Agriculture is a leading industry in our state, an economic engine that generates production, tax revenue and jobs, and a key piece of what defines Pennsylvania. Many rural communities rely on agriculture as an economic lifeblood. We are a national leader in several major commodities, and our industry generates $135 billion in total economic output. We are appreciative of the interest that state government has given to agriculture in this budget, including new investments under the PA Farm Bill. This proposal of new programs and investments correctly identifies several needs in the agriculture community, particularly the need for additional resources for on-farm conservation, business development planning, the marketing of Pennsylvania products and disaster preparedness. Overall, we are pleased with the proposed 2019-2020 budget and the investments it makes in the state’s leading industry.
Farmers cannot viably operate their agriculture businesses without the assistance of professionals with specialized training and expertise. This needed assistance is provided through agencies like the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Penn State Cooperative Extension and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet). Particularly in times of depressed commodity prices, the value of the services provided by state agencies and research institutions cannot be overstated. This agriculture support system plays a key role in market analysis, business profitability, promotion of Pennsylvania products and maintenance of food safety that ensures consumer confidence in our agriculture products.
To help Pennsylvania producers meet their current and future needs, we are supportive of several adjustments to the proposed budget. We believe that Penn State Cooperative extension should receive a modest increase over the proposed flat funding. Extension has a presence in all 67 counties, and helps farmers and consumers alike. A modest increase helps Penn State cover current staffing and programs. In addition, we are calling on lawmakers to restore lines that were eliminated in the budget proposal, including Agriculture Research, Agriculture Promotion and Hardwoods Council.
We are pleased the Governor has identified additional funding for unmet needs in Pennsylvania agriculture. In this tough agriculture economy, it is difficult for farmers to pay for the conservation practices that they want to install on their farm, such as stream bank fencing, new manure management planning or converting to no-till farming practices. As part of the PA Farm Bill, the state has identified a total of $6 million in new grants, low-interest loans and tax credits that can help farmers address those conservation needs. We are calling on lawmakers to support additional funding for the REAP Program; the restart of the Agricultura Linked Investment Program for low-interest loans and the creation of the Conservation Excellence Grant program.
In addition, the administration has proposed the creation of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center to help farmers craft business succession plans. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture surveys suggest that many farm families do not have a clear plan for transitioning the business from one generation to the next. In addition, there is a need to help farmers develop business plans. The center would help farmers hire private consultants who can walk them through the tricky conversation that surround succession planning, or ask the right questions to develop short and long-term business plans. We are asking for lawmakers support on the creation of the center.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau also supports the efforts to help the PA Preferred program better market the products and businesses that use Pennsylvania products. Pennsylvania produces fantastic farm products, and we want to help consumers better recognize what our local farmers are growing.
Overall, we are pleased with the efforts that state government is making with new investments under the PA Farm Bill and hope you will give these proposed programs due consideration in next year’s spending plan.