Mills reflects on dairy farm built on dreaming

THOMPSONTOWN – Thursday afternoon was hot and muggy, much different from the day the cows came home to Millwork Holsteins.

Joel Mills, owner of the operation, told the story of his family’s farm during the second annual Legislative Farm Tour, held at the Mills’ farm in Thompsontown. The event was sponsored by the Juniata County Farm Bureau.

Mills reminisced to more than 11 years ago, January 2003, when he and his wife, Sara, started their first-generation farm.

“We had no equity, but we had a desire,” he said.

With the help of a Farm Service Agency loan, the Mills purchased 90 cows and minimal equipment to begin their operation. It was snowing on the night the cows arrived.

The Mills moved facilities a few times before they settled in 2007 at the farm in Thompsontown.

Since then, the Mills and their three children have improved their farm by adding a milking parlor and calf barn, as well as increasing the size of cows’ stalls in another barn. The family also maintains 100 acres of corn.

In the future, Mills said he’d like to install two robots to help increase the farm’s milk production.

“That’s dreamin’ … but we didn’t get here without dreamin’,” he said.

After the tour, a town hall meeting was held, featuring Adam Harris, Pennsylvania state representative, Congressman Thomas Marino, Mathew Meals, deputy secretary for animal agriculture at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and Chris Hoffman, of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Marino said there are more than 360 good pieces of legislation that affect agriculture sitting on the desk of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but they are not being addressed.

“This job was not designed to be a career,” he said, adding that no leader should be able to prevent the progression of legislation through each level of the government.

Marino said House Republicans are trying to deregulate as much as possible. He said defunding organizations like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration is the only power they have at this time.

Hoffman said many representatives and agencies are supporting farmers’ way of life.

One local farmer in the audience asked the board about proposed limits to the amount of energy produced by anaerobic methane digester systems. He said regulations proposed by the Public Utility Commission limit the amount of energy produced.

This, he said, will eliminate farmers’ initiative to utilize the technology. At this time, producers can offset their own costs and provide energy to other homes in the area. If regulations change, producers will not be able to profit from the systems.

Meals said he has been working with the Department of Environmental Protection to find an agricultural exemption.

Marino said he also is working to change the use of food stamps, which he believes should be removed from the Farm Bill, and eligible items should be limited to nutritious foods. Under USDA regulations, Marino said, stores are required to keep three-year records of items purchased with food stamps. However, Marino said the USDA has not been enforcing this rule.

“It all boils down to the money and revenues,” he said.

Junk foods are 20-30 percent of store revenues.

“There are people out there who need welfare, and we need to support them,” he said.

However, the system is being abused and accounts for some of the government’s financial challenges. Marino said 70 percent of the state budget is mandatory spending, for items like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and paying interest on debt, leaving less funding for other causes.

Despite the challenges facing Pennsylvanians – including farmers – Marino said he believes the state has the potential to pay off its debt and move forward by tapping into Pennsylvania’s coal, oil and natural gas resources.

Meals encouraged farmers to speak up in numbers to protect their investments.

The town hall meeting lasted about one hour and covered topics including pension reform, dairy regulation, alternative energy, immigration, agritourism and the Farm Bill.