Farmers making their plans for spring

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Before farmers start their spring planting in March, they complete their winter planning in February.

There is plenty to do on a farm -- even when the ground is covered in snow.

Pennsylvania was home to 62,100 farms in 2012, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While that number was down by 100 from 2011, the average size grew from 122 acres in 2011 to 124 last year, which translates into an increase of 100,000 acres of farm land in the state to 7.7 million acres in 2012.

Nationally the number of farms fell by 11,630 to 2.17 million, while the average farm size rose by an acre to 421 acres. In 2012, the U.S. had 914 million acres of agricultural land, down by 3 million acres from 2011.

West Virginia lost 400 farms, a decrease of 1.8 percent in the number of farms as 30,000 acres of agricultural land fell out of production. In 2012, West Virginia had 3.62 million acres of farms.

Ohio lost 300 of the farms it had in 2011, with a decrease of 50,000 acres of land used for farming. Last year Ohio had 73,400 farms covering 13.5 million acres of the state.

Last year, Pennsylvania farmers said they wound up having a pretty good year and most are sticking to what worked.

Carolyn Beinlich, one of the owners of Triple B Farms in Forward, where they grow both fruits and vegetables, said last year was dry early in the season, but they got through with irrigation, even having to fill one of their irrigation ponds with municipal water.

She said the farm was less profitable because they kept their prices steady from 2011, but costs rose because they had to pay for the water to irrigate the crops.

Mrs. Beinlich said the farm isn't changing its planting mix, partially because their apples, peaches and berries are all perennials. Also because the blend of sweet corn, tomatoes and squash work as a good mix in their farm market.

Keith Eckle, a past president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau who grows vegetables in Wyoming, Luzerne County, said he also plans to stick with the same mix of vegetables he grew last year.

In 2011, Mr. Eckle lost huge swaths of corn when his fields by the Susquehanna River were flooded under 25 feet of water by Tropical Storm Lee right after the winds of Hurricane Irene knocked all of his corn down.

Last year was dry enough that the yield was lower than average, but the drought in the Midwest pushed feed corn prices up from the usual $5 a bushel to nearly $7.50 a bushel, he said. Mr. Eckle said he sold corn on Monday for a great price, which shows that it's not the yield that really matters for farmers, it is how much they get for the crop.

Farming, like a second marriage, is often an example of optimism overcoming experience. And Mr. Eckle is optimistic about the coming season.

He said he has ordered the last of the fertilizer he feels he will need for 2013. Most farmers spent last month and this getting equipment in order and even bringing in the last of the feed corn before preparing the fields for spring planting.

He will be planting his corn along the Susquehanna River, where he has an irrigation system set up that helped him through 2012.

And he is hoping that the drought, which is still severe in parts of the Midwest, does not shift east to encompass Pennsylvania.

"Drought is the largest single weather threat to agriculture," he said.

Correction, posted Feb. 20, 2013: An earlier version of this article misstated the acreage of Ohio farmland. It is 13.5 million acres.

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Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699. First Published February 20, 2013 5:00 AM


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