8 farmers honored as 2017 Mid-Atlantic Master Farmers
Eight Master Farmers from Maryland and Pennsylvania were honored Friday, July 14, during the Mid-Atlantic Master Farmers Association banquet at Gettysburg, Pa. They include:
* Abram, Robert and Thomas Barley of Conestoga (Lancaster County), Pa.
* Jim Biddle of Williamsburg (Blair County), Pa.
* Brian Campbell of Berwick (Columbia County), Pa.
* David Hunsberger of Mifflintown (Juniata County), Pa.
* Robert Hutchison of Cordova (Talbot County), Md.
* Robert Keefer of Shippensburg (Cumberland County), Pa.
This 83rd annual career achievement honors program is co-sponsored by American Agriculturist magazine and Cooperative Extension of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, with generous support of AgChoice Farm Credit, Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit and FS Growmark. Here’s a brief overview of the achievements of these Master Farmers.
Abram, Robert and Thomas Barley
While they grew up working for their 1978 Master Farmer fathers, Abram Sr. and John Barley, the “Barley boys” – Abe, Rob and Tom – grew Star Rock Farms into a teeming agribusiness with dairy, beef finishing, hog production and broiler enterprises – fed by crops from more than 6,000 acres.
Abe, Abram’s son, leads the cropping and maintenance aspects of the overall business. Diesel mechanic skills learned in the Marines served him well after returning to the farm.
Rob and Tom, John’s sons, took the college route, graduating from Penn State and Millersville University, respectively, with business skills. Rob manages the financial and livestock enterprise aspects of Star Rock. Tom manages the dairy enterprise.
In 1991, Rob returned to the farm and began working with the beef finishing operation. With Tom’s graduation, the three began farming together in 1993, partnering in a small dairy on a rented farm. Today, their multi-faceted business has 50 employees with cropping operations in five counties. Now, they, too, are looking to begin transition their businesses to the next generation.
Abe and wife Jennifer have three children: Abigail, Ellie and Jack. Rob and wife Shelly have five children: Amelia (Lewgood), Michael, Ethan, Michaela and Laurel. Tom and wife Elizabeth have four children: Emma, Jonah, Ivy and Colt. Most of this next-generation work full-time or part-time at Star Rock.
All three are involved off the farm, including Farm Bureau. Abe has served on Lancaster/Lebanon FSA county committee. Tom has been a board member of the Lancaster Holstein Association. Rob has served as president of the state’s Dairy Policy Action Coalition, and board member of Lancaster County Ag Council and township planning commission.
Jim Biddle knows what it is to start with zero farm assets and farm equity. After farming with his parents, then earning an ag engineering degree at Penn State, he chose to purchase and focus on a feed, crops and farm supply business in 1980 that continues today as Mill Hill Farm Supply. That business prospered, allowing the addition of a warehouse and purchase of a second store and feed mill. Growth of that business enabled Biddle to begin developing his own Mill Hill Farms, LLC in 2000, now a 790-acre cropping operation with a 295-cow milking herd.
Jim and wife Carol have four grown children: daughter Sarrah and sons Matt, Josh and Zach. Sarrah and Josh plus their spouses are involved in the Mill Hill enterprises.
Biddle has used his certified crop advisor background to better advise customers in all areas of crop production – and develop environmentally and economically sustainable production on his own farm. The result: higher per acre and per cow productivity.
Jim remains as president and CEO of Mill Hill Farm Supply. He also has responsibility for cropping and financial oversight of the farm. Son Josh is in charge of the dairy enterprise. The Biddles also provides custom square baling services.
Jim has served in numerous director leadership roles, including Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperation, PennAg Industries insurance group, AgChoice’s leadership advisory council, Blair County Extension and Blair County Conservation District. He’s also served on advisory committees for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Williamsburg FFA.
As a 10-year-old, Brian Campbell was selling his sweet corn at local Saturday farmers market. By age 12, he was picking strawberries and sweet corn for another farmer. At age 14, he had his own Farmer Moofy’s roadside stand during summer in nearby Bloomsburg.
Campbell was “on a roll” early in life – destined to be a food crop marketer. Even while earning an ag science degree at Penn State, he continued marketing produce during summer at Farmer Moofy’s. After graduating, he rented a 250-acre neighboring farm, raising vegetables for the stand, plus grain and pumpkins.
In the late 1990s, Campbell began marketing pumpkins to Walmart and Giant. Over the next 10 years, he added sweet corn, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuces to his direct-market mix, and to Farmer Moofy’s produce stand.
He has purchased four farms since 2005. Today, Brian Campbell Family Farms includes close to 2,000 acres of owned and rented land, with nearly 900 acres in corn and soybeans. Along the way, he and wife Erika also grew a family of three children: Alexandra, Evan and Brooke.
Brian has been president of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association and chair of PVGA’s Leadership and Recognition Committee, chairperson of the Columbia County Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher committee, a director of the Columbia County Conservation District and president of the Columbia County Crop Management Association.
As a boy, David Hunsberger always heard it was impossible to start farming without a farm in the family. His dream was not to be denied.
As a teen, his first job was picking apples for a neighbor. He also helped another neighbor’s crop and livestock farm along with other part-time jobs while finishing high school. Then came two years of work as a carpenter, plus nine months of voluntary service for the Mennonite Church.
After running an L2 Gleaner combine during wheat harvest from Oklahoma to Montana, David earned an associate agriculture degree at Hesston College in Kansas, and a dairy husbandry degree at what’s now called Delaware Valley University.
By milking cows at DelVal, he left college with little debt, with a fulltime sales position with Agway – and with wife Christina, whom he met at Hesston College. That opened an opportunity for their first foray into farming – custom-feeding heifers on a small rented farm. Three years later, they purchased an 8-acre farmette and slowly grew their rental acreage – adding their own dairy heifer calves to raise along with custom heifers.
At age 27, Hunsberger purchased their home farm – a defunct dairy with 130 acres. Despite financial “hiccups” along the way, Happy Hollow Dairy is a mostly-owned 360-acre dairy with a 200-cow milking herd. It’s also home ground to the couple’s five grown children: Nathan, Abram, Isaac, Hiram and Hannah.
Off-farm service is a priority. He has served on boards of the Maryland Virginia Milk Producers cooperative, the Pa. Forage and Grasslands Council, Pa. Dairy Stakeholders, Juniper Community Mission and Juniata Clearing House.
Robert “Bobbie” Hutchison
As a young farmer, Bobbie Hutchison foresaw the need for farmers to be active and on the frontline of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Thanks to his family, he was able to invest time and efforts to be a “farmer’s voice” in the regulatory process that successfully shaped Maryland agriculture into a national environmental model.
Hutchison is a partner in Hutchison Bros., a 4,000-acre cash grain and vegetable cropping business owned with brother Richard, son Travis, and nephews Kyle and Robert. Sandy soils on owned and leased ground make 28 pivot irrigation systems an economic must on close to 2,300 acres.
Bobbie and brothers grew up on their father’s farm. Bobbie and wife Mary Lou also have a grown daughter, Jodi.
He earned an associate degree of agriculture at nearby Chesapeake College, then spent two years as an agronomy research technician at University of Maryland. That whetted his thirst for learning about technologies and research that improved nutrient and economic efficiencies – variable-rate nitrogen and planting, buffers, bioreactors and more – now crucial to reducing agriculture’s environmental impact.
Hutchison has served as president of Talbot County Farm Bureau, Md. Grain Producers Association, Md. Grain Producers Utilization Board, and a member of the National Barley Improvement Commission. He’s also secretary of the Hughes Center for Agro-ecology and co-chair of the Delmarva Land and Litter Workgroup.
Bobert Keefer is a third-generation farmer who knew the economic realities of farming even as a sixth-grader. When his father had to get an off-farm job, he started milking cows before and after school. As a ninth-grader, he rented a barn for 40 sows and sold feeder pigs – and milked his dad’s cows until he graduated from high school.
In 1977, he purchased the family farm, was milking 50 cows and raising 400 hogs for market. By 1985, he had bought two more tracts of land and was milking 150 cows. In 2000, a new dairy complex brought further expansion to today’s 630-cow milking herd and 1,125 acres now including a total of four purchased farms. Herd growth was solely via internal growth – raising their own heifers.
The farm’s name is appropriate: Hard Earned Acres, owned by Bob and wife Barb. The couple has two grown children: Brian and Jaime.
Community service has been important to Keefer. He has been president of the FFA chapter, the Shippensburg school board and Franklin County Vo-Tech. A few years ago, he even traded jobs with the local fire chief for a day as part of the local Farm-City job exchange to share what they learned at a Farm-City Banquet.