WYSOX TOWNSHIP - There are big challenges facing the agriculture industry in Bradford County.

The number of farms has declined, it's been hard for a lot of farmers to make a profit, and many young people don't want to take over the family farm from their parents, according to Dan Rhodes, education coordinator for the Bradford County Conservation District.

A recently formed group, the Agriculture Coalition of Bradford County, held a conference on Wednesday in the Wysox Fire Hall at which it discussed ways it could help retain and grow the local agriculture industry.

Among the many proposals the coalition is working on are the creation of a website where farmers interested in moving to Bradford County could find local farms on the market, as well as soil condition maps that would tell them if a local farm's land was appropriate for the kind of fruit or vegetable they wanted to grow.

The coalition is also interested in doing a marketing study that would show what kinds of farm products local residents would like to buy, so that area farmers would know what to plant to meet the wishes of local residents, said Diane Fiorentino of Gillett, who serves as chairperson of the coalition's Profitability and Sustainability Subcommittee.

Still another proposal being discussed is to assemble a group of local farmers and others who would serve mentors to new and up-and-coming farmers on their area of expertise, Fiorentino said.

For example, someone who has been growing a garden on their property and wants to expand it so that he could start selling produce at farmer's markets could find out from a mentor how much land to plant, what to charge for the produce, and what permits and regulations might apply to their planned commercial farm operation, she said.

At the conference, the coalition's three subcommittees presented the proposals they've been working on to retain and grow the local agriculture industry.

"There is a lot of good stuff" that the subcommittees have been working on, Mike Lovegreen, the district manager of the Bradford County Conservation District, said after hearing the proposals. "This is great."

Approximately 50 people attended Wednesday's conference, which was co-sponsored by the Bradford County Conservation District. Among those who are participating in the coalition are a lot of farmers as well as representatives of area agencies and organizations, such as Penn State Cooperative Extension, the Bradford County Conservation District and the Bradford-Sullivan Farm Bureau, Rhodes said.

The coalition is a spin-off of the ongoing process of creating a master plan to protect and enhance agriculture in Bradford County, said Tony Liguori, the agricultural team leader at the Bradford County Conservation District.

The process of creating the master plan began last November when 91 farmers, representatives of agricultural businesses and others attended an agricultural summit in Wysox at which they discussed their vision for what they would like to see agriculture be like in the next five to 10 years, as well as the challenges they foresee in making that vision a reality.

Those who attended the summit made many suggestions for protecting and enhancing agriculture in Bradford County and most, if not all, of the proposals that the coalition is working on originated in some form as a suggestion at the conference, Liguori said.

In addition to continuing to work on developing the master plan, the coalition is now near the point where it will start implementing some of its proposals, Rhodes said.

At Wednesday's conference, an advisor to the coalition, Jeff Hines of Penn State Extension, gave a talk on a similar effort that had taken place in Tioga County to improve the agriculture industry in that county.

The coalition says it plans to have similar conferences every three months, which will feature speakers from outside the organization. The conferences will be open to the public.

The coalition says it is looking for more people to join the coalition.

For more information, go to the coalition's website, www.agcoalitionbc.org.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.