to make wise decisions about farm expenditures.

It’s also important to understand what constitutes income on the farm and how to legitimately reduce overall net income for favorable tax benefits. One tool available to farmers is income averaging. This allows farmers to reduce income tax liability by averaging income over three years, protecting against high tax rates as farm income fluctuates from year to year.

Farmers don’t have an equal income stream throughout the year. For this reason, there are special rules governing the paying of estimated taxes, which is a requirement for self-employed taxpayers. Instead of quarterly estimated tax payments, farmers who meet certain parameters are allowed to make one estimated payment annually. Eligible farmers are those whose farms provide at least two-thirds of all gross income.

Because income is not equally spread throughout the year, farmers need to know how to best utilize any cash surpluses that do occur. Any surplus cash can be used to purchase supplies in advance, or to prepay monthly expenses. The key to doing so legally is to have accurate records, including bills of sale.

“You can cut your tax liability dramatically,” McConnell said.

Keeping written records is absolutely necessary for all transactions. Sales, purchases, employee costs, cost of improvements, repairs, mileage costs and anything else related to the operation of the farm in any way needs to be documented.

“Simple operations have simple records,” McConnell said. But records must be written, accurate and accessible. “Don’t cheat yourself. Keep some receipts and report what you’re doing on the farm.”

Reporting income

Income for farmers isn’t just about selling what you produce. Though product sales are important, other items, such as crop insurance payments, have to be reported as income. Payments from some government agricultural payment programs often do, too, but others might not, and it can get confusing. Conservation program payments may be reportable as income, but not taxable, McConnell said.

If you occasionally perform custom work, it is reported as farm income. Feed assistance from anyone is income. Sales of livestock may be income, but in some situations is a capital gain. If you rent your pasture out to others, and you take care of those animals, this income is reported on Schedule F.

Off-farm income is reported on Form 1040. Any income received from another self-owned business – including making value-added farm products – is reported on Schedule C, “Profit or Loss from Business.”

Many farms may be doing some type of food processing. Processing of farm products is not reported on Schedule F. This is an important distinction, as income and expenses related to these activities are considered a non-farm business, and must be reported separately on Schedule C.

“If you are adding value to your crop, then the Schedule C part of the business, which is the value-added part of the business, will have to account for the Schedule F contribution,” McConnell said.

Distinguishing between farm income and income that needs to be reported as a separate business is important. A custom hire business isn’t farming income, but Schedule C income. Agricultural tourism income is also not farm income. If you are hosting visitors for on-farm dinners, farm stays, corn mazes, or other types of agritourism ventures, income derived from these activities is not considered Schedule F income. Maple sap is a marketable crop, so extracting that sap from the trees is farming, and reported on Schedule F, but making it into syrup is not farming, but processing, and is a Schedule C business for IRS purposes.

For those who also have off-farm household income to report, farm losses can be used to offset non-farm income, reducing total income tax due. For those situations where one spouse is the primary farm operator, but the other spouse does some work on the farm, making that spouse a paid employee of the farm can be advantageous.

“The principal operator can hire his or her spouse to do work on the farm,” and the income can then be used however they want – to go on vacation, retirement or in any other manner, McConnell said. “Labor is an allowable expense,” and therefore the farm can deduct labor costs of the spouse, whose earnings can then go toward expenses that are nondeductible.

Types of expenses

Expenses are allowable deductions against income. Expenses need to be ordinary and necessary for the farm business. Personal expenses are not deductible. The key to any expense deduction is keeping written records. Not all expenses in running a farm are simply deducted from the year’s income, however.

Equipment repairs are deductible expenses, but improvements that substantially prolong the life of the equipment, change its purpose or significantly add to its value are considered capital expenses. These also include improvements to the farm, such as fences and other infrastructure improvements.

As per the IRS, “Capital expenses are generally not deductible, but they may be depreciable. However, you can elect to deduct certain capital expenses,” including fertilizer costs, soil and water conservation expenses, qualified property and business start-up costs.

Expense deductions for farm use of vehicles, for farm utilities and for farm office expenses are acceptable, as long as records are kept. If a farm office is located in the home, the portion of utility cost, insurance payments and mortgage payments that apply to the office space can be deducted. Water used in farm activities – such as washing eggs – can also be a legitimate expense even when performed in the home, not the barn.

Some farm expenses can’t be deducted in full immediately and must be depreciated over time, including some capital expenses. By default, the cost of dairy and breeding livestock is depreciated over five years, equipment purchases over seven years, orchards and vineyard establishment over 10 years, and the costs of draining tiles or wells over 15, Tidgren said.

But there are exceptions to the depreciation timeline. Section 179 allows certain types of assets to be fully deducted in the first year they are placed in service, and “impacts farms and farming greatly,” she said. “If you are a small business, or a farm, and you invest or buy an asset, you can get to deduct that expense in the year you placed that asset in service.”

There are restrictions on what types of purchases can be deducted under Section 179 – single-use agricultural buildings are fine, but multipurpose ones are not.

Another consideration before claiming a Section 179 deduction is that if the item is sold before its useful life is over, the value of the deduction will need to be “recaptured,” and that value is then considered ordinary taxable income.

For further information, start here:

IRS’s Agricultural Tax Center

Farmer’s Tax Guide

The Small Farm Tax Guide

Penn State Fact Sheet

Are you operating a farm?

Although you may think you know this answer, the IRS may disagree with your assessment. The IRS doesn’t have a single standard definition of farming for all tax purposes, but here is one definition, from their tax tips, “Ten Things to Know about Farm Income and Deductions:” “Farms include plantations, ranches, ranges and orchards. Farmers may raise livestock, poultry or fish, or grow fruits or vegetables.”

That seems simple enough. But with different provisions of the federal tax code, there can be differences in definitions of qualified farming activities. State and local tax definitions of a qualified farm may vary, too. Property taxes, sales and use taxes and excise taxes may depend on differing definitions of agriculture and may or may not offer tax relief for farmers.

Hobby farms are defined by the IRS as those that aren’t farming for a profit. These operations don’t file a Schedule F. If farming isn’t the sole income or occupation but is conducted in a profit-making manner, Schedule F is allowed.

Those who are engaged in farming for profit generally must show a profit in three of every five years. Some people try to keep expenses below income, to show a profit, but this is not a good idea. You just need to be able to show why there was a loss, and document it, McConnell said.

Operating in a businesslike manner; keeping your money and the farm’s money separate; documenting your work activities; showing that you expect to make a profit from the farm; demonstrating that losses were due to acceptable reasons; and having the knowledge to run a farm: these are some of the “tests” that the IRS uses to establish the legitimacy of a farm business.

These safeguards are in place to protect real farmers. Farmers are treated with special rules, to help decrease their tax burden and help keep farming a viable occupation. Educating yourself about the farm tax code is imperative. Finding a tax professional familiar with farming can be the best way to manage your farm’s income and utilize the tax code to your advantage.

“No one should be intimidated by this,” McConnell said, as understanding the tax code means making wise business decisions on the farm.

Read more: Tax Strategies for Ag Enterprises

Photos: PerfectVectors, vasabii ,IkonStudio/istock