Ag Budget Built on Creative Funding

7/6/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade


Given some creative budgetary moves, agriculture came out a winner in the 2013-14 Pennsylvania state budget.

The $123.7 million general budget for the state Department of Agriculture is 4.4 percent less than a year ago. However, with more than $15 million coming from the Horse Racing Development Fund, the overall budget for agriculture is higher.

“Our agriculture exports now approach $1.7 billion annually. Farming in Pennsylvania is a business, but it remains, inherently, a family business,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said in a prepared statement. “The value of the tradition and contribution of agriculture to Pennsylvania’s economy is immeasurable.”

State Agriculture Secretary George Greig echoed the governor.

This “budget keeps our farmers farming, with funding for our top veterinary school, agriculture research, protection of our farmland, providing food for Pennsylvanians in need and our county fairs,” Greig said.

Corbett proposed in February to move several Ag Department line items out of its general operation budget.

The state horse racing industry is worried that a decline in gaming revenues and the diversion of some of those revenues to other projects could deter the continued investment in the development of Pennsylvania-bred racehorses.

“We are trying to look at the silver lining,” Pete Peterson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, said.

Although $17.6 million was pulled from the fund, that is less than the more than $30 million originally proposed for removal from the fund. Also, a provision of state code that resulted in the diversion of 17 percent of the racing revenues to the general fund has expired.

Peterson said the diversions have chilled investments in the state’s horse racing industry. Thoroughbred breeders who were considering investing in stallions with national profiles to stand at stud in Pennsylvania decided the high-dollar investment was too risky.

“The industry needs more certainty and stability in the fund going forward,” he said. “Breeding a horse is a four-year process. There has to be trust the fund is not gong to be dipped into on a regular basis.”

Horse-racing revenues for June 2013 were down nearly 4 percent compared with a year ago. Peterson also said slots revenues had fallen for 10 of the previous 11 months.

The final budget passed the Legislature and was signed by Corbett on June 30.

“This budget recognizes the importance of agriculture as Pennsylvania’s No. 1 industry by providing money for a number of key programs and services that were defunded in the governor’s budget request in February,” said state Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

Vogel also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“With agriculture being a focus of the economy in the 43rd District and throughout Pennsylvania, it is important that we continue to support our farmers and agriculture research, and this budget does that by investing over $100 million in our agriculture line items,” state Rep. Keith J. Greiner, R-Upper Leacock, said in a prepared statement.

The budget includes nearly $35 million for farmland preservation as well as improved funding for county and community fairs.

The budget also continues the Resource Enhancement and Protection, or REAP, tax credit program with $10 million in tax credits for farmers to install or incorporate improved environmental practices on their farms.

Samantha Elliott Krepps, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said REAP is still in strong demand from farmers.

She said farmland preservation funding would come from the Growing Greener program, the Environmental Stewardship Fund and the state’s cigarette tax.

Other increases in the budget include agricultural research at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State Extension, farmland preservation, and the PA Preferred program.

The Centers for Dairy Excellence, Beef Excellence and Farm Transition received an upgrade in the final budget. Zeroed out in the proposed budget in February, the three centers ended up with $600,000 in funding.

Money was also reinstated for the Keystone International Livestock Exposition, All-American Dairy Show and several other youth livestock shows. They received $45,000.

In addition, $300,000 was appropriated to create Agricultural Resource Centers, which will be joint ventures between the state Department of Agriculture and Penn State University to focus research and programs in three core areas — animal welfare, food safety and plant industry, according to Vogel.

Funding for the state’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program continues. They provide vouchers for at-risk Pennsylvanians to purchase produce from Pennsylvania farmers markets and farm stands.

According to the Department of Agriculture, 207 farmers markets and 897 farm stands participate in the program.

Agriculture organizations reacted favorably to the final budget.

“Overall, Pennsylvania farmers believe agriculture programs were treated fairly in the budget, increasing funding for several key programs, including agriculture research and Cooperative Extension administered by Penn State University,” said Carl Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

“Agriculture programs are sound investments that help farmers implement conservation practices, increase efficiency and bring consumers face to face with those who grow our food at local venues all across the state,” Shaffer said.

Pennsylvania State Grange Master Carl Meiss said, “Overall, I believe the ag budget meets the general needs of our membership. Touting restraint and fiscal responsibility as guidelines for budget allocations, there were still some noteworthy increases and inclusions.”

Chris Herr, executive vice president of PennAg Industries, said, “We are pleased with the Legislature and the governor to use creative finances to better fund agriculture.”

PennAg has made animal health the main focus of its legislative priorities for the state budget, calling animal health a core function of the department.

“Overall, we are very pleased with the budget,” Herr said, most notably for the increased funding for the Animal Health Commission and the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary program.


Budget highlights:

$46 million for agricultural research and Extension at Penn State.

$35 million for farmland preservation.

$28 million for veterinary activities and $261,000 at the Center for Infectious Diseases for the Veterinary School at the University of Pennsylvania.

$4 million for Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.

$3 million for county and community fair funding.

$550,000 for the PA Preferred program.<\c> Budget highlights:

$46 million for agricultural research and Extension at Penn State.

$35 million for farmland preservation.

$28 million for veterinary activities and $261,000 at the Center for Infectious Diseases for the Veterinary School at the University of Pennsylvania.

$4 million for Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.

$3 million for county and community fair funding.

$550,000 for the PA Preferred program.


Has the Food and Drug Administration done enough to revise its produce safety rule?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

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