Farmers talk business at the Barre farm show

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(Host) Every year, farmers from throughout the state make a mid-winter pilgrimage to Barre for the annual Vermont farm show. It’s a chance for farmers to look over new equipment, run into old friends, and check the pulse of the state’s farm economy. At this year’s 69th annual Farm Show, VPR’s John Dillon found that low milk prices have hurt other areas of the agriculture economy:

(Dillon) It’s a pale, January day outside. But inside the Barre Auditorium, it smells like mid-summer. Baskets of green hay are stacked against the wall, waiting to be judged for freshness and quality. A faint whiff of the barn clings to overalls and coats. Seed salesman and equipment vendors staff the booths that crowd the floor. Their business depends on the health of the farm economy.

With wholesale milk prices at a 25 year low, the outlook isn’t great. Feed salesman Chan Washburn says farmers are not in a buying mood:

(Washburn) “Right now, I don’t think they have it to spend. Cash flow on a lot of farms has really dried up. They’re well above their break even point. Everything is negative cash flow at this point.”

(Dillon) Next door to the Auditorium is an ice rink converted for the week into a farm equipment show room. These are the big-ticket items. Shiny tractors and bailers are parked in rows.

Ron Greenwood stands next to a pair of royal blue, New Holland tractors. Greenwood’s company has sold farm equipment in East Randolph for 75 years. He sells a lot of tractors, but not many to dairy farmers:

(Greenwood) “I think last year we sold one ag tractor to a dairy farmer. There’s different farmers, but the dairy farmers is kind of the core. That was out of about 75 tractors. They’re not buying, for the most part. Farmers are being very cautious. They don’t want payments into the future, not knowing what the future is. Which you can’t blame them, even though the interest is the best it’s been for years.”

(Dillon) Greenwood is the Farm Show president this year. He worries that as the farm economy worsens, the business infrastructure that supports farmers will crumble as well:

(Greenwood) “That’s definitely a point to worry about and it’s definitely on farmers’ mind. We have many farmers ask us, ‘Geez you’re not going to quit selling farm equipment are you?’ It’s a concern.”

(Dillon) Lyndonville farmer Brian LaCoss is just down the aisle from Greenwood’s display. LaCoss says farmers aren’t optimistic that prices will recover soon:

(LaCoss) “Everybody seems to be pretty much depressed about it. If it does rebound, it will probably be for a month or two, like it always does. And then it will go right back down, you know. It never stays up there. And this has been a long time being down.”

(Dillon) Back in the main auditorium, the Future Farmers of America are meeting for their annual awards ceremony. Dozens of high school students crowd long tables. They wear blue jackets with gold letters embossed with the name of their FFA chapter.

As he stands in line for a sandwich, Ben Rochan from Vergennes says he’s worked on a farm, but probably won’t chose agriculture as a career:

(Rochan) “Because if there’s no money in it right now, why should we get involved? It’s just getting yourself in a big headache. Why take on big responsibilities for the pocket change you’re going to get?”

(Dillon) But Bill Van Der Weert, his classmate from Vergennes High School, disagrees. He’s got some of the optimism that’s kept generations of farmers going through winter:

(Van der Weert) “I think that the economy is going to rebound and that it’s going to come back up, because people need to eat and they need dairy products. It’s going to come back up sometime. After all those generations of work that my family put into it, I’d hate to have it go down the tubes by not carrying it on.”

(Dillon) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon at the Farm Show in Barre.

(Host) The three-day run of the farm show concludes Thursday.

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