PENNSYLVANIA FARM BUREAU COMMENTS
FOR PRESENTATION TO THE OFFICE OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL
March 14, 2019
Thank you, Auditor General DePasquale, for the invitation to appear today. My name is Grant Gulibon, and I serve as Director of Regulatory Affairs of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB). I also serve as PFB’s alternate representative on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Climate Change Advisory Committee. PFB is a general farm organization, made up of more than 62,000 members. Since 1950, PFB has provided support, advocacy and informational and professional services for Pennsylvania agriculture and farm families.
For generations, farmers have had to cope with the numerous challenges posed by the climate, weather patterns both regular and severe, and the characteristics of the land they work and care for. They need to meet ever-changing environmental standards in an atmosphere of encroaching development, which creates more impervious surfaces and more water on and in the ground to manage. Our members are committed to meeting the environmental challenges they face, but the cost of doing so is high and the time to do so is short. Consequently, farmers have adopted several strategies to keep their operations financially viable while at the same time providing benefits to the environment and the climate.
To illustrate some of those strategies, I’ll use the example of Luke Brubaker, a Farm Bureau member from Lancaster County who also serves as its representative on the DEP Climate Change Advisory Committee. His operation, Brubaker Farms LLC, has implemented technological initiatives to keep water and the nutrients it carries on the land, generate energy, and positively affect the climate. Luke was unable to be here today due to a previous commitment, but he asked me to share some information with you about what is in place on his farm.
First, Brubaker Farms LLC runs its animal nutrients, or waste products, through a methane digester. Methane digesters remove methane gas from the nutrients and keeps it from being released into the atmosphere. That methane is then used to make electricity that is used on the farm and sold to the electric grid—enough electricity to supply 250 to 350 houses 24 hours a day, seven days per week. After the nutrients go through the digester, they are applied to crops in the field in a form that those crops can use immediately in an environmentally beneficial manner.
Farm Bureau believes that in general, increasing the use and recovery of gas from agriculture will help2460 farmers engaged in more intensive farming operations to manage adverse environmental effects and legally meet the increased water and air quality standards imposed on more intensive agricultural practices while also providing the opportunity to offset costs or generate revenue. Energy conservation and renewable energy generation such as digesters for methane capture and recovery, as well as energy efficiency and the production and use of renewable energy are current examples of integrated farm management strategies that are working for Pennsylvania farmers.
Regarding renewable energy in particular, Brubaker Farms also uses 300 KW of solar panels to offset its electric usage and costs. When this solar generation is taken together with the energy generated by the methane digester, the operation is virtually self-sufficient in providing for its energy needs.
Farm Bureau would also like make the larger point that in Pennsylvania, solar energy systems are very often operated on more concentrated farming operations like Brubaker Farms, and are developed and operated as an integral part of the farm’s plan to meet the environmental standards imposed under state and federal law. At the same time, it is important to note that farmers must incur high input and operation costs to viably engage their farms in agricultural production, and development and maintenance of solar energy systems can require farmers to make significant capital outlays and incur debt.
Therefore, we support the development of strategies that encourage the development and increase the value of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs). Doing so enhances the economic viability of projects that have already been developed; incentivizes future investment by farmers (and others) in additional Pennsylvania solar facilities; and expands farmers’ options for compliance with ever-increasing environmental protection standards.
Finally, in broader policy terms applicable to most Pennsylvania farms, Farm Bureau believes that providing financial incentives and support for agricultural best practices (if properly crafted to ensure meaningful compensation to farmers for planting crops or adopting farming practices that keep carbon in the soil or plant material) will build upon current successful conservation initiatives, such as the implementation of no-till farming practices. However, doing so must not deny Pennsylvania farmers the opportunity to cost-effectively deploy the mix of conservation options that best suit their operations.
At the same time, Farm Bureau encourages research and development to better assist farmers in handling weather events and better adapting to weather conditions, including:
- Establishing a network of agro-meteorological stations statewide to collect climate observations, including estimates of evapotranspiration, to support research and development of agricultural practices;
- Expanding the collection and dissemination of local weather information for irrigation planning;
- Improving the accuracy of existing real-time weather warning and forecasting systems for drought and extreme events; and
- Developing and disseminating seasonal climate forecasts.
In conclusion, Farm Bureau believes that policies regarding climate change are among the most important and far-reaching actions Pennsylvania policymakers will debate in the coming years. We appreciate the opportunity to testify today and again thank you for the invitation.