- Helping Farmers Afford Conservation Practices
- Support for PA’s Dairy Industry
- Help for Meat Processors
New Initiative for On-Farm Conservation
Pennsylvania farmers want to continue to build on their legacy of on-farm conservation by doing more to prevent soil loss and protect local water quality. Healthy topsoil and clean water are fundamentally important to farms, so that’s why farmers spend so much time and attention to protecting both. As our understanding of how to protect these resources changes, farmers want to adopt new practices that make them better stewards of the land and water. Pennsylvania has a significant opportunity at hand to help farmers fund lasting infrastructure on their farm that will help them improve their conservation efforts. At the same time, Pennsylvania is being asked to do more to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. By providing farmers funds to improve conservation on their farms, Pennsylvania can go a long way to addressing the challenges in the Chesapeake Bay and protect the bottom line of our farm families. We are calling on lawmakers to adopt legislation that will create the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program and fund it using money provided to Pennsylvania through the latest stimulus fund. Senate Bill 832 and House Bill 1901 both achieve that goal and we hope these provisions are included in the overall state budget.
The Agriculture Conservation Assistance Program is based on several key philosophies: that local control is the best approach to water quality, that farmers want to perform additional conservation practices but are often hampered by up-front costs, and that improved local water quality benefits wildlife habitat and reduces treatment costs for drinking water. Working with numerous conservation and wildlife groups, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau developed ACAP to provide each county Conservation District with a predictable source of funding to be used to help farmers install best-management practices. Funding will be allocated based on several factors, including miles of agriculturally-impaired streams, total crop acres and concentration of livestock agriculture. This program is based on the existing Dirt and Gravel Roads program, which prioritizes funding to Conservation Districts, based on need, while giving those districts the flexibility determine which roads will be improved.
County Conservation Districts will be in the driver’s seat when it comes to ACAP. Each district will determine the types of projects that it wants to fund. That approach recognizes the differences in the agriculture community across the state and our unique topography. The approach to addressing water quality in Lancaster County might not work in Bradford County, and vice-versa. Under the program, conservation districts would be required to fund and approve best management practices and devise criteria for which ones will have the most immediate impact on local water quality. Districts would work with participating farmers and landowners to ensure that best management practices are installed properly and functioning as designed. Equally as important, this approach will help Pennsylvania obtain credit in the ongoing cleanup efforts in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Establishing the Agriculture Conservation Assistance Program, and funding it through American Rescue Plan dollars, will result in significant, and lasting, investments in Pennsylvania farms. We also recognize that the pressures faced by our state to make measurable improvements in local waters are not going away. By using these resources from the American Rescue Plan, we can help our agriculture community, aid in overall water quality and improve wildlife habitat. This approach is supported by more than 30 statewide organizations with an interest in conservation and water quality issues.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is seeking your strong support for the creation of the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program and to fund it with American Rescue Plan dollars. For more information contact Lily Guthrie, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s State & Local Affairs Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using More Pennsylvania Produced Milk
Pennsylvania’s dairy industry is the largest sector of Pennsylvania agriculture responsible for $28 billion in economic impact for the state’s economy. Unfortunately, the number of dairy farmers continues to decline nationally, and closer to home. Pennsylvania lost nearly 800 dairy farms in the past two years. Many of the problems that plague the dairy industry falls on the backs of shifting consumer demands and international trade. But there are steps that Pennsylvania government can take to use more Pennsylvania milk through encouraging consumption and attracting additional processing in our state. Farm Bureau is supporting multiple legislative efforts including allowing whole milk to be served in Pennsylvania schools and legislation that will encourage additional processing capacity in Pennsylvania.
For more than a decade, federal standards governing health standards for school lunches have prevented school districts from offering whole milk to be served with meals. Instead, districts are required to serve skim or 1 percent milk, under the mistaken belief that whole milk has too high of a fat content. There is concern that this practice is resulting in a lost generation of milk drinkers because students are being served a less flavorful product. National research suggests that in a ten-year period, school milk consumption has declined. Students are missing out on the nutrition that a serving of milk provides. It’s also likely driving consumption trends at home as students not drinking milk in schools are less likely to ask for it at home. This decline in consumption has significant economic repercussions for Pennsylvania dairy farmers. Under federal milk pricing standards, dairy farmers are paid different prices for how their milk is used. Fluid milk—bottled and sold in stores—fetches a higher price for dairy farmers than yogurt, cheese and ice cream. While efforts are ongoing to change federal standards, state Representatives John Lawrence and Clint Owlett have introduced legislation that would help Pennsylvania schools purchase whole milk. Under legislation soon to be introduced, Pennsylvania schools would have the flexibility to purchase whole milk, provided the product is comprised exclusively from Pennsylvania milk. Bottlers often mix Pennsylvania milk with product produced from farms in neighboring states. In order to qualify for the ability to serve whole milk, schools would have to purchase a product that is 100 percent Pennsylvania milk. This legislation would give schools the option, not the requirement, to serve whole milk.
Additionally, Rep. John Lawrence is soon expected to encourage new processing capacity for dairy products in Pennsylvania by making those investments eligible for Keystone Opportunity Zone tax credits. Keystone Opportunity Zones offer special tax breaks to businesses that move to targeted geographic areas. This legislation would offer those same benefits to dairy processors that either locate or significantly expand their footprint in Pennsylvania—and use at least 75 percent of Pennsylvania milk. Tax credits would also be made available to small dairy farms that begin production on value-added products, using their own milk.
Pennsylvania dairy farmers would benefit greatly from changes in fluid milk consumption trends, such as the ability for schools to offer whole milk. New processing in Pennsylvania would also create additional market opportunity closer to home. Dairy farmers have to pay the shipping costs of getting their milk to market, so any additional processing capacity will reduce those overhead costs. Government cannot control every trend that is negatively impacting the bottom line of dairy farmers. But when possible, state government should strongly support efforts that will drive up consumption of dairy products.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is calling on lawmakers to strongly support efforts to allow Pennsylvania schools to serve Pennsylvania whole milk in schools and offer developers tax incentives that attracts new economic investment in Pennsylvania’s dairy sector. For more information contact Lily Guthrie, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s Director of State Government Affairs at email@example.com.
Helping Address Backlog for Meat Processing
Pennsylvania is blessed with a number of federally-licensed meat inspection facilities. Our state has more than 350 meat, poultry and egg production facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many of these are smaller processors that purchase animals from local farmers and sell products directly to consumers. This creates a market for livestock farmers, especially for producers that are raising a smaller number of animals on a yearly basis. COVID caused a significant change in consumer buying habits. In particular, more individuals are buying in bulk and directly from farmers. As a result, processors are often stretched to capacity. Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is supporting efforts to address this situation, including the need to put additional dollars towards an existing grant program for Pennsylvania meat processors.
In 2019, Pennsylvania made significant investments in the future of agriculture with the PA Farm Bill. This initiative created several new programs and grant opportunities managed by the Department of Agriculture, including the Small Meat Processing Grant program. The intent of the legislation was to help encourage new processing facilities to open, or for existing ones to expand their operations. Whether it was selling retail cuts of meat, like steak and chops, or creating value-added products, the intent was for small family-owned facilities to be able apply for grant funding to help with their business plan.
Since 2019, this grant program has been funded at $500,000. Pennsylvania Farm Bureau believes this funding level is inadequate given the level of need in Pennsylvania. As part of the state budget this year, we are asking the General Assembly to direct additional dollars towards this program so that we can encourage the further development of meat processing facilities.
While our state has a number of USDA-licensed facilities, there are areas of the state where processing capacity is limited, particularly in Western Pennsylvania. It is not uncommon for livestock farmers to have to make arraignments for processing nine months before an animal has reached market weight. This is indicative of the processing capacity issues that farmers are facing across the state.
Our organization is also supporting House Bill 1919, which would expand the types of projects that could be awarded under the Small Meat Processing grant program. Oversight would continue to be performed by the Department of Agriculture.
We are calling on lawmakers to support House Bill 1919 and to put additional dollars in this year’s budget towards the Small Meat Processing grant program to address the processing capacity challenges faced by farmers across Pennsylvania. For more information contact Lily Guthrie, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s State & Local Affairs Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org.