Chapter II: Production

Agricultural production topics including agronomy, horticulture, livestock, and equipment.

1. Horticulture

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Pennsylvania producers harvested over 66,000 acres of horticultural crops in 2015.

Christmas trees may be grown in many areas of Pennsylvania however; you will need to absorb the input costs for at least seven years before seeing a return on your investment.

Greenhouses are becoming popular among producers who wish to add additional income from a small area of their farm. Greenhouse production may be year-around and can provide valuable cash flow throughout the year.

Small-scale vegetable production has increased over the past ten years due in part to the demand for local products and healthier eating patterns.

The green industry in Pennsylvania (PA) consists of four main categories, landscaping, ornamentals, floriculture, and turf and each has unique markets and strengths. These industries consist of both retail and wholesale marketing opportunities in all categories.

The term “small fruit” includes many of the berry crops such as blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries among others.

Before planting your first fruit tree, you should conduct your own research regarding production, marketing, and financing the enterprise.

Many associations pass along information and research results that greatly benefit the members. An affiliation with some trade organizations may also provide discounts for supplies and possibly insurance products.

2. Agronomy

Creating pro-forma budgets will assist your decisions as to which crops you produce and creating actual budgets after harvest will help analyze where changes are needed.

Agronomic crops in Pennsylvania have several uses including dairy and livestock feed and for sale.

Grain crops may be fed or sold although most forage crops are stored and used on farm for feed.

Weeds are considered pests as they can compete with the crop for soil moisture and nutrients.

Your soils and soil structure may determine the crops you can produce.

How you market your crops may determine if you are profitable or seeking outside funding to continue in business.

3. Livestock and Poultry

Livestock production may take many forms and, depending on your facilities, you may be able to combine several enterprises on your farm.

Beef cattle is a major industry in Pennsylvania (PA) with over 25,000 farms raising over 1.6 M cattle and calves with a value of almost $700 M according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) 2012 Census of Agriculture. The largest category of farms have between 55 and 99 animals with sales of almost $77 M. These farms are considered to be small to mid-sized in PA.

The equine industry is the second largest industry in Pennsylvania. Horse and harness racing are major parts of the industry however, there are many pleasure and draft horses throughout Pennsylvania.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) 2012 Census of Agriculture, Pennsylvania ranks second in production of poultry and eggs with sales of over $1.3 billion. Pennsylvania also produces game bird species sold to the Pennsylvania Game Commission or private hunting operations for stocking.

Sales of sheep and goats generate over $3M annually for Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has over 2,700 independent producers with over 320,000 sows and pigs with the majority of farms having less than 25 animals per farm.

Livestock associations can be an excellent source of information, while providing valuable networking opportunities for aspiring producers.

4. Equipment

All farming enterprises will need some type of equipment to produce the products for sale. This may be a $300,000 combine or a $2,000 tractor.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), each farm in Pennsylvania has an average of over $87,700 worth of equipment.

5. Dairy

Dairy is the largest agricultural industry in Pennsylvania as determined by value of sales and ranks fifth in the U.S. with sales nearing $2 billion.  There are 530,000 dairy cows in the state on 6,720 farms, with average dairy farm herd size at 72 cows.  Milk production per cow averages just over 20,000 pounds.  

Whether you have plans to produce fluid milk for sale to a cooperative or to process and direct market your own fluid milk and/or dairy products, producing high quality milk from healthy cows is essential.

In addition to the information and resources you find here, eXtension provides a variety of articles and resources related to dairy business and production.

Milk cows are the income generator for dairy farms. However, without proper nutrition and herd management, along with keen business, human resource, nutrient, and feed management, a dairy farm will be a difficult business to operate.

Calves and heifers are the next generation on the dairy farm and their health and management will strongly influence the future of the business.