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April 11, 2014     Cape Gazette
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April 11, 2014

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' [ i  ' !  ! ! i, ! ,,  - -- 18 FRIDAY, APRIL 11 - MONDAY, APRIL 14, 2014 NEWS Cape Gazette Local family loses lease on farmland Warrens plan to farm on smaller scale, operate market By Henry J. Evans Jr. Farming is in Nelson Warren's blood. When other longtime Wolfe Neck-area farming neigh- bors - Dodds, Futchers, Hollands, and Masseys - sold land to devel- opers near the Warren family's Rustic-Acres farm off Holland Glade Road, the Warrens did not sell. Even in 1997, when 18 War- ren family members wanted to sell the farm to the state, only four - Nelson, 28; his 19-year-old brother Nathaniel; their mother, Mary Ann, 54; and her brother, Victor, 56 - wanted to continue farming. With the four outvoted, the farm was sold to the state, but Nelson leased the land back from the state and continued farming - until last year. That's when Jamie Stafford, a farmer based in Denton, Md., outbid them, and the Warrens lost the lease on what had previ- ously been their land. "I don't bear Jamie Stafford any grudge," Warren said. He said he knew lease rules had changed, but he wonders why in-state farmers weren't given consider- ation in the leasing program. "IN ONE CASE, A DELAWARE FARMER WAS AWARDED THE LEASE BUT DID NOT HAVE THE HIGHEST MONETARY PRICE PER ACRE." - GREG ABBOTT, DIVISION OF PARKS & RECREATION FARMLAND LEASE PROGRAM ADMINISTRATOR Greg Abbott, a Department of Natural Resources and Environ- mental Control, Division of Parks & Recreation farmland lease pro- gram administrator, said Stafford was awarded leases because he scored high on bid evaluations. He said statewide, there were 51 bids on 21 properties. "The key factor to remember is that the farms are state-owned, publicly held properties that were purchased at full market value. "The Warren family lost any exclusive rights to the prop- erty when they sold them to the state," Abbott said. Prior to 1998, leases were for five years. Leases are now for 10 years, beginning January 2014 and ending Dec. 31, 2023. Tenants pay the state an an- nual rental fee for years one through five and for each year, six through 10, tenants pay a fixed 5 percent more than they paid for the first five years. Under the old lease, farmers were required to pay for one year in advance, Warren said. Warren said he couldn't come close to Stafford's bid per acre. Stafford said his bid per acre av- eraged $165 to $190; Warren said he bid $83 per acre. "I till ground in seven coun- ties; I'm constantly bidding on ground," Stafford said in a recent interview. He said he plans to grow corn and beans on the land previously leased by the Warrens. Warrens downsize, keep farming Warren said he'll downsize his farming operation; he has al- ready reduced his livestock from around 55 head to 11. "I'm milking 11 cows, and I try to get to them twice a day, 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.," he said. He said no other type of farm- ing is more labor-intensive than dairy. "I'm the last dairy farm surviv- ing in the state that does it all." He said his brother, a Delaware Technical Community College student, also helps, juggling farm work and a school schedule. The Warrens' Rehoboth dairy milk-processing facility occu- pies about half of the Rustic Acres Farm Market building. Everything except homogenizing - dispersing milk fat uniformly throughout milk to prevent sepa- ration - is done there. The facility has a 50-gallon stainless steel pasteurization tank, a whole milk holding tank and an ancient cream centrifuge that Warren keeps spinning by cobbling together parts it re- quires. "I've found ball bearings for it that'll work, but they weren't built for it. God forbid I'll ever need a drive belt for the motor," he said, Milk production quality con- trol and bottling is stringent, Warren said, and so is accurate record keeping and retention. There's a small lab where War- ren tests for antibiotics in milk. The facility also keeps pasteuri- zation records containing the length of time and temperature each batch of milk is heated and cooled. Pasteurization kills potentially harmful microorgan- isms. This year, Stafford will till a field adjacent to The Glade, a community of upscale homes. The Holland family farmed the fields that became The Glade until the mid-1980s. HENRY J. EVANS JR. PHOTOS RusTIc ACRES FARM MARKET co-owner Nelson Warren has kept 11 cows, from a herd of 55, which will continue producing milk to be sold at the market. Warren reduced his livestock by more than half after losing his lease on land the family once owned and sold to the state. The Warrens tilled land ad- jacent to the community for decades prior to its development. Warren said he has mixed feel- ings about The Glade because he knows some of its homeown- ers would just as soon no one farmed nearby. But, he said there are also resi- dents who have become regular customers, buying the market's dairy products, produce, ice cream, and locally produced beef, pork and eggs. Without the land he previ- ously leased, he will grow more produce for the farm market, increase the market's visibility using more advertising; and in- troduce his own new products. "I'm also looking into making frozen yogurt. "The leftover skim milk we have would be perfect for it. I think I have an eggnog recipe that I can make work, too. It should be pretty good," he said, about a recipe he found using whole milk that has not been homogenized. He said cabbage grew and sold well last year, and he's planning to grow another crop this season. Nelson Warren said the state couldn't have completed the Junction and Breakwater trail had his family not sold their land. He said the sale also made it pos- sible for his family to continue farming. Warren said if the state accepts his offer, he wants to continue mowing the buffer strip between the fields and trail. "I'll probably have a farm sale in the fall," he said, about plans to sell tractors, a combine, trucks, irrigation equipment and other gear he won't need, having lost the lease on land his family once owned. Leasing criteria sets rating score State leases for farmland are awarded based on criteria other than money-per-acre bids. Ab- bott said 20 percent of the score is based on the applicant's knowl- Rustic Acres farm's six milking stations are dated but work well, says Nelson Warren, farm co-owner. The farm's 11 cows produce about 2,000 pounds of milk per month. Thedairy farm is the only one in the state that produces, pro- cesses, bottles and sells its own milk. .edge and experience of farming leased property; 10 percent on use of products or services that are provided by agricultural busi- nesses which are certified best management practices, and sur- rounding state's standards; 10 percent on additional services provided for leased property; and 60 percent on monetary bid per acre. Until last year, bids had been awarded based solely on mon- ey, Abbott said. The process changed as a result of imple- menting new rating criteria that benefited longtime farming fami- lies, he said, adding the state has received favorable comments about the inclusion of factors other than price alone. "In one case, a Delaware farm- er was awarded the lease but did not have the highest monetary price per acre. "The other criteria - experi- ence, best practices and other services - outscored bidders with a higher price per acre, but who had less farming experience." Abbott said. He said a Delaware Centu- ry Farmer, one .whose family had worked land for at least 100 years, had not previously tilled state park-owned land. Abbott said several Delaware farmers placed bids in the pro- cess set up to allow farmers an opportunity to bid on lands in a fair, transparent and competitive program. "What a farmer is able to bid depends on their current finan- cial situation, current and past business practices and willing- ness to compete in the open market for the right to farm these lands," he said. He said the process is no dif- ferent than state procurement for construction, supplies, materials and contractual services. 'dl requests for proposals are made available to anyone, regard- less of where they live, through the pro- cess, and are awarded based on the best proposal received. "The lease is based on a tem- plate used by state agencies that I believe was drafted by the Dela- ware Attorney General's Office," Abbott said. Leased land may be used for producing agricultural commod- ities, including, but not limited to grain, vegetable and forage crops, and pasture. Tenants are also required to have nutrient management and conservation plans and take mea- sures to manage, control and eradicate noxious weeds. Sub- leasing is prohibited.