Commentary by Sen. Bob Mensch
PA 24th Senatorial District
HARRISBURG PA – Pennsylvania’s 59,000 farm families are the stewards of more than 7.7 million acres of farmland, pumping $7.5 billion into the state economy each year.
One doesn’t have to live around farmland to appreciate how important agriculture is to all of us.
The recently passed state budget, and action taken on more than a dozen farm-related bills, marks the greatest legislative and financial assistance provided to farmers in decades. The final spending plan restored $4 million that had been targeted to be cut form critical programs in the Department of Agriculture, and boosted funding for agriculture by more than $19 million.
Farmers need more than platitudes to do their job. It’s hard work, and farmers have been facing some strong financial headwinds. Trade imbalances, bad weather, and the cyclical downturn of commodity prices each mean the net worth of farmers has been going down.
The plight of Pennsylvania dairy farmers is especially severe. Milk consumption is declining, and poor weather has made it tough for farmers to plant and harvest the feed they need to sustain their herds.
Help for new farmers is critical. For every four farmers in Pennsylvania older than age 65, there is only one farmer under 35. Of the 7.7 million acres of farmland across Pennsylvania, 41 percent is managed by a farmer 55 or older, and 11 percent of that land is expected to transfer to other ownership in the next five years.
Newly enacted Act 65 provides a personal income tax credit for landowners who lease or sell their land, buildings and equipment to beginning farmers. The one-time credit – patterned after a successful program in Minnesota – will provide a strong incentive for landowners to work with beginning farmers to ensure farmland remains in productive use for future generations.
Pennsylvania dairy farming is one of the most important parts of Pennsylvania’s agriculture economy, supporting 52,000 jobs and contributing $14.7 billion to the state’s economy. However, challenging market conditions have created a serious threat to the livelihood of many dairy farmers. Act 38 establishes the Dairy Investment Program to support research and development, help dairy farmers transition to certified organic production, marketing and more.
The new Pennsylvania Dairy Future Commission will analyze the challenges facing the PA dairy farms and make recommendations to support the industry’s future.
Other changes may seem small, but they are vital to helping Pennsylvania farmers compete.
For example, farm machinery has grown in size and has become more technologically advanced. Specialized commercial services such as custom harvesting, planting and hauling are becoming a critical component of Pennsylvania’s agricultural operations. The standard width for many combines exceeds the current 16-foot width restriction for road transport. Act 28 increases the allowable width to 18 feet.
We are further protecting our farming heritage with investments in disease surveillance and pest eradication. We also are helping to further diversify with support for specialty crops and organic promotion.
Farming is not a Republican or Democrat issue, and it’s not solely a rural concern. The health of agriculture in Pennsylvania has a direct impact on every community in the commonwealth. I am proud of these bipartisan legislative accomplishments, and will keep working to help the men and women who produce economic vitality along with the food we eat.
In western Montgomery County, Mensch represents all or parts of Douglass, Lower Frederick, Lower Salford, New Hanover, Perkiomen, Salford, Skippack, Upper Frederick, Upper Hanover, Upper Pottsgrove, Upper Salford, and West Pottsgrove townships, and East Greenville, Green Lane, Pennsburg, Pottstown, Red Hill, Schwenksville, and Trappe boroughs. He also represents parts of Bucks and Berks counties.
Top photo from NeedPix, used under a Creative Commons license