New Budget, Same Ag Challenges

2/8/2014 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

On Tuesday, Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his 2014-15 budget to the General Assembly, and — as in many of his past budgets — agriculture had several zeroed-out line items.

But the spending plan is not all sour grapes for farmers. The nearly $124 million agriculture budget represents a slight rise from last year, with agricultural operations getting a 9 percent increase.

“Every Pennsylvanian relies on the department’s inspection services that impact their health and financial security,” Agriculture Secretary George Greig said in a prepared statement.

It is the first increase for the regulatory functions of the department in six years, he said.

Greig also said that Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences received an increase. Fair funding is set at $3 million, also a slight increase from last year.

Penn State President Rodney Ericksen was grateful. “We are thankful for the governor’s proposal to increase support for our agricultural research and Extension programs, whose services are critical to Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry and the consumers it serves,” he said in a prepared statement.

However, the usual programs have been zeroed out, including funding for the state’s dairy, beef and farm transition centers; for the Keystone International Livestock and All-American Dairy shows; and for hardwoods promotion.

Line items for agriculture and food research have been scratched, as has the ag promotion, education and research line.

The pattern for most of the past decade has been for these lines to be zeroed out, leaving it up to the General Assembly to restore funding.

In a prepared statement, Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, called the budget a “starting point” as he and the rest of the Legislature consider the proposals.

“The governor’s address is the beginning of the budget process,” Vogel said. “I look forward to working with the governor to make sure that other programs, such as ag excellence, dairy and youth show, are properly funded.”

Carl Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, provided a warmer reception compared with past budgets.

“Farm families rely heavily on advances in agriculture research to help them improve productivity on the farm, implement advances in conservation practices and combat crop diseases,” Shaffer said in a prepared statement.

“Farmers also greatly benefit from the efforts of Cooperative Extension employees, who help farmers with technical assistance and keep them up to date on new and changing technologies and regulations,” he said.

Shaffer said that Farm Bureau members will work with legislators to restore funding to cut programs and “ensure that vital agriculture programs are adequately funded.”

The General Assembly’s agriculture committees will begin hearings to review the budget in the next couple of weeks. Legislators will need to pass the budget for Corbett’s signature before July 1, when the state’s 2014-15 fiscal year begins.

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