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Summit called to consider county farm's future

A summit of experts, most from Cos County, will be convened in September at the county nursing home in West Stewartstown on a still-to-be-determined date to consider the future of the county farm in West Stewartstown, which is operating at a loss that could mount up to $100,000 in 2009. Other uses will be considered for the property, located off Rte. 3 adjacent to the county nursing home and jail near the Connecticut River. (Photo by Edith Tucker) (click for larger version)
July 15, 2009
WEST STEWARTSTOWN — Faced with a potential operating loss at the county farm of between $80,000 to $100,000 in 2009, the county commissioners agreed at their Wednesday meeting that they needed to pick the brains of experts from across the county, as well as a few from outside Cos.

Steve Turaj, UNH Cooperative Extension agricultural resources educator, agreed to work with county administrator Sue Collins to craft an agenda for a post-Lancaster-Fair meeting at the county nursing home to which Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill and other state Ag. Dept. specialists would be invited.

"This is a tough time for farmers," Mr. Turaj said, noting that corn stalks are not only still short and but that the crop has also been hit hard by black cutworms, a double-whammy of almost unrelenting rainy weather and chewing pests.

"We need to get advice from all over the county," said Commissioner Tom Brady of Jefferson. "We need their thoughts as we determine the future of the county farm, possibly exploring other uses for the property's 1,100 acres of fields and forests."

An open-to-the-public dairy farm is one idea that Mr. Brady, who is general manager of a theme park in Jefferson, believes merits further consideration.

Commissioner Paul Grenier suggested that closing the county farm would harm the delicate infrastructure — veterinarians, feed suppliers, and equipment vendors — on which all Cos dairy and other livestock farms depend. "They're all connected," he pointed out, noting that the farm community is a "mosaic" that could experience a "domino effect" if the commissioners shuttered the county farm.

Nonetheless, Commissioner Grenier said, most county taxpayers are also feeling the pain of the nation's economic downturn.

The county delegation of state representatives will make the ultimate decision as to whether the county stays in the dairy business, pointed out Commissioner Grenier, who urged that members of the county delegation be invited to the meeting once its date is set.

"It's a supply-and-demand issue with too many cows across the nation producing more milk than the market now either needs or can absorb," Mr. Turaj said. Enormous dairy farms are now located in southern California and the southwest, both places that are hard-pressed to handle the large quantities of water that such farms need. Apparently a credit crunch is likely to further complicate the situation west of the Mississippi.

The Forbes Farm in Lancaster is the state's largest, with 1,100 milkers, Mr. Turaj reported, and Scott Forbes has said he would be interested in coming to the September summit.

The county farm, in contrast, has a herd of about 80 cows. Inmates receive a dollar a day for whatever work they perform, whether on the farm or at the recycling center.

Commissioner Brady strongly believes that inmates who work with animals are less apt to commit further crimes. Men incarcerated in the county House of Corrections have sentences of one year or less.

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