When Gov. Tom Wolf proposed and the General Assembly approved the first ever PA Farm Bill in 2019 with $23 million in funding, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation with a dedicated farm bill of any kind.
The PA Farm Bill is doing exactly what we envisioned. How do we know? Because when the agriculture and food supply system was disrupted in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the stress points matched the long-range goals that the Farm Bill was designed to address.
It directly supported people who needed it the most: innovators developing new products and processes, people making adaptations to their family farms, and educators developing programs that spark a lifelong appreciation for agriculture.
We are grateful that Gov. Wolf and the General Assembly have again supported the PA Farm Bill, funded at $16 million, for the 2020-2021 budget.
The new round of funding will mostly be used in the same way as last year’s program because we are on the right track.
Before the first PA Farm Bill, we realized we had to help prepare the agriculture industry, at the farm and state level, to compete in the future.
We started with an ag impact study, completed in 2018 by Team Pennsylvania and the Temple University Fox School of Business, that defined agriculture and showed it has a $135 billion impact on the state’s economy. This study, along with the governor’s six goals for agriculture’s future, shared at Ag Progress Days, became the foundation of the PA Farm Bill.
The study identified gaps in production, processing and manufacturing that limit the productivity and growth of Pennsylvania agriculture, and it recommended reducing supply and demand gaps throughout the supply chain by strategically increasing processing and manufacturing capacity.
We built programs from that foundation, funded by the PA Farm Bill. For example, the study showed that while large beef processing facilities are strong in Pennsylvania, there was opportunity for growth in small meat processing facilities. To respond to this need, the Small Meat Processor grant was established.
When large meat processing plants closed or slowed due to the pandemic, the disruption validated the study and we knew our investment in expanding meat processing was a good move. However, even more small meat processors are needed. Watch for this grant program to open again in early 2021.
Spurred on by the study, the Farm Vitality Planning Grant provided farmers with funding to secure professional services to help farmers write business plans, navigate farm ownership transitions, expand farms strategically, diversify agricultural production, and build a team of financial and technical expertise as a resource for Pennsylvania’s farmers. COVID confirmed that farms with a plan fared better. Those with a plan were nimbler at adjusting to the changes COVID brought.
The PA Farm Bill invested in PA Preferred branding; COVID caused consumers to seek out food grown closer to home, and PA Preferred helps them find it.
These programs and others, including grants supporting agriculture education and urban agriculture, are funded again through this year’s PA Farm Bill.
While COVID caused disruption, and we responded in various ways, we have not lost sight of agriculture’s overall needs and goals to maintain long-term economic viability and food security, grow consumption and grow jobs.
Agriculture is life-sustaining, as we’ve demonstrated, so it can never pause and never fail.
The PA Farm Bill embodies the vision this administration has for the industry, and its passage and continued support is confirmation of agriculture’s importance and value.
Pennsylvania agriculture has been critical in responding to COVID-related processing, supply and hunger needs and will be even more important as we recover. It will always be critical to a functioning society.
The PA Farm Bill transcends the good times and the very difficult times.