Redding, Vogel push for funding for animal diagnostic lab in western Pa.

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding speaks about the need for an animal diagnostic laboratory in western Pennsylvania during an event at Old English Acres Farm in Enon Valley, on April 4. Behind him stand the Clark family, who run Old English Acres, and State Sen. Elder Vogel, also a farmer and the chair of the Ag and Rural Affairs Committee. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

ENON VALLEY, Pa. — Ed Clark and his family show and sell their prize-winning Limousin cattle all over the eastern United States.

This requires them to test their animals for and vaccinate against certain communicable diseases before the cattle are moved from their farm on the western edge of Pennsylvania across state lines.

“Currently our vet comes to the farm, draws the needed samples, prepares them and sends them to a lab that’s over three hours away, either in State College or Columbus, Ohio,” Clark said. Some tests have to be sent even further away to other states, he said.

Having an animal diagnostic laboratory in western Pennsylvania would be a game-changer for farmers and veterinarians, he said. Such a lab could be in the works if the state legislature passes Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed 2024-25 budget, which includes $5 million to build a new state veterinary laboratory somewhere in western Pennsylvania. 

Although farmers in western Pennsylvania are having their testing needs met, oftentimes in neighboring states, it’s not good enough, said state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, who visited Clark’s Lawrence County farm on April 4. Especially considering that agriculture is one of the Shapiro administration’s designated areas of economic growth.

Redding, state Sen. Elder Vogel and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau held a press conference at Clark’s farm to highlight the importance of expanded veterinary lab services in western Pennsylvania.

Redding said the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Allegheny County and the train derailment in East Palestine Ohio that impacted farmers in neighboring Beaver County, Pennsylvania last year illustrated the need for a lab closer to home for the 26 counties west of Interstate 99.

The state currently has three animal diagnostic labs, none of which are in western Pennsylvania. The closest is the Penn State University lab, in Centre County. The other two are in Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Vogel, chair of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, supports the investment and specified that he’d like to see a western lab somewhere along the Interstate 79 corridor.

Vogel, who was a dairy farmer in New Sewickley Township for many years, said they usually sent samples to Ohio State University’s lab when they had testing needs as they got results more quickly that way.

Much of the state’s agricultural production, and in turn resources, is centered around southcentral and southeastern Pennsylvania. A western lab would “create parity” with farmers across the state, said Cliff Wallace, president of the Beaver-Lawrence Farm Bureau chapter. Closer access to a testing center would save farmers time and ensure better overall animal health by providing quicker test results, he said.

It could also help reverse the loss of large animal veterinarians in rural areas to have better resources in the areas they’re working in.

Dr. Katie Sharp, the Clark’s veterinarian, echoed this sentiment in her comments.

“There aren’t that many of us,” she said. “When we get into a situation where there’s sick animals or lots of kids need to go to shows, it really puts a crunch on us. To have an animal diagnostic lab in our backyard would be absolutely amazing.”

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