STANLEY-Spring is planting season, but some farmers are harvesting profits from old junk that's been lying around their buildings and fields, sometimes for decades.
They're selling scrap metal to recycling businesses and earning cash while cleaning up their farms.
"We've just got so much metal lying around," said Dennis Baker, a Shenandoah County corn grower. "It's been accumulating for years and years, and every day you find something that's got to be thrown away. Right now, with the price of metal, it just pays a little extra income from the farm."
Baker bought his current farm about seven years ago and discovered all manner of metal items tucked away in outbuildings. "There's a building down there stuffed full of stuff; most of it would probably fit equipment from the 1920s. It's been there for years and years and years," he said.
That's typical of many farms in the Shenandoah Valley and across Virginia, said Eugene Bare, marketing director for Recycle Management LLC. Many farmers were raised to be thrifty, or their parents lived through the Great Depression and never threw anything away.
"There's old equipment, there's buildings that are falling down just because of the age or because of a storm," Bare said. "Most of these buildings have metal siding, metal roofs. And a lot of these things aren't steel, they're aluminum, and aluminum is a lot more valuable than steel. There's substantial money that's just sitting in the way, just locked up in scrap junk that's sitting around these places. Farmers can cash in big right now."
Recycle Management is one of many metal recycling firms across the state. The business caters to farmers by offering to leave a large trash container on their property for a fee. A typical container-load of scrap steel and iron can bring up to $1,000 at current prices, and scrap copper and aluminum are worth more.
"We like to think that recycling is a win for everybody. It's a win for our business, of course, it's a win for the environment, and it's also a win for our customers. If it's a farmer, he can put that money back into his operation," Bare said.
Many farmers are eager to clean up their properties, Baker said. "If you've got old equipment out in your field, cattle can get caught in it, and snakes love it. And the weeds just grow up around them." In some instances, "you're losing a quarter-acre of ground from a piece of machinery sitting around. Besides, it looks bad."