Mark O’Neill, Media and Strategic Communications Director
510 S. 31st Street , Camp Hill, PA 17001 • 717.761.2740 • Email • @pfbmediaone
|State Attorney General Josh Shapiro|
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For Immediate Release: March 22, 2017
(Harrisburg) – More than 350 farmers from across the Commonwealth converged on Harrisburg to participate in Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s State Legislative Conference and meet with members of the General Assembly to discuss priority issues affecting farm families, including the need to restore funding in the state budget for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (PennVET).
“Farm families are troubled by the proposed loss of state funding to PennVET, which plays an important role in maintaining the health and well-being of animal agriculture in Pennsylvania and identifying and controlling exposure of the industry to serious health threats, such as avian influenza,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President (PFB) Rick Ebert. “The proposed cuts would also derail a focused effort to promote and encourage students to become large animal veterinarians, whose numbers have been declining in Pennsylvania and across the nation over the past decade.”
PFB notes that the loss of state funding to the School of Veterinary Medicine could result in the curtailment or elimination of laboratory and farm programs that specifically benefit Pennsylvania farmers and consumers.
“So much of Pennsylvania’s livelihood depends on Penn Vet. Since the School’s inception, we have served the Commonwealth as a vital contributor to the success of its agriculture industry,” said Joan C. Hendricks, VMD, PhD, and the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “Funding from the state ensures our ability to train and support the next generation of veterinarians, provide exceptional clinical care, pursue groundbreaking research and maintain our role in essential infectious disease control and food safety programs. We hope to continue this historic partnership, which has yielded incredible benefits for so many.
Farmers are also looking for the state to increase its commitment to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS), which is an innovative program that provides access to healthy and nutritious surplus food from Pennsylvania farms to needy families across the state. Specifically, PFB is urging lawmakers to up the PASS appropriation from $1 million to $5 million to cover costs associated with harvesting, processing, packaging and transporting surplus food from farms to charitable food systems, such as food banks.
“PASS allows farmers to harvest and process food they normally would not, because they don’t have a buyer for the food. By increasing funding for the program, food banks would receive more items on their wish lists, such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, poultry, pork and beef,” added Ebert.
Meanwhile, Farm Bureau members are asking the General Assembly to approve three bills dealing with fairness and transparency involving gas well companies, including legislation (HB 557) that would establish a minimum royalty of 12.5%, regardless of the costs associated with getting the gas to market.
“Farmers and other landowners continue to be ripped-off by a few gas well operators who are unjustifiably driving royalty payments far below the state minimum. These companies are not only taking money out of the pockets of farm families and other leaseholders, they are also shortchanging the state of tax revenue that would have been paid, if guaranteed minimums were enforced,” added Ebert.
PFB is also calling on lawmakers to enact legislation that would create a statewide standard allowing farmers to host Agritourism or Agritainment activities on farms enrolled in the farmland preservation program. Currently, it is up to the individual county Farmland Preservation Board to determine if agritourism activities are allowed, and if so, what types of activities are permitted.
“Agritourism helps farm families generate additional revenue, which in turn helps them remain economically viable and bolster future generations on the farm. We want to make sure that farmers have every opportunity available to be productive and meet the needs of their communities,” continued Ebert.
Farm Bureau is once again urging members of the General Assembly to make pension reform and property tax reform among its top priorities in 2017. With an unfunded liability from Pennsylvania’s public pension systems hovering around $70 billion, PFB believes it is imperative for lawmakers to work together to identify meaningful solutions to this massive problem.
“We want lawmakers to consider all options to halt the ever increasing pension debt that leads to higher property taxes for all Pennsylvanians. Since many farmers require a significant amount of land to grow crops and raise animals, they will likely face a disproportionate share of the burden to pay for public education. We don’t believe that is an acceptable solution,” concluded Ebert.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is the state’s largest farm organization with a volunteer membership of nearly
62,000 farm and rural families, representing farms of every size and commodity across Pennsylvania.