It has been one year since Governor Tom Wolf signed the Pennsylvania Farm Bill, a move that fundamentally strengthened the capacity of agriculture in the commonwealth.
The PA Farm Bill's $23 million package of legislation gained national attention in the ag industry because Pennsylvania is the first, and so far, the only state to have a dedicated farm bill.
Recognizing the $135 billion impact agriculture has on Pennsylvania's economy, a bipartisan team of legislators supported the PA Farm Bill.
The vast majority of farm bill funding became grant money which went directly to lifting the Pennsylvania people and businesses advancing agriculture: the innovators adapting to changing markets; farmers with family businesses in transition, and educators sparking a lifelong appreciation for agriculture.
We accomplished a lot in a year, and we are not done.
A review of the year shows the PA Farm Bill is setting the course for agriculture's future by creating more processing capabilities, strengthening the workforce and safeguarding farmland.
The PA Farm Bill has been both life changing for those who used it to jumpstart businesses, and transformative for the industry, as the package of legislation defines and assists in needed innovation.
Here are some of the ways the PA Farm Bill has made a difference in just a year:
Educating and Launching new farmers
- The PA Farm Bill allowed for a Realty Transfer Tax Exemption for the transfer of preserved farmland to a qualified beginning farmer. To date, there have been 13 certifications for qualified beginner farmers.
- The PA Farm to School Grant Program, funded at $500,000, increases nutrition and agriculture education opportunities for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The program received 60 applications and was able to approve 45 of those projects.
- The Agriculture and Youth Development Grant Program invests in workforce development initiatives for agriculture and youth organizations such as FFA and 4-H. Also funded at $500,000, the program received 71 applications and was able to approve 53 projects.
- Creation of the Center for Poultry and Livestock Excellence which approved $340,000 in grants for projects to improve on-farm biosecurity practices and animal health and disease prevention, and strength the swine, poultry, and small ruminant sectors.
Increased Processing Capabilities
- Expanded Pennsylvania's Dairy Investment Program, funded at $5 million, to support innovation, value-added processing, marketing, and organic transitions in the dairy industry. Grants were awarded to 46 projects for dairy marketing, research and development of new dairy products, value added processing, on-farm single producer projects, and to cooperative, processing plant, or multi-producer projects.
- Incentivized access to meat processing inspections for small farmers or butchers by offering to reimburse costs for federal inspection compliance to access new markets. The program had $500,000 and funded 15 projects. But there is a need for more of this type of funding, there were 24 applications and nearly $1 million in requests.
Conservation and preservation
- Allocated $13 million to the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program which invites farmers, landowners, and businesses to earn tax credits for implementing best management practices to enhance farm production and protect natural resources. Eligible applicants receive between 50% and 75% of project cost in the form of state tax credits for up to $250,000 per operation in a 7-year time-frame. Well over 300 applicants showed interest in the REAP program in 2019.
- The Conservation Excellence Grant has $2.5 million to fund best management practices in priority areas of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This funding has been sent to the Lancaster and York county conservation districts and is now available for applications.
- The Agriculture Linked Investment Program will have $500,000 to provide low-interest loans for conservation practices.
Protect Agriculture Infrastructure
- The Farm Bill allows Pennsylvania to continue the fight against the invasive Spotted Lanternfly by creating the Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account, funded at $4 million, to provide a quick response to the next agricultural disaster, whether animal health, plant health, or foodborne illness.
- The Farm Bill expanded the allowable roadway width for implements of agriculture husbandry from 16 feet to 18 feet.
- Created the Agriculture Business Development Center, a one-stop-shop to support business planning, marketing, diversification, and transition planning services to Pennsylvania farmers.
- The Farm Vitality Planning Grant, funded at $1 million and administered through the Agriculture Business Development Center, funds professional services to those planning for the future of a farm. It may be used for writing a business plan, transitioning farm ownership, expansion or diversification of production. Solid planning keeps farms in operation. The program received 159 applications and passed grants on to 133 eligible applicants.
- The Specialty Crop Block Grant program, funded at $500,000, invests in Pennsylvania's priority crops: hardwoods, hemp, honey and hops; and rye/wheat/barley for malting, brewing, and distilling. The program funded 13 projects.
- Bolstered enrollment in the Homegrown by Heroes Program by providing an additional $1 million to the PA Preferred program. This marketing tool communicates to the public that a product was grown in Pennsylvania by a veteran-owned business.
- Another $1.6 million in funding went to support PA Preferred and the creation of the PA Preferred Organic Initiative, including hiring an organic specialist to guide the growth of the organic sector
- Improved urban agriculture infrastructure with $500,000 in the Urban Agricultural Infrastructure Grant Program. It funded 28 projects.