Pa. finds way to end ag disputes

SALEM, Ohio – The morning after Pennsylvania finalized legislation to work out differences between farmers and their communities, five people called the department of agriculture to protest local ordinances, according to Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff.
After being discussed and planned and rewritten for years, the General Assembly took just one month to finalize the measure.
Under the new law, farmers can fight local ordinances by appealing them to the state attorney general’s office. It will determine whether the ordinance goes beyond local government’s authority, and can bring the matter before Commonwealth Court.
The House passed the legislation, known as Agriculture Communities and Rural Environment or ACRE, in a 131-65 vote. It moved forward with a 49-1 Senate vote July 4, and Gov. Edward Rendell signed it two days later.
Guidance. Although the law took effect immediately, Wolff said he needs to meet with the attorney general to work out last-minute details.
Both the department of agriculture and Penn State will be available if the attorney general needs guidance on agricultural issues, Wolff said.
Odor, environment. The governor, along with the department of agriculture, came up with ACRE as a solution to another bill, H.B. 1222. In a controversial veto at the end of 2003, Rendell said that legislation did not do enough for environment and odor issues.
The new law addresses this by requiring new and expanding large farms (concentrated animal feeding operations and concentrated animal operations) to follow best management practices for odor.
In addition, these operations must plan specified manure application setbacks or vegetative buffers from water sources.
Farms importing manure from large operations are required to have signed agreements, application documentation and thorough records.
The improved air, land and water regulations’ $13 million price tag will be funded through various grants, programs and the state’s and governor’s budgets.
Wolff said many of the changes are not capital intensive but rather common sense approaches.
Where’s the board? The original ACRE proposal introduced last August focused on a five-member agricultural review board that would mediate concerns between farmers and local governments.
When the legislation first went to the House in early June, however, opponents such as Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors lobbied that the review board was not the solution.
The association was concerned the board would have unlimited, court-like powers.
The General Assembly struck a balance by eliminating the board and instead said farmers can appeal local ordinances to the state attorney general.
Existing and future. Previously, farmers’ only recourse was to take the matter to court, which could add up to high legal fees, Wolff said.
Supporter Pennsylvania State Grange said more than 70 local ordinances already restrict agriculture beyond what the state allows.
Under the new law, farmers will be able to appeal both existing and future ordinances.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

Previously published related articles in Farm and Dairy:

Pa. farm bill veto holds up in court (10/14/2004)

Gov. Rendell spells out ACRE (8/26/2004)

Pa. opts to negotiate, not litigate (8/19/2004)

Pa. farm bill’s future still uncertain (6/10/2004)

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