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Gov. Tom Wolf and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding were in town yesterday morning to announce a proposed Pennsylvania Farm Bill that would direct $24 million into agriculture-related programs.
The Governor and his entourage made the announcement at the farm of Frank and Virginia Graybill, known as Restful Acres, that straddles the Lebanon-Dauphin border in South Londonderry Township. (Restful Acres was named a Dairy of Distinction in 2017. The couple purchased the farm from Frank’s parents and began managing it in 1995.)
It’s not clear whether the $24 million is represented in the governor’s proposed budget, according to Jan Murphy’s coverage of the event for Penn Live, which noted that the Wolf administration did not immediately respond to questions. According to the report, the current year-over-year increase in the agriculture budget is $11.4 million out of $163.2 million budgeted.
According to the official bill one-pager, some of the policy planks include:
- Agricultural business development and succession planning
- $2 million for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center, “a resource to help every farmer create a business plan, transition plan, or succession plan to ensure the chance of success.”
- Realty Transfer Tax Exemption, “for any transfer of preserved farmland to a qualified beginning farmer”
- Creating more processing capabilities to accommodate a growing animal agriculture sector
- $5 million to establish the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program, “to fund research and development, organic transition assistance, value-added processing, and marketing grants in support of Pennsylvania’s dairy industry.”
- $1 million to establish the Center for Animal Agriculture Excellence, “to support the animal agriculture industry by expanding processing capacity, technical assistance, providing resources for food safety compliance, and assisting with the establishment of hemp as an approved animal feed.”
- $500k to incentivize access to meat processing inspections, “to encourage access to new and expanded markets for small or new producers by reimbursing federal meat inspection costs and subsidizing the first-time purchase of equipment needed for federal compliance.”
- Removing regulatory burdens and strengthening the state’s business climate
- $2.5 million to establish the Conservation Excellence Grant Program, “to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers to install and implement best management practices.”
- $500k to re-establish the Agriculture Linked Investment Program, a “low-interest loan program for the implementation of best management practices.”
- $3 million more in Resource Enhancement and Protection Tax Credits, “To increase the lifetime cap and increase availability.”
- Expanding the allowable width for the use of implements of husbandry on roads from 16′ to 18′
- Amend the Ag Area Security Act to allow for subdivision of preserved farms
- Remove unnecessary audit provisions from the Cooperative Agricultural Association Law
- Strengthening Pennsylvania’s workforce to ensure the next generation is prepared to lead
- $500k to re-establish the Agriculture and Rural Youth Organization Grant Program, which funds “agricultural and rural youth organizations to help increase knowledge and awareness of agricultural issues within the commonwealth.”
- $500k to establish the Pennsylvania Farm to School Grant Program, to “improve childhood nutrition while increasing exposure to agriculture.”
- Protecting agricultural infrastructure
- $5 million to establish the Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account, to “allow for a quick response to agricultural disasters, including utilizing animal or plant health officials to contain an outbreak or threat, such as Spotted Lanternfly or Avian Influenza; or providing an immediate response to a food-borne illness.
- Increasing market opportunities and making Pennsylvania the nation’s leading organic state
- $1.6 million to establish the PA Preferred Organic Initiative, to “make Pennsylvania the nation’s leading organic state by further enhancing the growth of the organic industry.”
- $1 million to fund the PA Preferred Program, to “support the overall PA Preferred program and to bolster enrollment in the Homegrown by Heros Program.”
- $500k for state-level specialty crop block grants, to “invest in and encourage farming of high-priority horticultural crops like hemp, hops, and hardwoods.”
- $500k to fund urban agriculture, to “improve agriculture infrastructure in urban areas, the aggregation of product, sharing of resources, and support for community development efforts.”
Murphy quoted Frank Graybill as expressing hope that the bill wouldn’t be focused exclusively on “organic” farming. “I’m not an organic-minded person and I’d like to think we produce healthy food,” he told Penn Live. “I’m not opposed to it but it almost puts us in the light that we’re not producing healthy food.”
Republican state senate leaders issued a statement yesterday saying they were encouraged by the proposal. “The biggest question that remains is how the approximately $24 million in new spending would be funded,” say GOP leaders in the statement. “As we take a closer look at the governor’s budget and his new plans for supporting farmers, our priority will be working with all parties to determine how we can incorporate some or all of these ideas in a fiscally responsible way.”