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Pennsylvania farmers will get major help from the state’s new $45 billion budget for improving water quality and recovering from the spring’s avian influenza outbreak.

Gov. Tom Wolf approved the general spending plan, which includes $193 million in the main agriculture account, on July 8.

The budget creates a Clean Streams Fund that will route $220 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding to on-farm conservation and urban stormwater projects.

The fund is a necessity if Pennsylvania hopes to achieve its Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals, according to Adam Ortiz, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Atlantic regional administrator.

The ag emergency preparedness fund received a $31 million increase, much of which will help poultry farmers who were not able to get new flocks while their farms were in avian influenza control areas.

Seventeen farms in Berks and Lancaster counties were infected this spring, and hundreds of nearby poultry operations were subject to transportation and testing requirements. The last control area is expected to be released next week.

USDA indemnities are available to farmers whose flocks must be depopulated, but not to producers whose houses are merely idled.

Largely because of the avian influenza aid, state spending in the general ag budget increased 31% this year. That increase doesn't include the Clean Streams Fund, which falls under the Department of Environmental Protection.

Penn State research and Extension received a 5% increase in the ag budget, and funding for Ag Department operations went up 11%.

The only ag line item to be reduced was ag promotion and exports, which fell 45% to $300,000.

The budget was due June 30 but was ratified a week late as Wolf, a Democrat in his last year as governor, and the Republican-led Legislature weighed how to take advantage of strong state revenues and bountiful federal pandemic aid.

Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver and chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said the budget “meets the needs of Pennsylvanians today without creating multi-billion-dollar budget deficits in the future.”

Beyond the boost to agriculture, Wolf touted the budget’s $1.8 billion increase in education funding and $2.1 billion deposit in the Rainy Day Fund.

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