Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding commended Governor Tom Wolf for once again proposing to fund the Pennsylvania Farm Bill to continue strengthening the resiliency of the industry so many rely on for life’s essential needs. The 2021-22 proposal would be the third installment of funding for the PA Farm Bill, first signed into law in July 2019, and result in a total of nearly $50 million invested in the success of agriculture in the commonwealth.
“As our commonwealth works to recover from the initial impacts of COVID-19, there is a strengthened need to persevere and come through this stronger than ever,” said Redding. “We’re in the midst of opening programs from the second year of funding and can see that recipients from year one of the PA Farm Bill were able to not only survive in 2020 but thrive.
“Never in a million years could we predict what 2020 was going to bring, but if we could the PA Farm Bill has the programs we would have proposed to prepare the industry for fluctuating markets, infusing local food into food deserts, and strengthening the weak links of our food system to persevere through a pandemic,” added Redding.
In 2020, the Center for Poultry & Livestock Excellence, created and funded through the Pennsylvania Farm Bill, provided $280,000 in reimbursement to Pennsylvania’s animal ag industry for the purchase of PPE to protect the workforce. The center also provided guidance to the industry on strengthening biosecurity plans to mitigate against COVID-19.
As communities across the commonwealth faced immense challenges with food insecurity as a result of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, urban communities that took advantage of the PA Farm Bill’s Urban Agriculture Grant program had new infrastructure in place to combat food insecurity by growing their own food and improving access to food for their neighborhoods. The 2019 program funded 28 projects with $500,000.
Pennsylvania’s dairy industry was most notably affected by the pandemic, as rapidly changing markets caused farmers to dump fresh, nutritious milk down the drain. However, some dairy farmers had already diversified their markets and found new opportunities through the PA Farm Bill’s $5 million Dairy Investment Program. The program offered dairy farmers an opportunity to sustain and grow their business through on-farm innovation, organic transition, and diversification through value-added products such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. The 2019 program funded 46 projects.
Governor Wolf’s 2021-22 Budget proposes funding the PA Farm Bill at $13.6 million, the same level of funding received in 2020, and includes the following programs:
Resources for Business Development & Succession Planning
- PA Agricultural Business Development Center, funded at $2 million, to serve as a resource to create business, transition, or succession plans.
- Realty Transfer Tax Exemption for any transfer of preserved farmland to a qualified beginning farmer.
Creating More Processing Capabilities
- Center for Poultry & Livestock Excellence, funded at $1 million, to support the animal ag industry with biosecurity planning and disease prevention, processing capacity, and food safety and quality assurance.
- Incentivizing Access to Meat Processing Inspections, funded at $500,000, to encourage access to new and expanded markets for small or new producers.
Removing Regulatory Burdens
- Conservation Excellence Grant Program, funded at $2 million, to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers to install and implement best management practices.
- Agriculture Linked Investment Program, funded at $500,000, to re-establish this low interest loan program for the implementation of best management practices.
Strengthening the Ag Workforce
- Agriculture and Youth Grant Program, funded at $500,000, to reestablish this program to fund agricultural and youth organizations to help increase knowledge and awareness of agriculture in the commonwealth.
- The PA Farm to School Grant Program, funded at $500,000, to improve childhood nutrition while increasing exposure to agriculture.
Protecting Agricultural Infrastructure
- PA Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account, funded at $3 million, to allow for quick response to agricultural disasters, such as Spotted Lanternfly or Avian Influenza; or providing an immediate response to a foodborne illness.
Increasing Market Opportunities
- PA Preferred Organic, funded at $1.6 million, to make PA the nation’s leading organic state by further enhancing the growth of the organic industry.
- PA Preferred Program, funded at an additional $1 million, to support the program and to bolster enrollment in Homegrown by Heroes.
- State-level Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, funded at $500,000, to invest in and encourage farming of high-priority horticultural crops like hemp, hops, and hardwoods.
- Urban Agriculture, funded at $500,000, to improve agriculture infrastructure in urban areas, the aggregation of product, sharing of resources, and support development efforts.
“Pennsylvania agriculture is resilient. We’ve seen that as the industry recovers from challenge, tackles whatever comes next, and comes out stronger than before,” added Redding. “I’m excited to see how this third round of PA Farm Bill funding will further strengthen our resiliency as we support farmers, harness the power of research and technology, and build a more food-secure tomorrow. With a strong agriculture industry comes prosperity and stability for all of Pennsylvania.”
For more about the Pennsylvania Farm Bill visit agriculture.pa.gov/pafarmbill. The department is actively working to roll out grant programs for the 2020-21 funding and will make announcements as programs are available for applications. Both the Ag and Youth Grant Program and Commonwealth Specialty Crop Block Grant Program are open now with the application period closing on March 5, 2021.