Ag Innovations Initiative

An orchard in the Adams County fruit belt.

An orchard in the Adams County fruit belt.

An Agricultural Heritage

Over one hundred and fifty years ago, a national conflict reached its tipping point in a small county in southern Pennsylvania. Smoke and fire ripped through the little town of Gettysburg, claiming thousands of lives. Today, cattle graze quietly in a field near the Culp Farm. Battlefield sites memorialize locations like ”The Wheatfield” and “The Peach Orchard.” These remain not as remnants of a bygone era, but rather as a testament to the rich agricultural heritage that lives on in Adams County.

The rolling hills and unique microclimate of the South Mountain fruit belt help supply the largest apple and peach crop in the state. Large poultry, dairy and livestock operations support the county’s economy and employment, while small farms flourish thanks to the local foods movement and proximity to Eastern urban areas. Tree fruit packing and processing plants distribute local produce, and cutting-edge research trials are conducted at the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville.

Ag Innovations Initiative

Adams Countians have always embraced cooperation, working in collaboration for the success of our industries, schools and community. In March 2005 concerned citizens and ag community leaders came together to discuss the state of local agriculture and address its future in our community and economy. Out of this initial Ag Innovations Summit, the Ag Innovations Initiative was born.

Originally three priority areas were identified: Land Use Planning & Education, Marketing Partnerships and Ag Production Innovations. Out of these came programs such as advocacy for preservation, public education on land use issues, local foods initiatives, the Penn State Extension Young Grower Alliance and support for next generation producers, attainment of USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grants to find engineering solutions to increase ag production efficiency as well as the beginning of invaluable partnerships.

The second Ag Innovations Summit held in 2011 reexamined priorities and created action plans in four areas: Ag Education, Farm Profitability & Sustainability, Ag Marketing and Land Use & Environmental Stewardship. These four have led to very successful, community encompassing programs to show the importance of agriculture as an economic driver in Adams County.

Vision Statement
Adams County has a rich heritage of agricultural productivity and stewardship. The diverse range of farm types and techniques found here are integral to the culture, economy and quality of life in rural Adams County. We are fortunate to have a strong base of natural resources, infrastructure and support industries that are necessary to promote a dynamic farm economy. By building cooperation across all facets of the rural sector, we will develop and implement new, innovative approaches that will meet today’s farming challenges, thus securing long-term agricultural viability and a strong future for Adams County agriculture.

Mission Statement
To inspire a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation within rural Adams County, and encourage novel approaches to agriculture’s challenges and opportunities, thus securing a strong future for farming as an integral part of our economy and community.

Ag Education

The Ag Education committee goals are

  • to build collaborations among local farmers, educators, business owners and students to improve ag education programs at the secondary, college and continuing education levels
  • to improve ag literacy and appreciation within our community

County public schools, Harrisburg Area Community College, Gettysburg-Adams Chamber of Commerce, Gettysburg Young Farmers, Adams County Farm Bureau, Gettysburg College and Penn State Extension have cohesively worked together on projects such as a “Know Your Food” Farm Bill Forum and Spotlight on Ag News Columns to inform producers and consumers about the ways the Farm Bill affects the wider food system in the county. Forums such as this also educate the public on agriculture as an economic driver in the county.

The Adams County Ag Issues Breakfast Series facilitates dialogue between agricultural community leaders and local, state and national policymakers.

Farm Profitability & Sustainability

Ag research and extension programs to increase ag sustainability focus on supporting current producers as well as a new generation.

The Penn State Extension Young Grower Alliance (YGA) supports young specialty crop growers through coalition-building, leadership development and education on production and market innovations. YGA provides numerous experiential learning opportunities in the form of “Models of the Future” demonstration plots, study circles, farm tours, a project on sustainable agriculture in rural Nicaragua and scholarships to attend national and state horticulture conventions.

Kari Peters giving disease talk 

Workshops and field trainings are conducted on topics such as farm transitions, business management and integrated pest management. The Start Farming course listings and the YGA website are good examples.

Research on “Labor Efficient Apple and Peach Production Systems” has demonstrated increases in efficiency of 50% or more with autonomous electric work platforms and mechanical peach blossom thinners and 30% increases in efficiency with a Penn State harvest assist system. We have identified an industry partner interested in commercializing the harvest-assist device, and the Penn State Innovations Grant Program is providing funding for a Penn State commercialization team to conduct an analysis of the market potential for this innovation. The International Fruit Tree Association chose Adams County for a Summer Study tour because of leadership in the areas of precision management and automation. A Specialty Crop Innovations Progress Report is available.

Field Day

Ag Marketing

With a strong tourism sector in Adams County, Ag Marketing is working toward integrating agriculture and tourism to create further agri-tourism options for visitors. Historic South Mountain Fruit Belt signage and agri-tourism centers are being established to encourage tourists to explore the rural areas of Adams County. Important partners are the South Mountain Partnership, the Adams County Farmers Market Association and Destination Gettysburg.

A new food hub initiative works to answer Adams county producers’ needs for mid-level distribution. A grant from the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania provided the leverage to partner with Northern York School District to receive a USDA Farm to School Grant to create a Food Hub Distribution Network. The hub will facilitate distribution of local produce from three counties—Adams, Cumberland and York—to six area school districts in the region including three in Adams County.

The emerging hard cider industry has the potential to increase revenue by 60% compared to process apple sales for an average orchard. In light of this opportunity we have developed a hard cider program to educate, elevate and provide much needed research to keep our industry professionals on the cutting edge of this profitable industry.

Land Use & Environmental Stewardship

The Rural Resource Division of the merged Office of Planning and Development focuses on protecting and utilizing our rural landscapes, including its productive farmlands, unique fruit belt region as well as its abundant natural resources, such as its forestland, streams and greenways through sound land use planning. To learn more about the Department and various projects throughout the County visit their website.

At the 2011 Ag Innovations Summit one of the main focus areas was the protection of our viable agricultural land and the creation of a priority area map for preservation efforts. To achieve this goal, the “Agricultural Preservation Priority Map” was created and is an integral part of the ranking system for the AC Agricultural Land Preservation Program which protects the county’s agricultural industry resource base – the land. Adams County recently celebrated the Program’s 25th Anniversary and has reached a milestone – preserving over 20,000 acres of farmland throughout Adams County! Learn more about the Adams County Agricultural Preservation Program.

Ag community input and county planning collaboration is an important element in economic development initiatives and establishment of farm friendly land use policies. An example of this type of collaboration effort is the Fruit Belt Economic Impact Assessment, which is Adams County’s first comprehensive examination of one of its leading agricultural industries. This assessment will provide a more thorough understanding of the significance of the Fruit Belt to the overall economy of Adams County and help shape future policy discussions related to sustainability of this industry.

National Collaborations

Tree Architectures and Technologies to Address Labor Concerns

technologyFollowing the Ag Innovations Summits, producers, community leaders and Penn State Extension partnered to re-tool the Pennsylvania fruit industry with innovative growing systems and technologies. This partnership positioned Penn State to successfully compete for grants to plant twelve 1-acre model orchards throughout the Commonwealth and to successfully develop and test technologies to increase efficiency for labor intensive practices such as thinning and pruning, monitoring insect populations and harvesting fruit. Throughout the fruit belt, you will see many new plantings with well-defined architectures that optimize sunlight interception and also opportunities for mechanization. As a result of multi-disciplinary research and extension projects, blossom thinning is becoming a standard labor-saving practice, and automated insect trap, autonomous electric work platform and vacuum assist harvest technologies are closer to market.

Special Thanks to ~

  • Adams County Commissioners
  • Adams County Economic Development Corporation (ACEDC)
  • Adams County Farm Bureau
  • Adams County Farmer’s Market Association
  • Adams County Food Policy Council
  • Adams County Fruit Growers Association (ACFGA)
  • Adams County Green Space Grant Program
  • Adams County Master Gardeners
  • Adams County Office of Planning & Development Rural Resource Division
  • Conservation District of Adams County
  • Destination Gettysburg
  • Family farmers & fruit growers
  • Gettysburg Adams Chamber of Commerce
  • Gettysburg College
  • Gettysburg Farmers Market Association
  • Gettysburg Young Farmers Educational Association
  • Healthy Adams County
  • Land Conservancy of Adams County
  • Local business owners
  • Local equipment manufacturers
  • Local financial advisors
  • Main Street Gettysburg
  • Penn State researchers and educators
  • Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program
  • Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA)
  • Pennsylvania legislators
  • Regional planning representatives
  • State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania (SHAP)
  • United States Department of Agriculture– Farm Service Agency (FSA)
  • United States Department of Agriculture– Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS)

East Berlin valley

East Berlin Valley, Adams county. Photo by Loy Elliott.

Visit the Adams county website for two publications produced by the Ag Innovations Steering Committee: A Home in the Country—Life in Adams County & Environmental Stewardship Efforts in Adams County.

For additional information, please contact:

Mike Basedow
Specialty Crop Innovations Program Manager/Young Grower Alliance Coordinator,
717-334-6271, ext. 331

Penn State Extension Adams County
Adams County Agricultural & Natural Resources Center
670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204
Gettysburg, PA 17325

Evening landscape

A preserved Adams County farm. Photo by Loy Elliott.

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Ag Innovations Initiative

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