Agriculture

In this May 21, 2018 photo, a sign opposing an industrial hog farm is displayed at a home in Berwick, Pa. Residents who complain about foul smells from the nearby hog farm have taken their fight to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
AP Photo/Michael Rubinka

For several years, a hog farm in Luzerne County has been under legal fire for emitting a stench that people say can make the surrounding area almost unlivable.

A lawsuit is now awaiting consideration before the state Supreme Court.

But the outlook isn't good--and that's largely because Pennsylvania law makes it near-impossible to sue farms for nuisances like smells.

Alisha Risser owns and runs a dairy farm in Lebanon county. Having been in the business for 17 years, Risser said consistently low milk prices in recent years have been really hard for farmers.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

Along stretches of farmland on South Lincoln Avenue in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, you will notice yard signs with bright orange letters that read, “SAVE OUR LOCAL DAIRY FARMS.”

Alisha Risser owns one of those dairy farms.

Seventeen years ago, Risser and her husband started a contract with Swiss Premium, a brand of the national distributor Dean Foods. In those days, Risser said business was good.

Forty-two Pennsylvania dairy farms scrambled in search for new markets after receiving contract termination notices about a month ago from Dean Foods, a national distributor based in Texas. Since then, two distributors in the state have entered agreements with some of those farms.

Harrisburg Dairies will pick up nine farms in the Lebanon-Lancaster area, while Schneider’s Dairy in Pittsburgh decided to take on four farms from Clarion and Venango counties. 

One of the nation’s largest dairy distributors is ending its contract with dozens of Pennsylvania dairy farms at the end of May — a decision that reflects challenges faced by the industry.

Two women in field
Alyssa Gurklis / Penn State's Student Farm

Chances are you have passed by Penn State’s one acre Student Farm without even knowing it.

“The farm site is located at a really interesting intersection of 322 and cow pasture," Leslie Pillen said. She points to the highway nearby. "So you have large trucks – semis – driving by on one side and cows – sometimes horses, too – on the other.”

Pillen is the coordinator of the new Penn State Student Farm. Coming from Nebraska and having a master’s degree in rural sociology, she plays an essential role at the farm.