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July 1st signing of the Pennsylvania Farm Bill. Pictured: Sponsoring legislators and Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee staff; Governor Tom Wolf; Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert, and PASA Executive Director Hannah Smith-Brubaker

With broad support from Pennsylvania farmers and agricultural organizations, earlier this month Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a bipartisan $23.1 million package of bills—collectively titled the Pennsylvania Farm Bill—making a historic investment in farmers and the local food system.

According to Gov. Wolf, the Pennsylvania Farm Bill package will “grow opportunities and resources, remove barriers to entry, and cultivate future generations of leaders within agriculture.”

On the heels of Congress passing a 2018 Farm Bill that contained significant wins for sustainable agriculture at the federal level, Gov. Wolf unveiled the complementary state-level package of bills to invest in the future of an industry that accounts for 18 percent of the commonwealth’s gross state product.

The proposal also responded to the ongoing dairy crisis that’s affecting dairies across the nation but is having an outsized impact in Pennsylvania, home to the second-highest number of dairy farms in the country. In 2018 alone, 370 Pennsylvania dairy farms went out of business according to the USDA.

Reportedly, Pennsylvania is the first to build and pass a state-level farm bill. The Bill contains important support for a variety of sustainable agriculture initiatives, and as a whole serves as a model for how states can invest in farmers and local food systems.

Here are highlights of the Bill’s initiatives:

  1. Funds the Conservation Excellence Grant Program at $2.5 million to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers for installing and implementing best conservation management practices
  2. Funds the state-level Specialty Crop Block Grant Program at $500,000 to invest in and encourage growing high-priority horticultural crops like hemp, hops, and hardwoods
  3. Funds the Agriculture and Rural Youth Organization Grant Program at $500,000 to help increase knowledge and awareness of agricultural issues
  4. Funds the Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center at $2 million to help every farmer create a business plan, transition plan, or succession plan
  5. Funds Urban Agriculture initiatives at $500,000 to improve agriculture infrastructure, aggregating products, sharing resources, and community development efforts
  6. Funds the Pennsylvania Farm to School Grant Program at $500,000 to improve childhood nutrition while increasing exposure to agriculture
  7. Funds the PA Preferred Program at an additional $1 million to support the overall program and bolster enrollment in the Homegrown by Heroes Program
  8. Funds the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program at $5 million for research and development, organic transition assistance, value-added processing, and marketing grants to support Pennsylvania’s dairy industry
  9. Funds the Agriculture Linked Investment Program at $500,000 to re-establish this low-interest loan program for implementing best management practices
  10. Creates the Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account, funded at $4 million, to allow for a quick response to agricultural disasters, including utilizing animal or plant health officials to contain agricultural pests or disease outbreaks or threats, or to immediately respond to food-borne illnesses
  11. Incentivizes Access to Meat Processing Inspections, funded at $500,000, to encourage access to new and expanded markets for small or new producers by reimbursing federal meat inspection costs and subsidizing the first-time purchase of equipment needed for federal compliance

While not passed into law, funding in the state’s budget supports farmers who want to transition to organic as well. 

According to Sec. of Agriculture Russell Redding, farmers and agricultural organizations can expect to be able to access many of these programs within a number of weeks. We applaud the General Assembly for setting an example for the nation—lawmakers worked across the aisle to develop a comprehensive package of bills that will multiply the local impact of the federal 2018 Farm Bill.

Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Executive Director

Author: Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Executive Director