Pennsylvania agriculture gets boost from PA Farm Bill, state budget

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pa governor signs farm bill
Andrew Bowman, Pennsylvania 4-H president, right, watches as Gov. Tom Wolf signs into law new legislation establishing the Pennsylvania Farm Bill inside the Governor's Reception Room at the State Capitol building in Harrisburg on July 1, 2019. (photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Governor's Office)

Agriculture in Pennsylvania got a big boost after Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law the Pennsylvania Farm Bill, marking the largest investment into the state’s biggest industry in 20 years.

Gov. Wolf called the package of bi-partisan bills “bold, aggressive and necessary to protect our farming heritage and inspire the next generation of Pennsylvania farmers” as he signed it on July 1.

“If farmers in Pennsylvania succeed, all of us do,” Wolf said at a press conference.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bill commits $23.1 million to a variety of agricultural programs hitting six core areas: business development and succession planning; increased processing capabilities; remove regulatory burdens; agricultural workforce; agricultural infrastructure; and market opportunities.

Wolf also recently signed the 2019-20 state budget, which includes a $19.5 million increase in agriculture spending. The budget included new money to implement parts of the farm bill.

In addition to the farm bill programs, the budget includes two new line items to protect animal health: $2 million for animal health and diagnostic commission and $1 million to livestock and consumer health protection.

Wolf introduced the six-point plan on which the bill was based at last year’s Ag Progress Days at Penn State

Legislators took up the torch, passing a slew of bills that support Pennsylvania agriculture.

The bills include:

• Creating a grant program to reimburse federal meat inspection costs for small or new processors.

• Encouraging enrollment of veteran farmers in the PA Preferred and Homegrown by Heroes programs.

• Establishing the Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center to support business planning, marketing, diversification and transition planning.

• Creating the PA Farm to School Grant program to support increased nutrition and agriculture education for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students.

• Re-establishing the Agriculture and Youth Development grant program to support workforce development initiatives in youth organizations like 4-H and FFA.

• Creating the Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account, funded at $4 million, to provide a quick response to agricultural disasters.

• Supporting conservation and best management practices through a combination of low-interest loans, grants and tax credits.

• Expanding the allowable width for farm equipment on state roads.

• Providing state level Specialty Crop Block Grants for high-priority crops like hemp, hops and hardwoods that are not eligible for federal grants.

• Creating the Dairy Future Commission to make recommendations on how to promote and strengthen the state dairy industry.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau lauded Wolf and members of the state legislature for supporting farmers by helping them cope with challenges while creating new opportunities.

Rick Ebert, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau president, pointed to a bill, sponsored by Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver County, that established a tax credit program for existing farmers and landowners who lease or sell their land to beginning farmers.

“The lack of affordable farmland to rent or buy is often listed as the number one reason why young people do not pursue careers in farming,” Ebert said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that this new tax credit program will create more opportunities for Pennsylvania agriculture and inspire the next generation of farmers in the state.”

A January 2018 report on the economic impact of Pennsylvania agriculture, commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, found that ag and related industries contribute nearly $136 billion in economic impact, close to 18% of the state’s gross product.

Agriculture employs more than half a million people in Pennsylvania, according to the report.

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