By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The board of directors of an anti-poverty group is still interested in purchasing the Heritage Center in Havre, and has created a committee to see if it's a good business decision, the group's executive director said.
"We have some ideas. We just have to look at them and see if they fit a plan," Angie Main, director of the Northcentral Montana Community Ventures Coalition, said Wednesday.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice last week re-opened the bidding process until Jan. 18, after the City Council had voted 5-4 to close the process while it reviewed a bid it had received.
The coalition had repeatedly expressed interest in the building but could not make a dollar offer until its board could meet. The board met on Monday.
Main said the Community Ventures Coalition, which is funded by a 10-year $12 million grant from the Northwest Area Foundation, will develop a business plan to see if buying the building would benefit it.
"I don't think a person can just go throw money at a plan if they don't reap financial benefits," she said. "We decided to develop a plan to see if it's really a venture we want to pursue."
If the plan shows buying the building would be beneficial, the coalition will make a bid before the Jan. 18 closing date, she said.
Montana Department of Commerce regional development officer Randy Hanson of Havre, an ex officio member of the Community Ventures board and a member of the coalition's Heritage Center planning committee, said he expects the next step will be to gather information.
"At this time it's pretty much just exploratory to see what the costs are and the opportunities," he said.
Hanson said where the money will come from also is an issue. Most of the money the coalition has received so far from the 10-year grant is already spoken for, he said.
The job of the committee is to determine how much it will cost to renovate the building, what the bid should be, how much of the Northwest Area Foundation grant can by used for the building and where other money would come from, Hanson said.
The city of Havre put the building up for and technology is no different than what's happening in all industries.
Nearly half of Ohio's farmers use a computer to maintain financial records, track market prices or make business deals, according to an Ohio State survey released a year ago.
One of three farmers use some type of precision farming practice, such as grid soil sampling, combine yield monitors or guidance tools like Global Positioning Systems.
The problem, said John Ellerman, executive director of the Ohio Farmers Union, is that the cost of technology is driving many small and midsize farms out of business.
''Farmers will buy the latest technology, and then realize they don't have enough acres to spread those costs out, so they need to expand,'' Ellerman said. ''It's like a dog chasing its tail - they just can't keep up.''
Once an operation becomes a large-scale farm, ''you end up managing people rather than the cows. It becomes a very different business,'' said Jeremy Foltz, associate director of the University of Wisconsin's Program on Agricultural Technology Studies.
Peterson thinks there still is a place for both large and small farms.
A growing number of fruit and vegetable farmers near cities and suburbs sell directly to groceries and restaurants, including organic farmers.
''There are tremendous opportunities in agriculture,'' Peterson said. ''But it may not be doing the same thing you always did.''
Supporters of large-scale farming say advances in technology also are making farming more environmentally friendly. Chemical sprayers now come with computer-controlled nozzles that make sure the chemicals are applied with greater precision and less waste.
''My grandfather would have fertilized a field by hauling manure out of the barn,'' Peterson said. ''My son, if he farms, he'll be able to apply fertilizer based on individual plants.''
Opponents of large-scale farming, though, say that putting a large number of animals under one roof creates more livestock waste and pollution.
''Technology is turning what was agriculture into industry,'' said Chris Cooper, spokesman for the New York-based GRACE Factory Farm Project, which works to end factory farms.
Rex Spray, who farms near Mount Vernon in central Ohio, began experimenting with organic farming in the mid-1970s. No chemicals. No Global Positioning Systems. No genetically enhanced crops.
''When I was a kid everybody farmed this way,'' said Spray, 74. ''I'm not against modern technology, but I think a lot of it is unnecessary. It again goes back to the quality of the product.''
But other farmers are embracing the latest technology.
Zimmerman, the high school teacher in Clyde, shows his students how to operate a Global Positioning System and computer software to make maps of fields and determine how much fertilizer is needed.
They analyze data gathered by a yield monitor to determine how the fertilizer affects corn production in the fields they tend.
''My friends think it's all physical work,'' said Christopher Dwight, a senior. ''They think I sit on a tractor all day. It's not really like that.''
On the Net:
Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center:
Center for Irrigation Technology: http://cati.csufresno.edu/cit/