ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. — Pennsylvania's dairy industry has been fighting through stormy waters for the past three years. Low mailbox milk prices, changing consumer tastes and trade wars are just a few things that have derailed the state's top agriculture industry.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration unveiled its Pennsylvania Dairy Development Plan Wednesday morning at the Center for Dairy Excellence Breakfast at Ag Progress Days.
"The strategies included in the Dairy Development Plan create a timeline and framework to guide policy and legislative action," states the action plan drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
It highlights six recommendations to capitalize on marketing opportunities, expand dairy processing and manufacturing infrastructure, improve the regulatory processes, broaden workforce development, invest in transportation and broadband and diversify dairy product processing to strengthen markets.
The department secured funding for intermediate strategies in the 2018-19 state budget. About $5 million is earmarked for state-level grants for product development, value-added processing, organic transition assistance and dairy marketing. In addition, the PA First Fund has dedicated funds for dairy processors looking to locate or expand operations.
The plan also calls for better utilization of funds for dairy farmers to update equipment and facilities and invest in on-farm processing capacity.
A common complaint of many farmers is the time it takes to get a project through the regulatory process. As a result, the state is increasing funds for the Department of Environmental Protection to fill critical positions to reduce permit backlogs.
The plan also promotes the idea of "dairy development zones" to encourage additional investments and economic growth.
In the meantime, Pennsylvania has implemented immediate efforts to help stabilize the current situation. The Wolf administration met with dairy processors to encourage investment in Pennsylvania, advocated for federal policy changes and collected input from dairy farmers, processors, cooperatives, retailers and affiliated industries. The Center for Dairy Excellence has provided farm-level support for business planning and consulting services. And the state kicked off a statewide milk promotion campaign to encourage purchasing Pennsylvania milk. The department has also petitioned the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to use its authority for the betterment of the state's industry.
"While these collaborative efforts represent a good initial effort, it remains clear that more must be done," according to the report that was released Wednesday.
A Northeast Dairy Taskforce and Dairy Innovation Summit are two long-term suggestions to help facilitate partnerships, innovation and investment. The ag department is planning to work with PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to identify any impediments to dairy movement across the state.
The plan calls for farm transition assistance as well as support for dairy farms looking to diversify their farming portfolio. The state also wants to conduct market research to determine the value and impact of Pennsylvania-produced milk and dairy.
The plan lists several federal-level policy challenges as part of its strategy to boost Pennsylvania dairy exports and improve the year-round dairy industry guest worker program.
Building on the “Choose PA Dairy, Goodness That Matters” campaign, the plan highlights continued promotion of Pennsylvania products and showcases milk as the state's official beverage.