STATE—On Valentine's Day, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary Russell Redding of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) announced an investment in Pennsylvania's agriculture industry exceeding $24 million.
According to a release from the Governor's Office, the Pennsylvania Farm Bill aims to “... provide for business development and succession planning, create accommodations for a growing animal agriculture sector, remove regulatory burdens, strengthen the ag workforce, protect infrastructure and make Pennsylvania the nation's leading organic state.”
Local farmer/County Commissioner, Brian Smith stated of the bill “The investment of more than $24 million in Pennsylvania I think is substantial. It's encouraging. It shows that the state is recognizing that agriculture is important, that agriculture provides a huge amount of jobs to Pennsylvania, and also that there's a fair amount of trouble to the farmers.”
Smith noted agricultural development in Wayne County has been at the forefront of the local zeitgeist, most recently displayed by the Agricultural Development Plan unveiled at last Monday's Ag Day.
The county's efforts have repeatedly brought Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding and other state officials to the area to learn more about what's developments are being made.
“They've recognized and continue to recognize the hard work that we've already put forward in Wayne County to get focused on projects to encourage agriculture...,” said Smith.
He described the combined efforts of state officials through this Farm Bill, local officials and individuals through myriad means, and school districts in encouraging the next generation of farmers as “encouraging” and “fulfilling.”
“I'm very grateful that so many people are paying attention to agriculture again,” said Smith.
Dave Williams, prominent agriculture voice for Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey on his radio show Pennsylvania Farm Country Radio Network, stated of the Farm Bill “I think it's a good avenue,” for Wayne County agricultural development.
Williams noted the county's dairy production has dwindled over the years, due in part to hauling costs and other added charges.
The Farm Bill allocates $5 million to fund the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program, included in which are grants for research and development, organic transition assistance, value-added processing and marketing.
Williams stated construction of a dairy processing plant, potentially through funds from this program, could be a shot in the arm for the industry.
Not only that, but with a processing plant opening the door to more local ice cream and cheese making facilities, Williams noted the potential exists for further business development filling closed shops along Main Street in both Honesdale and Hawley.
“It isn't just about building up the farmers,” said Williams, “It's about building up the community.”
The two largest line-items listed in the bill are a $5 million allocation to enhance the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program and $5 million to create a rapid response disaster readiness account to address threats and respond to food-borne illnesses.
Looking to develop the business side of farming, the Farm Bill allocates $2 million to establish an Agricultural Business Development Center, aimed to provide resources which, “...help every farmer create a business plan, transition plan, or succession plan to ensure the best chance of success,” states a release.
Looking to expand processing in the industry, the Farm Bill also allocates $1 million to benefit the Center for Animal Agriculture Excellence -- aimed at providing technical assistance, resources for food safety compliance, and assisting the establishment of hemp as approve animal feed -- and $500,000 to incentivize farmers to gain access to meat processing inspections.
The meat processing incentives are hopeful “to encourage access to new and expanded markets for small or new producers,” accomplished through subsidies for equipment and reimbursements for federal inspections.
Encouraging the next generation to take over and new farms to spring up, the bill also proposes a realty transfer tax exemption for the transfer of preserved farmland to a qualified beginning farmer.
It also looks to allow the subdivision of preserved farmland to boost diversification.
Three million dollars were set aside to expand resource enhancement and protection tax credits, increasing their lifetime cap and availability to farmers.
Two and a half million dollars are allocated to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers installing best management practices, and $500,000 in funding was put into the Agriculture Linked Investment Program to provide low-interest loans for said best management implementation.
Aiding the transportation of goods and equipment, the Farm Bill also looks to expand the allowable width of farm tractors and combines on rural roads from 16-18 feet.
The Farm Bill splits $1 million evenly between the Agriculture and Rural Youth Organization Grant Program and the Pennsylvania Farm to School Grant Program to encourage and educate the younger generation about agricultural issues and to improve childhood nutrition while doing so.
The bill allocates $1.6 million to bolster Pennsylvania's organic initiative and another $1 million to support the Pennsylvania Preferred Program.
Looking to boost agriculture in urban areas, $500,000 is allocated to improve infrastructure, aggregate product, share resources and support community development efforts.
Five hundred thousand dollars were also allocated to invest in “high priority horticultural crops” such as hemp, hops and hardwoods.
--Information from a release was used in this story.