Pennsylvania Farm Bureau
(PFB) is troubled by deep cuts to several key agricultural programs, especially reductions to Cooperative Extension and agriculture research, which are included in the new state budget approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Corbett. PFB has learned that cuts totaling nearly $10.5 million to Penn State's Agriculture Extension and Agriculture Research programs will result in the elimination of nearly 200 of the 814 permanent jobs within Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
"Agriculture research and Cooperative Extension are vital components of farming and our food industry. Pennsylvania farmers rely on timely assistance provided by agriculture extension agents and valuable developments in research to stay viable in a constantly changing industry. Innovations in research and new information about agricultural practices have not only helped farmers throughout the years, but have also helped keep food prices down for consumers and resulted in conservation improvements on farms to protect the environment," said PFB President Carl T. Shaffer. "Pennsylvania's farm families support the efforts of Governor Corbett and the General Assembly to restore fiscal discipline in our state, but the budget cuts in Cooperative Extension and agriculture research are excessive."
Farm Bureau is also concerned that lawmakers have eliminated the state crop insurance incentive program, which over the past five years has been chipped away to nothing from a $3 million appropriation. More than a decade ago, the General Assembly agreed to provide a modest commitment of funds to help farmers obtain crop insurance. As part of the agreement, the agriculture community encouraged farmers to self-insure, rather than rely on public funds to financially recover from weather-related losses, such as in 1999, when the state provided $65 million to farmers who were decimated by drought conditions.
"The decision to eliminate crop insurance assistance is unfortunate, because it eliminates what has been a successful program, which typically returned $4 for every dollar spent. Because the program was zeroed out, we also lose the ability to ask the federal government to match state funding. Last year, Pennsylvania farmers received $455,000 in matching funds from the federal government for the crop insurance incentive program. We are concerned that farmers will have to pay more for crop insurance or decide to insure fewer acres of crops, leaving them vulnerable to losses from uncontrollable acts of nature," added Shaffer.
Meanwhile, PFB credited the General Assembly for doubling REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection Act of Pennsylvania) program funding to $10 million and for restoring funding to the state budget for the Department of Agriculture in the areas of Agriculture Excellence (such as the Center for Dairy Excellence), Agriculture Research (within PDA) and funding for livestock and dairy shows.
"REAP has helped farmers and businesses invest in agricultural conservation measures, such as forested stream buffers, fencing projects, barnyard improvements and no-till practices by providing state tax incentives as part of the cost-share program. The practices implemented through REAP benefit the environment and local communities," concluded Shaffer.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is the state's largest farm organization with a volunteer membership of more than 50,000 farm and rural families, representing farms of every size and commodity across Pennsylvania.