Tom Clowney, Lagging Stream Farm, Gettysburg, Pa., shown in his equipment barn
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Tom Clowney credits much of his farming successes to tapping off-farm expertise.

Master Farmer Tom Clowney: A farm growth and transition success

First in our four-part series on the success and strategies of the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Master Farmers.

While Tom Clowney has eased his workload to just six hours a day, he takes great pride in helping his sons Bob and John, plus his grandson Zachary, run Lagging Stream Farm, LLC, a few rolling hills southeast of Gettysburg, Pa. Always with a mindset for maintaining a low debt-load, he and his wife, Joanne, grew their family dairy farm into a business with 430 acres of owned and rented land plus close to 400 head of mostly Holstein dairy cattle.

Foreseeing urban sprawl coming their direction, the Clowneys put their 200 acres of owned land into the state Farmland Preservation Program in 1990. That helped them pay off the farm's mortgage and start their retirement fund. It also helped set in motion the transfer of the farm business to Bob and John without a large debt.

Armed with help from Adams County Extension, their attorney and accountant, the couple started with a partnership with the oldest son, Bob, in 1977. In 1989, John, the youngest son, returned to the business after working for nearby Mason Dixon Farms. By 1990, Lagging Stream Farm was milking 170 cows. In the mid-1990s, John became a partner and they added a dairy parlor and holding area, utilizing part of the existing barn.

That's when Tom started his slow, orderly retirement. By 2004, the final transfer was complete. Today, Bob oversees crop management; John is in charge of equipment maintenance; grandson Zachary oversees herd management; and daughter Carol lives on the farm with her family and tracks dairy expenses. Bob’s wife, Charlotte, keeps Lagging Stream’s books. Tom fills in as needed, while also spending his time on several antique equipment restoration projects and collecting farm antiques.

Weathered challenges
Farming drought-susceptible land brought challenges that cropping innovations have helped minimize. The 1960s brought three successive drought years, Clowney recalls. And in 1996, the farm experienced a microburst (high winds, torrential rainfall and hail) plus a 500-year flood event.

Those are good reasons why the farm has been 100% no-till for more than 10 years. By 1994, the farm's conservation practices were certified as meeting Chesapeake Bay Program requirements. That includes having nutrient management and conservation plans, contour strips and sod waterways.

MARRIED SINCE 1955: "(Marriage to Joanne) changed my life forever," Tom Clowney says.

More recently, rye cover cropping was added. Five-year yield averages for corn silage, corn, alfalfa, even grass hay have all been trending higher. Lagging Stream Farm's milking herd averages 24,800 pounds per cow, with fat levels running 891 pounds and protein averaging 740 pounds. Somatic cell counts of 168,000 earn the farm 55 to 60 cents per cwt milk premiums from Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers.

Machinery investments are kept manageably low by hiring custom large baling, corn combining and silage packing. When manure spreading gets behind, the farm rents extra spreaders.

All this has helped make Tom's life mission a success. And he has much to show for it.

Tom Clowney at a glance
Location: Gettysburg, Adams County, Pa.

Family: Tom and his wife, Joanne, have five children: Bob, Diane, Donna, John and Carol, three of which are involved in their Lagging Stream Farm.

Leadership roles: Tom has been extensively involved in Adams County Farm Bureau, Holstein Association, Dairy Herd Improvement Association, Extension board. He was the first chairman of the county Farmland Preservation board, and remains a member. He continues as secretary of the county's Ag Security Area committee and a member of the local Historical Society. In 2015, Tom was honored with Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Association's "Local Hero Award."

This farmer served on his church's council and the school board. He organized Farm Bureau's Ag in the Classroom program for St. Francis Xavier school, and solicited funds for the program in other Adams County schools. Over the years, this farm has hosted numerous school, city and foreign agribusiness tours.

Notable: His 86-year history started in Bucks County, Pa., born to a part-time dairy farmer. Tom and his father bought their first 30 acres in Adams County in 1954. Tom and Joanne married in 1955. In 1960, they started Lagging Stream Farm with three kids and 23 cows. By 2004, the couple completed transition of Lagging Stream Farm, its 207-cow milking herd and their 200 acres of preserved farmland to sons Bob and John. The daughter, Carol, keeps the books for Lagging Stream and lives on the adjoining farm with her family. Grandson Zachary is the farm's designated next-gen.

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