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'Clean water benefits everybody': Middletown resident Howes plays key role in Farm Show display

By Laura Hayes

Posted 1/15/20

By Laura Hayes

Just after 11 a.m. Friday, a yell broke through the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s Giant Exposition Hall that a demonstration was about to …

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'Clean water benefits everybody': Middletown resident Howes plays key role in Farm Show display


Just after 11 a.m. Friday, a yell broke through the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s Giant Exposition Hall that a demonstration was about to start.

It took place at one of the largest displays in the hall, and it showed how soil, using different farming practices, retains water.   

Jay Howes of Middletown played a key role in making it all happen.

The large conservation display took up 4,800 square feet and featured farm equipment and greenery growing in soil. The demonstrations ran twice a day until the Farm Show ended Saturday.

“Overall, the display is trying to portray visually the value of conservation practices on the farm and the value to both the farmer himself and the public,” Howes said.

The display was sponsored by the Friends of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Foundation and manned by Howes, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the president of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance, Jim Hershey.

The display, he said, is to let the public know why farmers do certain practices and the connection between healthy soil and clean water.

“Healthy soils and clean water benefit the farmer. Clean water benefit the farmer. Clean water benefits everybody,” Howes said.

It’s the third year that the display has been at the Farm Show, although Howes calls it the “little sister” to a similar exhibit from about a decade ago that also included a barn and livestock and took up three times as much space.

A couple of years ago, Howes said organizers wanted to re-instate an exhibit focusing on conservation practices.

Howes grew up on a dairy farm in Bucks County and has lived in Middletown for more than 10 years. He is a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board.

He had his own farm in Centre County and managed dairy cattle auctions. For 16 years, he worked as director of policy development for the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. For four years he was deputy secretary for consumer protection, regulatory affairs and dairy industry relations for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Howes now is a consultant and represents all of the dairy co-ops on regulatory issues.

He said they have been working on the display since Dec. 16. But this year, in addition to the show kicking off Jan. 4, Howes also had to grapple with midweek holidays and working with a new landscaper.

“It turned out it ended up perfect and probably would not have needed to start quite that early, but it was nice because it gave us time to fine-tune everything,” Howes said.

One side of the display showed the progression of farming using conservation methods starting from the fall harvest to when the primary crop is planted in the spring. The other side had a stream cutting through.

After laying the ties that border the display, the exhibit was filled with dirt. Then crews from Broderick’s Landscape Contracting in Conestoga got to work on the landscaping.

The plants started their growth in a greenhouse and were brought into the Farm Show Complex on Dec. 26. The machinery on display was also brought in after Christmas.

The new rainfall simulator is the visual of the results of the conservation methods, according to Howes.

“The healthiest soil is the soil that has never been disturbed,” Howes said.

The fodder is left on the field — the leftovers of a corn harvest, in the case of the Farm Show display. A no-till drill is used to plant cover crops into the stubble, he said.

“The idea is to have a growing root, a live root, in the soil as much of the time as you can,” Howes said.

Using a no-till drill means that the soil isn’t disturbed and crops can be planted without plowing under the plant debris.

Cover crops can take many forms, and the cover in the Farm Show had a mixture of about 10 species of plants, Howes said. Cover crops add organic matter to the soil, assist in keeping nutrients and moisture in the soil, control weeds and reduce erosion, he said.

Come spring, a planter with cutting discs is used to cut a groove through the mulch and then the seeds are dropped in.

Compared to fully tilling the field, this method results in minimal soil disturbance, Howes said.

The plants making up the cover were still in their flats, and some of the other plants that were planted in soil have grown since planted — like crops and buffer along the stream.

A lot of farms have streams that cut through land, and Howes said a buffer absorbs water running off from the farm before it goes into the water and ends up in larger bodies like the Chesapeake Bay.

“The landscaper did a phenomenal job with the stream this year,” Howes said.

The stream was fenced off from the other half of the display, such as how farmers fence off streams to keep cattle from getting into the stream.

Two trout were placed in the stream. Howes said the day after they placed the fish in the water, someone put a Koi fish into the stream.

“I came back and checked later in the day, [and] one trout is chasing the Koi around and I can’t see the second trout anywhere,” Howes said.

By day three, the Koi disappeared.

“I’m thinking, somebody is screwing with me,” Howes said.

He later found out that the Koi was on display in a different part of the Farm Show along with other waterfowl.

The water didn’t have enough oxygen, and two Koi fish died and the other was brought.