Adam Longenecker is hoping his 2-year-old son Austin will want to take over the family farm some day.
"He loves coming up to see the cows," Longenecker said. "He helps with feeding the calves. He basically just stands there and tries to feed them hay or something. Hey, you gotta introduce it to them young."
Longenecker, 28, is thinking about the long-term future of his family farm. He and his wife, Diana, 24, are looking into purchasing Sparkling Springs Farm in Clappertown from Longe-necker's parents.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Doug Smith, owner of Dry Creek Farm in Martinsburg, watches as his son Ryan, 22, changes points on a chisel plow in preparation for the fall harvest. Ryan works on the dairy farm full time but isn’t sure if he wants to take over the family business.
They already own about 25 of the nearly 300 dairy cows on the farm.
"We talked to the bankers who do agricultural loans, and they said that's where you should start, because that's where you're making your money," Longenecker said.
After the cows, Longenecker said the next step is to acquire the farm's land, building and equipment. He's worked on the farm for as long as he can remember and said those hours - sweat equity - will count toward the price he pays for the farm.
"It'd be a long process, like 10 to 15 years," he said. "If they want me to take it over, they gotta be fair on what they charge. .... It wouldn't be fair market value; basically, it's what we agree on - what's fair for them and fair for us to take it over."
If Longenecker does take over Sparkling Springs, he'll be the fifth generation of his family to own and work the land - a rarity these days, said Paul Lane, chairman of Blair County Farm Bureau's young farmers committee.
Most family farms in the area, Lane said, are on their third-generation owners, and a few are on their fourth. As chairman of the young farmers committee, Lane said he's seeing fewer young people like Longenecker who are interested in taking over the family farm. His committee is inactive due to a lack of interest.
"There are fewer young farmers, and fewer seem to be able to make the transition," he said. "Not all parents are willing to make the accommodations. If their farm's worth a million, they want a check for a million."
AgChoice Farm Credit, which has an office in Curryville, helps farmers with transition plans and loans, but the agency also helps with management plans.
"When you think about what you do on a farm, you don't necessarily think about the talents and skills the young farmer has to acquire to manage the business they're acquiring," said Scott Owens, AgChoice executive vice president and director of business management services.
Those skills, Owens said, include productivity, human resources and financial management. He said there are "a lot of farms" that will have to be transitioned in the next 15 to 20 years.
"Otherwise, the second alternative is selling for development," he said. "The average farmer age is 55 to 60 (in Penn-sylvania)."
Down the road from Sparkling Springs Farm, Doug Smith is the third generation of his family to own Dry Creek Farm in Martinsburg. He and his father formed a partnership in 1993, when he was 27. Now, at 42, he has three sons - 22, 18 and 15 - and a daughter, 13.
Smith said he doesn't know if any of his children are interested in taking over the farm, although the oldest, 22-year-old Ryan, works at Dry Creek, mixing feeds, doing feed work and manure management.
"He's still young enough that he's trying to decide what he wants to do," Smith said. "Each month he takes on more responsibility."
On a recent August day, Ryan was turning the shovels in one of the farm's plows. He said he wasn't sure if he wants to make the farm his career.
"I don't really think about it that much," he said.
He has some time - Smith said he wants to have transition plans in place in 10 years, by the time he's 52.
"I haven't done that first step yet," Smith said. "If one of my sons says, 'Yes, I'm interested,' then we'll look at long-range plans and maintenance. Within five years, we should know if any are interested. It's a major, major investment, about three-quarters of a million dollars. It's not a step you take unless you are committed."
If none of his children are interested in the family farm, Smith said he probably won't sell the property; he'll liquidate the cattle and rent the ground.
"I'd like to see it, but with today's economic conditions, who's to say what may come down the pipe?" he said. "If it becomes totally unprofitable to milk cows, I wouldn't want to saddle my kids with that. It looks nice, and it's a family business, but it is a business, and we have to remember that."