NEWMANSTOWN, Pa. — In layers of blue protective biosecurity gear, Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding held a red speckled chicken as 20,000 others clucked from their perches.

Redding and Chris Herr, executive vice president of PennAg Industries, visited Nelson Sensenig’s 280-acre organic egg farm in Lebanon County to discuss how a new partnership through the PA Farm Bill’s Center for Poultry and Livestock Excellence will assist swine, poultry and small ruminant producers with everything from expanding processing capacity to biosecurity planning.

“In this ever-changing industry, we’re working to prepare today’s producers for tomorrow’s challenges with a unique variety of essential resources available through this center,” Redding said. “This partnership opens the door to a stronger animal ag sector in Pennsylvania and a future of opportunity.”

A healthy poultry industry is crucial for Pennsylvania, a top producer of organic eggs.

“We need to be a leader in finding problems and solving them,” Sensensig said.

Sensensig gave Redding a tour of his chicken houses, each holding about 20,000 birds that walk freely around their pens. The birds have outdoor access when the temperature is above 50 degrees. And to keep ammonia levels low, manure is moved on a track to a cooled storage shed at the back of the house.

Resources available through the center will help operations like Sensenig’s, which is contracted with Heritage Poultry Management, achieve efficiency, safety and welfare goals.

The bipartisan Pennsylvania Farm Bill, signed by Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this year, funds the center at $1 million. It will be managed by a board of directors who represent the swine, poultry and small ruminant sectors of the industry as well as a diverse group of agriculture, animal health and academic stakeholders.

The center will provide the following resources and investments:

• Biosecurity education and planning assistance

• Biosecurity implementation grants

• Regional workshops for strategic and emergency communications planning

• Buildout of statewide animal agriculture infrastructure

• Research to approve hemp for animal feed

• Investments in improved food safety infrastructure.

The biggest push for the center came from the poultry and swine industries’ need for more biosecurity support within the state.

“Biosecurity helps me be a better producer,” Sensenig said.

Some rural and suburban residents have backyard chickens and pigs, and they may not know about or have the necessary resources for executing a biosecurity plan, Redding said, adding that 4-H and FFA poultry and swine projects will also benefit from these resources.

“We’re eager to assist in driving the growing poultry and swine industries forward through this new center, as both play a vital role to Pennsylvania agriculture,” Herr said.

Special Sections Editor

Courtney Love is Special Sections Editor at Lancaster Farming. She can be reached at 717-721-4426 or clove@lancasterfarming.com