Harrisburg (Patriot News Op-Ed, March 24, 2012): Take a ride through Bradford County and you will find signs hanging in front of family farms that read "Century Farm." Century-old and newer family farms are the backbone of Pennsylvania's economy and our strong rural heritage.
Living on a dairy farm my entire life, I know we rise with the sun and rest our weary bones when the sun sets. No matter the price of milk, a successful farmer is one with excellent management skills and determination, combined with a little bit of luck. Farmers have an endearing love of family and land, and they take great pride in what they do for a living. To make a living farming is certainly not for the money. Now that the shale gas industry has embedded itself into the heart of rural Bradford County, I have wondered, will this energy industry really save our family farms?
According to some of the county commissioners such as Bradford's Doug McLinko, the answer is yes. He has been speaking to decision makers, gas companies, businesses and citizens through my home county of Bradford and across the state and beyond that the gas industry will save the family farm. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I have yet to see facts to back up his opinions.
Such opinions if not substantiated are dishonest and potentially harmful to the hard-working family farmers of Bradford County and other parts of this great state. Is the commissioner and those who make the same claims referring to the large amount of money we made when most farmers signed their leases in 2006?
These early leases provided little up-front money and no protections for the farmer. Perhaps commissioner McLinko believes that the untold riches promised by gas companies in the form of gas royalty payments will make everyone rich.
If so, has he bothered to ask how many gas wells have been drilled in the county and are still not producing royalties? And how many farmers are receiving or will receive royalty checks on all their property?
Because of the terms of most leases, a farmer might pay double production costs before receiving royalties, and he might find the gas companies are not obligated to pay royalties on the entire property, not to mention they might have to wait a long time before receiving royalties depending upon when the gas goes to market.
Perhaps commissioner McLinko is alluding to farmers who are making money on other gas-related developments such as well pads, access roads, pipelines, impoundment ponds, compressors, meter stations, etc.
But has anyone considered how these gas developments and industrial uses on farmland will impact agriculture production for years to come if a farmer does not have the necessary means or information to negotiate effective protection measures?
I wholeheartedly agree that farmers deserve a right to retire from farming without selling their family farm and home.
However, I am not convinced that the shale gas industry will provide such a retirement for most of us. I have seen many family farms become inactive voluntarily and some that were forced out of business once shale gas activity occurred on their land or in their area.
Farmers are making these decisions to stay in or get out of farming because of short-term economic promises presented by a nomadic and financially volatile energy industry without consideration of the long-term economic sustainability that Pennsylvania's agriculture industry has offered this state and country for more than a century.
I know that the land must produce enough money to sustain itself, but will it generate enough to sustain and offset the losses as a result of the shale gas industry?
No one knows how long they will receive a royalty check or how much they will get. No one knows whether their property will retain its present value. There are a lot of risks and uncertainties. Anyone who tells you otherwise is irrational and dishonest.