MIFFLINTOWN – Governor Josh Shapiro and Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding visited Reinford Farms in Mifflintown on Tuesday morning to officially celebrate June as dairy month, while Shapiro discussed his administration’s plans to refine the permitting process and improve farm conservation efforts in the state.
Gov. Shapiro met with Farm Bureau members Brett and Meredith Reinford and toured their farm, which is well known for its innovative sustainability business practices, that includes recycling cow manure and food waste into an anaerobic methane digester to transform it into renewable electricity, heat and fertilizer. The digester creates enough energy to power the entire farm. Reinford Farms is a multigenerational farm in Juniata County that currently houses 750 milking cows and 800 young cattle.
“I think that this is the future that I see for the future of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a future where we are able to marry together traditional agribusiness with conservation and high-tech,” Shapiro said. “If we can bring those three things together, we can have more Reinford Farms across the Commonwealth, we can create jobs, grow our economy and we can become sustainable.”
During the tour, Shapiro and Secretary Redding were given a demonstration of the farm’s de-packaging and food recycling operations, which uses the farm’s digester to dispose of food waste in an environmentally friendly manner.
The event featured representatives from Pennsylvania Farm Bureau including President Chris Hoffman, and Manager of Government Affairs and Communications Justin Clapper, as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Center for Dairy Excellence, the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association and Land O’ Lakes, who the Reinfords are in a co-op with.
Overall, Shapiro’s event served as a kickoff to dairy month, which is an annual celebration that began in 1937 as a grocery milk promotion. It is now widely recognized as a month to celebrate the dairy industry and its producers.
“A thriving dairy industry in Pennsylvania is positive for all Pennsylvanians,” said Brett Reinford, partner at Reinford Farms and chair of the Pennsylvania Dairy Future Commission. “I want to thank Governor Shapiro for coming out – and I know that myself and many others out there in the dairy industry are very much looking forward to working with you and your team to hopefully make dairy better in Pennsylvania.”
“Dairy month is a source of pride for our Pennsylvania Dairy farmers,” Hoffman said. “Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers contribute a wide variety of products to consumers and their hard work does not go unnoticed. Dairy farmers contribute more than $14 billion to our state’s economy. They are a huge part of what makes Pennsylvania such a great, agriculturally diverse state.”
Jayne Sebright detailed how the Center for Dairy Excellence uses dairy month to celebrate the state’s dairy farmers.
“Dairy month is a great time to celebrate the work that our dairy farmers do day in and day out to produce quality foods, while being good stewards of their farms, their animals, the lands, and the communities where they call home,” said Sebright, Executive Director of the Center for Dairy Excellence. “Our center is a public-private partnership, and we’re thankful to the Commonwealth and to our dairy industry to have the opportunity to help dairy thrive in Pennsylvania. We help farms like Reinford’s – and they’re a shining example of the work that we can do with the help of the Commonwealth and our industry to help our dairy farmers innovate, adopt new practices, meet ever-changing market demands, and forge a path for the next generation to thrive.”
Secretary Redding also reflected on the role that Pennsylvania dairy farmers play in Pennsylvania agriculture.
“Each person in Pennsylvania’s dairy industry – from the farm to the table – works 365 days a year to nourish our families with wholesome, high-quality products that support our lives and pour dollars into our economy to support our jobs and communities,” Redding said. “Dairy Month is a time to celebrate our dairy industry and show our appreciation for those who are in the barns, on the roads, on the processing line, and in the stores during hours that most of us are sleeping.”
Shapiro Focused on Permitting
Shapiro detailed his plans to speed up the permitting processes, citing an executive order he signed when he took office that shrunk the permit timeline from eight weeks to three days to get a corporate permit processed through the Department of State.
“When we talk about expansion, one of the things that holds our farmers back in addition to not having the access to the capital that they need – which I’m hopeful we will correct in this budget and the budgets that follow – is for too long, Harrisburg has taken too long to help our farmers get a permit and expand, Shapiro said. “That is changing. We will be announcing the timeline for each of our 2,400 permits and licenses and applications that the Commonwealth issues. We will also be going forward with a money back guarantee, where we will process a permit, license, and an application within a certain period of time, and if we miss that period of time, we will give you your money back for your application fee.”
Shapiro Addresses Missed Opportunity With Fairlife
Shapiro addressed on his administration’s efforts to land a deal with premium milk bottler Fairlife, vowing to secure “a big-time ag deal” in Pennsylvania during his administration.
Fairlife deciding to build its new processing plant in New York came as a big blow to Pennsylvania’s dairy industry, as the plant was expected to use 5 million pounds of local milk per day, making it the largest milk processing plant in the Northeast. Fairlife is owned by Coca-Cola. Fairlife’s milk is ultrafiltered and has less sugar and more protein and calcium than traditional milk.
“We worked our tails off to try and get Fairlife here. It was all hands on deck,” Shapiro said. “In effect, what we learned from this process may be more important than landing that deal. We learned that we needed to be quicker on permitting. We were able to put together a team that would’ve guaranteed Fairlife that our permit would have been done in the timetable that they laid out. It was a good thing to learn on how to speed up the permitting process.”
Shapiro said that while Pennsylvania offered a permit and the necessary incentives to land Fairlife, it couldn’t ensure that Fairlife would have access to enough milk to get to market.
“In that, candidly, we came up a bit short. We learned from that and how we need to engage more with our dairies and that we need to increase our capacity,” Shapiro said. “I’m not happy that we didn’t land that, but I’m confident that we will land a big ag-deal in Pennsylvania and we will be ready to rock and roll soon in the future.”
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is looking forward to working with Gov. Shapiro on key issues, such as permitting and finding new innovative ways to increase conservation efforts. Hoffman spoke about the importance of reform in the permitting process and the environmentally friendly practices.
“We talk about the Governor and his commitment to agriculture. Some people talk about it, but he puts action to the words that he says,” Hoffman said. “It shows with him being here, how committed he is to the economic side of the farm. Those economics are what creates the opportunity for the next generation. His commitment to conservation and energy and all those things makes what we do on the farm possible.”