HONESDALE—Closing out activities at the 41st annual Ag Day, consultant Philip Gottwals unveiled Wayne County's Agricultural Development Plan, an initiative birthed out of a partnership between the Wayne County Commissioners and Wayne Tomorrow's Agricultural Workgroup.

“What we wanted to understand from doing all this is was what's produced here, what the ag trends are. We wanna understand what consumers are purchasing, what they're asking for and look for places where there might be some opportunities, and just a lot of other things...,” Gottwals said on Monday.

He identified there are 120,000 acres of farmland in Wayne County, which raise quality livestock and grass among other crops and products.

Gottwals added that 59 percent of Wayne County farms are operating at a loss.

“The average farm returns just over $6,000 a year,” he explained.

Additionally, “We see a massive increase in the average age of farmers,” said Gottwals, noting roughly 40 percent of farm owners are of an age to retire with only 23 percent of the population being young, new farm owners.

Notably, Wayne County has a greater influx of aspiring young farmers than other places in the state and region, said Gottwals.

“What we care about is creating more vibrancy in the ag economy, and that means … we want to see farmers engage more with consumers and getting more of the value-added dollars,” said Gottwals. “Our recommendations are built around keeping those dollars circulating locally.”

Speaking of dairy farming specifically, Gottwals stated the suggestions are not intended to draw farmers away from existing producers and co-ops, but rather “...taking the dairies that we have and making sure that the milk checks are coming in at a higher number.”

He noted this can be achieved through getting more individuals involved in manufacturing/in-county product development.

Specifically, Gottwals mentioned development of products to underserved hispanic markets in New York City and Philadelphia.

Additionally, Gottwals proposed establishing a dedicated online grocery delivery services to sell Wayne County goods to tourists when thy return to their homes.

Other opportunities lie in making better use of wood lots in the county.

In light of industry development, Gottwals also noted in collecting data “We heard again, and again, and again … a lot of people who were trying to start businesses here felt like the community supported them so far and then no further.”

Gottwals advised, “The community needs to be better engaged in supporting its entrepreneurs.”

Along with community support, the consultant also recommended infrastructure shortcoming, including broadband and cellular phone coverage, pose a hurdle to be surmounted along this developmental path.

To hep realize ag developments, Gottwals also suggested a unity between farmers, innovators and government officials to discuss how and where to implement key improvements to expedite this process.

“This isn't going to happen overnight,” said Gottwals, explaining that much of the development plan is about staging for future opportunities to arise, such as industrial hemp markets.

Robert Muller, co-chair of the Agricultural Workgroup, elaborated, “Some of it's about being prepared. If the opportunity comes along, do we have the supportive documentation and paperwork provided in our economic plan for somebody to ... develop a business plan, and the business plan is supported by the economic plan and the workforce? We've got to have those things in a row.”

Steps being taken now

With the initial ag survey completed, Gottwals noted the workgroup is already taking steps to implement some recommendations.

“We put in an application to fund a feasibility study for dairy,” he said. “We're hoping that sometime in the next two months we'll know whether the project's been approved.”

The project would involve an in-county processing center akin to the Tillamook Co-op in Oregon.

“That actually created their whole dairy processing infrastructure around attracting visitors,” said Gottwals. “They make sure those visitors have ice cream and cheese that they love and took home. And then they made sure those people asked their retailers to stock those items.”

From the assembled audience, Commissioner Chairman Brian Smith noted efforts could be made alongside such a tourism-minded plant to bus children in from nearby cities to learn about the milk production process.

More information

The full Agricultural Development Plan is available on the county website: www.waynecountypa.gov.

The Wayne Tomorrow Agricultural Workgroup meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. in the Wayne Conservation District boardroom (648 Park Street, Honesdale).

Those looking for more information can contact workgroup co-chairs Robert Muller (rmuller@nep.net) or Jane Bollinger (janebollinger05@gmail.com).

Development plan at a glance

As identified in the development plan, Wayne County's strengths lie in its tourism and recreation industries, the enthusiasm of its youth and beginning farmers, its core in the dairy farming industry, and its forestry products industry.

The plan notes weaknesses challenging Wayne County's agricultural development include regional cooperation, undeveloped and underdeveloped infrastructure, available labor and ag service/supply networks.

Finally, presenting both benefits and challenges to development are Wayne County's market access, development of innovation and entrepreneurship, financing capital, development patterns and agronomic growing conditions.

Recommendations in the development plan rest upon four cornerstones: 1) development of an entrepreneurial culture, 2) creating and innovative and adaptive future workforce, 3) modernizing infrastructure to encourage greater private investment, and 4) leading regional target industry development projects.