Agriculture Budget Testimony: Conservation And Stewardship Remain Hallmarks Of PA Agriculture
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding appeared before the House Appropriations Committee February 24 to discuss his agency’s FY 2021-22 budget request.
While he spent much of his time talking about the significant role his agency plays in responding to food security issues and overseeing eating establishments during the ongoing COVID pandemic, he also described the significant accomplishments of agriculture in conservation and stewardship over the last year in his written testimony--
Conservation and stewardship remain hallmarks of Pennsylvania agriculture. Our farmers are important stewards of the land, air, and water that they both rely on for their livelihoods and protect for our collective future.
This is certainly not an easy task, as we have challenges such as the Chesapeake Bay and the impacts of climate change facing us.
Meeting the requirements under the Chesapeake Bay Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan to reduce nutrients in the Bay, as well as keeping our local waterways clean and healthy is critical.
One way to meet this obligation is through forthcoming legislation from Senator Yaw to reintroduce updates and modernizing Pennsylvania’s Fertilizer Act that was passed in 1956. Read more here.
This bill seeks to level the playing field so everyone, not just farmers, can decrease nutrient runoff and be part of the solution for cleaner Pennsylvania waters.
For the first time in the Commonwealth’s history, this bill creates a professional certification program for accountability and restricts or prohibits irresponsible fertilizer application by all users.
Once passed and implemented, the Fertilizer Bill is identified as a solution for achieving necessary credit in Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP.
With the ongoing threat of climate change, we know that the agriculture community is on the front lines. Increased precipitation, heat waves, and disease pressures pose major threats to all agricultural operations.
Fortunately, farmers are also on the front lines of the solutions. Many of the programs led by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and practices utilized by leading PA farmers, can serve to both address the threat of climate and improve the resiliency of Pennsylvania’s agricultural system and products.
Just as the COVID-19 crisis highlighted the critical nature of agriculture in daily life, climate change serves as an opportunity to further showcase the key role farmers play in protecting our planet through the work they do.
PA Farm Bill
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has been engaged in conservation and stewardship for many years. Both the Bureau of Farmland Preservation and the Conservation Commission have made significant progress in protecting vital natural resources with farmers.
This commitment to good stewardship has been bolstered through the PA Farm Bill which offers resources in the form of loans, grants, and tax credits to assist farmers to fund and install conservation practices.
Specifically, the Farm Bill has re-funded the Agriculture Linked Investment Program, grown the Resource Enhancement and Conservation (REAP) tax credit program, and enabled the creation of the new Conservation Excellence grant program for financial and technical assistance through the State Conservation Commission.
Programs like these have and will continue to serve as vital tools to address the Chesapeake Bay, climate change, and other challenges that require good stewardship.
Pennsylvania leads the nation with 5,813 farms that have committed to preserving their land in agriculture in perpetuity through the Farmland Preservation program, now in its 32nd year.
The program’s dual goals are to protect prime farmland from development pressure and improve land access for beginning farmers by allowing the land to be sold at its farm value.
The first objective has been realized with over 590,000 acres preserved in agriculture in perpetuity, but the second objective has proven more challenging in recent years.
Land prices in some parts of Pennsylvania have increased to the point that there is little benefit to a beginning farmer to look for a preserved farm when he or she is ready to buy land.
To improve our ability to meet this second objective, the PA Farm Bill extended the waiver of realty transfer taxes for the sale of a preserved farm to a qualified beginning farmer. To date, there have been 5 certifications for qualified beginner farmers.
As we stay focused on the important work of keeping Pennsylvanians fed and healthy, we must also look ahead to see how we can grow our markets and not allow the last year to be a step-back in Pennsylvania.
The Governor believes in fostering opportunity and growth across all production methods, including Pennsylvania’s robust organic sector.
Pennsylvania is a leader in organics, sitting in the top 10 percent of the nation in terms of certified organic farms (1,055), total organic sales ($707.6 million), organic broilers ($320.5 million), organic mushrooms ($38 million), organic cow’s milk ($68.9 million), and organic eggs ($120.4 million).
Pennsylvania farmers have been increasingly transitioning to organic crops and livestock, though our levels of production still fall far short of satisfying Pennsylvania consumers’ demand for organic foods or the opportunities to meet the demand of this rich region.
The department continues to work closely with Rodale Institute to provide technical assistance to farmers interested in beginning the three-year process of transitioning to certified organic production.
To date, that effort has resulted in 83 farmers committing to transition at least some of their acreage to organic production methods, for a total of 5,400 acres currently in transition.
Farmers that are transitioning to organic operate approximately 27,000 acres of land.
As those farmers master skills in weed control and other requirements for organic certification, the percentage of acreage dedicated to organic production will increase, as will the number of farms.
The PA Preferred Organic Program recently partnered with Rodale and Penn State Extension to offer a series of virtual field day sessions to organic farmers and those interested in transitioning to organic in February 2021.
With 1,055 certified organic farms and more than 93,000 acres of certified organic land in the Commonwealth, PA farmers are well on their way to addressing this growing need.
One such example that I would like to point out is Bell & Evans transition of 50,000 acres of farmland to certified organic in five years through partnerships with Cargill and the Rodale Institute.
This national goal of 50,000 acres is starting right in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania and is the largest investment of its kind into organic production and farming.
As we close what will be known in the history books as one of the most challenging years for Pennsylvania, the experiences from 2020 will strengthen our efforts to protect, promote, and preserve the industry we so clearly rely on.
Thank you to our legislative leaders, Governor, partners, and all those individuals that are part of our daily lives in good times, as each has contributed to keeping people fed, keeping Pennsylvania safe, and keep people working.
Visit the Department of Agriculture’s FY 2021-22 Budget Information webpage for more information.
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[Posted: February 27, 2021]
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