Smart Talk

Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Farm Show provides a learning experience

Written by witf.org, | Mar 8, 2014 1:07 PM
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Smart Talk radio host Scott LaMar enjoys a milkshake while broadcasting from the Pennsylvania Farm Show

The people who visit the Pennsylvania Farm Show every year have different reasons for going.

For many it’s a mid-winter tradition for wholesome fun and to escape the post-holiday doldrums. Young families, for example, enjoy taking their children to see all the animals and there are those who view the Farm Show as a smorgasbord and try to sample as many food and beverage items as they can.

At one time or another, I, too, have experienced these motivations. But today what I appreciate most about the Farm Show is how much I learn about agriculture and especially farming in Pennsylvania.

witf ’s “Smart Talk” radio program has broadcast one day from the Farm Show for each of the last four years. We use that annual program as a “State-of-Agriculture in Pennsylvania” report.

As host of “Smart Talk,” I have the opportunity to have conversations with people such as the state’s Secretary of Agriculture to college students majoring in the agricultural sciences to farmers themselves. Every year, I learn something new and I’m sure “Smart Talk” listeners do, too.

My takeaway from 2014’s show could be described as “good news-bad news.”

When I asked Michael Pechert, the executive deputy secretary with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, to name the biggest challenge facing the state’s farmers his answer surprised me.

“Invasive insects,” Pechert said, identifying the brown marmorated stink bug as public enemy No. 1 for fruit and vegetable farmers in Pennsylvania. The same insect that homeowners see as a smelly yet harmless bug has cost fruit farmers $80 million in losses during the last few years.

Pechert added that controlling the stink bug is difficult. At a time when farmers try to use natural techniques to battle a pest, pesticides seem to be one of the few ways to eliminate stink bugs.

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Research has found a wasp that kills stink bugs. Researchers also are experimenting with changing the insect’s genetics to keep it from reproducing. Pechert said it’s gotten so bad that “some fruit farmers may give up” and get out of the business.

That would be a loss for Pennsylvania and especially those consumers who buy and eat local products.

On the positive side, the Agriculture Department said there are 63,200 farms in Pennsylvania. That’s over a thousand more than just two years ago.

On our first “Smart Talk” broadcast from the Farm Show four years ago, the biggest concern was that not enough young people were taking up farming. An increase is good news.

I also learned that Pennsylvania farmers had their largest corn crop in years in 2013. Last spring’s wet weather made conditions just right for high yields. However, it seems there is always a “but” when it comes to farming. There was so much corn that many farmers and feed mills didn't have enough space to store it.

The way I see it: The Pennsylvania Farm Show is a learning experience

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