Agriculture, Pennsylvania’s No. 1 industry, supported through new state farm bill
Whether it’s an experienced farmer who wants to get into hemp production or a young farmer who needs access to farmland, there’s seemingly something for everyone in the new Pennsylvania Farm Bill.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s signing of the $23.1 million farm bill — a series of legislative initiatives within the state budget — this week is being hailed by agriculture allies in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert, who attended the signing ceremony, said the bill’s wide-ranging focus addresses numerous concerns of the farming community.
“The state Legislature and the governor see what an important part agriculture plays in the state’s economy,” he said. “Our farmers have been struggling the last few years, with commodity prices being down … so it’s good to see the state Legislature step up a bit to help make sure agriculture remains viable in the state.”
Agriculture and its associated industries contribute more than $135 billion, or about 18%, of Pennsylvania’s economy. The industry involves more than a half-million workers, including 280,500 direct jobs.
“Agriculture is our No. 1 industry,” said state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Carmichaels, “and the PA Farm Bill will allow us to support our farmers in several ways, including business development, the expansion of job opportunities and additional resources to promote our products through the PA Preferred program.”
Snyder, whose district includes Greene County and parts of Washington and Fayette counties, sponsored one of the pieces of legislation that made up the farm bill — a grant program to reimburse federal meat inspection costs for small or new processors.
Ebert, a dairy farmer in Derry Township, said the farm bill is an amalgam of new programs and increased funding for existing programs. “It’s wide range of a lot of different topics,” he said.
Some of the highlights include:
• A tax credit to landowners who rent or sell their land to beginning farmers.
• A change in the state vehicle code that allows farm equipment of up to 18 feet in width to travel on roadways under certain safety conditions.
• The Pennsylvania Farm to School Grant Program ($500,000) for pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, to support increased nutrition and agriculture education.
• $500,000 to the Agriculture Linked Investment Program to provide low-interest loans for conservation practices.
• $500,000 for a Specialty Crop Block Grant program to invest in certain priority crops, including hardwoods, hemp and hops.
• The Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account, funded at $4 million, to provide a quick response to the next agricultural disaster, whether animal health, plant health or foodborne illness.
• $5 million in new funding for the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program, which supports innovation, value-added processing, marketing and organic transitions in the dairy industry.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .