The New Face of Farming
Times change, and so do farms. In the information age, GPS and the Internet are keeping Delaware’s family operations on the cutting edge. Some good ol’ fashioned ice cream doesn’t hurt.
(page 1 of 5)
As a boy, Mike Fennemore remembers his mother working all day at Fifer Orchards before finally going home for dinner. Afterward, she might return to her office behind the family home, where he could see her light on into the night. Today, after leaving Delaware for college and another career, Fennemore is back at Fifer Orchards as part of its fourth generation of farmers. To his surprise, he, too, sometimes find himself in the office late at night.
Forty percent of Delaware’s land area today remains in farms. Many of them have been owned and operated by proud families for several generations. What keeps them going? In their arsenal of survival tactics, local farmers count a long-standing ethic of hard work, dedication and innovation. That means adopting new technology and marketing strategies in order to stay in business. On today’s farm, more happens than raising crops or livestock. To various degrees, farms have become grocery stores, gift retailers and entertainment centers, which makes agritourism as important as agriculture. And you can find it all happening on Facebook.
“The older generation look at us now and say, ‘I don’t know if I would do that,’” says Travis Hastings, a fourth-generation farmer at Lakeside Farms in Milton. “But they did the same thing. It’s just the challenges were different.”
Lakeside’s main crop is watermelons. It also grows soybeans, wheat and field corn, as well as sweet corn and string beans. Like many farmers, Hastings uses GPS technology to increase efficiency and productivity on his 1,900 acres.
“We go out and map all our fields with computers, and on top of that you can overlay your fields with soil grids,” says Hastings. A GPS system on his tractor “will record exactly what you’ve done as you go along, down to what hybrid of corn. Then you take the card out, put it in your computer, and the soil grid will show exactly right down to the coordinate where that corn is. When harvest comes, you take the card and put it into the combine.”
Though the adoption of GPS technology was slow and sometimes expensive, Lakeside represents the norm for farms of its size, says Chris Cadwallader, a statistician for the Delaware Department of Agriculture. “It has certainly gained momentum within the past five to 10 years. By now I would guess that over 70 percent of farms with 1,000 acres or more are on GPS,” Cadwallader says.
That kind of innovation—and no small degree of risk taking‚ are a way of life in agriculture.
“There’s that stereotype of the farmer that is stuck in his ways. He just wants to do it his way,” says Fennemore, “I think there’s probably something to be said for that to a degree, but farmers are pretty smart businesspeople if they’ve been around for that long. They’ve seen a lot of ebbs and flows in the ag economy, and they’ve seen a lot of things thrown at them.”
Page 2: The New Face of Farming, continues...