Lancaster farming. (Lancaster, Pa., etc.) 1955-current, May 13, 1995, Image 20

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    A2Q-Lancaster Farming, Saturday, May 13, 1995
(Continued from Pago A 1)
Now, the several-day shooting
ev<nt not only receives support
ho n pro-animal use people, and a
new generation of sprat shooters
eager toengage in the now uncom
mon sport, but spectators have
turned out in tremendous numbers
just to see what kind of antics the
“animal rights nuts” put on, and
who gets arrested.
But, about 11 miles west of
Hegins on Rt 25 a road that
runs about 60 miles between 181
and the Susquehanna River
there is a fork in the road. The
right road heads toward the village
of Feamot.
•A red brick church with a high
white steeple stands abruptly in the
middle of the “Y." Off to the right
is Sterman Masser Potatoes Inc.
All told, Masser’s potato opera
tion supports at least 20 local fami
lies. something that Keith said
gives him constant concern.
He said his concern is that he
feels it is his responsibility, to him
self and his employees, to ensure
that the farm remains a profitable
Profit margins determine how
many people can share in the suc
cess of a business. Should Masser
not remain aggressive and con
cerned, margins could slip, and
he’d have to face the prospect of
telling people the business can no
longer afford to offer them the
opportunity to work for a roof,
clothes and food.
Perhaps if Masser hadn’t been
raised in the area, and his family
hadn’t been growing its own roots
for so long, and perhaps if it were
not that the region is so economi
cally depressed, then maybe Mass
er wouldn’t feel so compelled to
bear responsibility to provide
opportunity for others.
But as it is, there are many small
towns in nearby valleys and hills
where house trailers, or homes in
need of maintenance sit among
rust, rotten wood and rubble of
what appear to have been formerly
prosperous mining villages.
Junk cars, broken household
items littering some roadsides and
yards, falling roofs, and acid
tainted streams flowing down ster
ile beds are evidence of the former
coal mining heydays.
But in the afterlife of the coal
mining frenzy, the town of Sac
ramento seems to have survived.
In addition to a hodgepodge of
local service jobs, and home
businesses, some people commute
to jobs, such as the Fort Indian-
The arrow In Jhis aerial photograph of Sterman laser Potatoes Inc. m the
location of the mainofflce, wharehouee and production facilities. A grate airplane ttio
stratchM from thi tacilitiM ifoi down through cropped fisldt surrounding the mm. i
portion of the 2,500-aere farm property of the business. *
Family Farm Business Helps Post-Coal Economy
town Gap military installation,
more than an hour’s drive sout .
Those jobs are tenuous. The
profit in most service jobs depends
on local people having adequate
amounts of free-spending money.
Of course, in order to have free
spending money, a job has to pay
well. Good-paying local jobs
depend on businesses that are
based in agriculture, processing,
mining, manufacturing or the
intellectual production of some
thing, and all of these endeavors
have to make something that can
be sold outside of the community.
That is the economic foundation
of any community; produce a
unique, desirable commodity that
other people, somewhere else need
or want, and then conduct trade.
The more money that comes into a
community through the selling of a
locally made product, the more
prosperous it can be.
Service businesses can help sup
port those businesses, but without
them, service businesses can only
sustain until local discretionary
monies run out, or most people
The military base, which had
been seen as a stable job provider,
has been under consideration for
Only a stable business, based on
selling a locally available com
modity, can offer stable jobs.
So, instead of mining coal, some
people work for Masser, helping to
mine the soil for potatoes, which
are then cleaned, graded, bagged,
and shipped to supermarket
While the business has grown to
provide for 20 families supplying
potatoes for market, Masser said
he hasibeen keeping his growth
realistic. “I don’t intend to become
the biggest, but! do want to remain
Keith was bom in the next val
ley to the north, the Leek Kill area,
which is within the political
boundaries of Northumberland
County, where his great
grandfather, Charles Masser, base
d his potato business.
Keith’s father, Sterman Masser,
moved to the Sacramento farm in
1959 and rented it from an uncle
who fanned primarily in the Leek
Kill area. The farm was purchased
by the uncle during the early 19S0s
as a satellite farm.
In 1967, Sterman purchased the
farm and continued to grow
potatoes. '
In 1980, Keith took over.
There are now four loading
,our k ? ad,n 9 doc,< * «»d the business office of Sternum Messer
to^uiS >^£lSi O, cKIS!Sr g * ,or * ,orino ’ gradl "° <md bs »» ln » p 0 *** 0 "
docks and a large paved and gravel
parking area that some of the con
gregation of the neighboring
church use when its own lot is
Immediately behind the loading
docks and the business office front
is a complex of buildings. There
are bays for receiving, large
refrigerated bays for storing pota
toes, and skid loader operators
scurrying around moving 4-foot by
4-foot bins of potatoes to various
locations, including a grading and
computerized bagging operation
where most employees are
Also within the complex,
there’s a modem lunch room,
modem restrooms (designed by
regulations to accommodate a
wheelchair, even though the need
of having to get someone with a
wheelchair up the stairs to the
restroom is extremely remote), and
a modem locker room.
The front of the business office
area looks like a business. It has a
cut-stone facade and interior, spa
cious carpeted front office, a long
counter, arid built-in glass show
cases displaying the company’s
potato sacks and bags.
Behind the complex are a series
of projects in progress. Two weeks
ago, a number of grain elevators
were being erected, a large
refrigerated potato storage facility
(with Masser designing part of the
cooling system) was being fin
ished, and underway were another
building for equipment storage,
and a machine shop.
In total, the business farms
2,500 acres, 400 of which are in
potatoes and the others primarily
in small grains.
The farming operation is not
contiguous, but consists of the
home farm and surrounding prop
erties, and a series of properties
stretching west, from Hegins down
through the Lykens Valley to the
Susquehanna River.
Applied Business
The success of Sterman Masser
Potatoes Inc. is apparently because
of the strong business attitude and
strategies that Keith applied to the
family potato business. In order to
be successful, he took over the
middleman jobs of processing and
The traditional relationship
between farm and processor and
packager has been such that farm
operators lake most of the risk on
margin, while processor and pack
ager build in margins in the whole
sale and retail prices.
Having control of operations up
to wholesale level, and supple
menting on-farm production with
purchased potatoes. Sterman
Masser Inc. can fulfill orders and
keep the margin and its reinvest
ment undercontrol and in the long
range interest of the business.
Typically, processors and pack
agers of commodities, while sup
portive of independent processors
as a whole, are not concerned with
the woes of individual producers.
Common modern business
practice is such that processors of
raw products depend on competi
tion between producers to keep
down operating costs and to ensure
adequate supplies.
Processors usually get their
margins, regardless of strains on
But with the roles of processor
and packager under one roof with
producer, indifference to producer
problems is eliminated. As long as
Masser can make the whole prog
ram work, there is hope for the loc
al economy to continue to export
goods and bring in cash.
According to Keith, he learned
his work ethic from his parents and
through growing up on the farm.
He said he got his business acumen
and training in goal-setting and
planning while at Proctor &
Gamble as a project engineer.
Masser said he never had any
intention of returning to fanning
when he left for college to pursue
an agricultural engineering degree
at Pennsylvania State University.
He said he selected the
tural curriculum because he felt
most confident that he had a
chance of succeeding in that area.
Once his studies began, his inter
ests turned toward the study of
fluid dynamics.
After graduating, he went to
work for Praetor & Gamble in
1972. That was also the year of
Hurricane Agnes and the Flood of
'72. and Masser had his first
encounter with the Susquehanna
River while working at Mehoo
pany, in Wyoming County, where
Proctor & Gamble used Susque
hanna River water in part of its
In 1976, he returned to the home
farm and worked with his father,
and a brother, who died in an acci
dent in 1980. That is when Keith
took over the farm, and S term an
invested in a coal business.
In 1990, Masser took advantage
of a low-interest loan program
made available through the state’s
economic development program
and purchased grading and bag
ging equipment He has continued
to expand. He said his goal is to
double the size of the business
every 10 years.
Of course that growth has its
limits, but currently the business
ships 18,000 tons of potatoes to
supermarkets per year.
Masser is certified to apply pes
-ticides, as are two other employ
ees; and he has a fumigation
license also. He and 10 other
employees currently possess com
mercial driver licenses.
On the wall behind his office is a
sign that states, “Stuffing is for
turkeys. Eat potatoes.”
On the desk is a monitor to track
commodity market prices and a
In 1984, Masser decided the
business needed a better irrigation
system for the potato Helds and he
wanted to build center-pivot irriga
tion systems. (He owns sue and
uses two per year.)
Seeking to comply with the law,
he sought out information through
the local USDA Soil Conservation
Service. He was directed to the
Susquehanna River Basin Com
mission (SRBC).
Created in 1970, the SRBC is a
federal/multi-state agency charged
with authority to oversee the man
agement of the flows of the Sus
quehanna River, which means the
entire river drainage basin.
The agency is considered neces
sary because chaotic use of the
water within the river basin is seen
as only leading to a great deal of
unnecessary costs, fighting and
The amount of water within the
basin is limited and the growth of
the human’ population can be
expected to continue until those
limits are reached. Some fair and
orderly management is needed to
maintain a reasonable standard of
living within the basin.
Since Masser’s operation is
within the basin, he contacted the
then still-developing agency, told
them what he’d like to do, and
asked whether he needed a permit
According to Masscr, a rep
resentative from the SRBC came
to the farm and Masser explained
(Turn to Pago A 2«)