Somehow we have reached the point where a few townships have decided it suitable to adopt a local ordinance that defies statewide public policy and threatens the future of farming in the Commonwealth.
When one strips away the misleading (or uninformed) statements about agriculture by those advocating unrestricted local control of farming, we get to basic questions that Pennsylvania’s farm families are asking our neighbors (as well as our state lawmakers).
We have worked with lawmakers to adopt some of the most stringent and progressive laws and environmental safeguards for agriculture in the nation (such as the Nutrient Management Act). When did it become OK for a few township officials to declare these state laws null and void, and impose their own version of regulations and limitations on agriculture?
Farm families have nowhere to go for relief. The ordinances can be overturned in court (and have been), but farmers don’t have the tens of thousands of dollars for the legal battles. When did it become OK to expect farm families to bear the cost of ensuring compliance with state law by localities?
Many sons and daughters of farmers want to continue in agriculture, but they need the potential for a decent living, which often requires expansion of the farm. What’s the chance they will choose a future in agriculture if a local ordinance means they can’t grow their enterprise?
Pennsylvanians have spoken loudly and clearly about the need to preserve farmland and the rural character of the state. How is that achieved without preserving family farms?
Agriculture, the state’s largest single industry, not only provides fresh products of high quality, but also generates substantial employment for other business and industry. Do Pennsylvanians agree with the few local officials who are promoting a patchwork of policies and predicaments across the commonwealth for farming? Shouldn’t these laws be dealt with uniformly at the state level?
Legislation (SB 1413) that addresses this dilemma for farm families earlier passed the state Senate. Its provisions are simple. Municipalities are reminded that they can’t pass ordinances that are contrary to existing laws and overall best interests of the Commonwealth, or otherwise discriminate against agriculture.
Courts may require townships to pay the legal costs of a farmer’s challenge to an ordinance if the court finds that the township officials knew their action was illegal. Likewise, courts may require farmers to pay legal fees if a lawsuit is found to be frivolous.
The legislation is languishing in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as the General Assembly nears adjournment. Pennsylvanians can stand up with our farm families by calling your state Representative today to urge passage of SB 1413.
(The author is president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.)