Pennsylvania Farm Bureau believes the 2021-2022 state budget will maintain funding for programs important to Pennsylvania farmers, and address two important tax issues, but misses opportunities to make additional investments that are needed to strengthen the state’s number one industry and grow rural communities throughout the commonwealth.
The budget includes a 5 percent increase for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s general government operations and would maintain level funding for the Penn State Cooperative Extension, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System, which assists in getting excess food from Pennsylvania farms and food processors into the charitable food network. The budget also maintains funding for agriculture programs that had been zeroed out in the proposed budget Gov. Tom Wolf outlined in February and the accompanying tax code bill includes two tax provisions important to agriculture that PFB supported.
However, PFB is disappointed that the spending plan does not include additional funding to expand broadband internet access in rural communities or to assist with implementation of on-farm practices to protect water quality.
“While we are pleased that this budget maintains funding for many programs that support Pennsylvania agriculture, now is not the time to settle for the status quo,” PFB President Rick Ebert said. “After years of a challenging farm economy followed by a crippling pandemic, investment is needed to help family farms and rural communities thrive. Agriculture is the Keystone State’s number one industry, powers the economies of our rural communities, and improves quality of life throughout the commonwealth by maintaining open space and providing access to fresh, local food. An investment in our family farms is an investment in all Pennsylvanians.”
Specifically, PFB had advocated for using some federal pandemic relief funding allocated to the state to help in areas such as rural broadband expansion and farm conservation.
“Broadband access remains one of the greatest challenges facing rural businesses and residents,” Ebert said. “The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the digital divide that makes growing our rural communities a challenge. High-speed internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity for business, healthcare access, education, and daily life. Farmers need broadband access to take advantage of the latest technology to help us farm smarter, more efficiently and with a smaller environmental footprint.”
“In addition, greater public investment is needed to share in the cost of farm conservation efforts, especially in high-priority areas like the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” Ebert continued. “Farmers are already conservation leaders and want to do even more, but we operate on slim margins and cannot afford these expenses on our own. Pennsylvania’s plan to meet its goals for reducing nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025 leans heavily on implementing on-farm conservation measures. But significant gaps remain in funding and technical support needed to achieve those goals.”
PFB will continue to work with the General Assembly to address these priorities in the months ahead.