Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf addressed a packed audience of Pennsylvania legislators and Farm Bureau members at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s State Legislative Conference March 31.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf at Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Legislative Conference, March 31, 2015

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf at Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Legislative Conference, March 31, 2015. Photo Credit: Bob Ferguson.

“You are the force for a greater future,” Wolf emphasized, “I want to work with you.”

The governor pointed out that Pennsylvania is close to the richest markets, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., and exclaimed, “No other place in the world can say that.”

Wolf continued, noting that historically Pennsylvania has been dominant. The Commonwealth has human capital expertise, great higher education, plus trade, farming and economic expertise and ancillary skills. He said investment will improve the state’s advantages.

“Agriculture is the biggest industry in Pennsylvania,” Wolf observed. He illustrated farming’s magnitude with several statistics: agriculture contributes one in seven jobs; the state has 60,000 farm families; the average farm is 130 acres. To illustrate farming’s productivity, Wolf said, “One farm feeds 155 people.”

Mushrooms, hardwoods and dairy are examples of Pennsylvania’s prominence in the nation.

“Pennsylvania has a strong agriculture sector,” Wolf said, “If we invest wisely, we can be bigger and better.”

The governor outlined several of his budget proposals. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s programs and initiatives are slated to increase by $16 million.

The State Food Purchase Program, proposed for $20 million, would provide an additional $3 million to feed those at risk.

The PA Preferred Program, which educates consumers about the benefits of buying locally, includes $500,000 to allow for continued promotion and member outreach.

The Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory would include $2 million for enhancements to safeguard Pennsylvania’s horse and harness racing industries.

The Green Agriculture investment of $20 million in competitive grants for energy efficiency in clean and renewable technologies would assist farmers for biodigesters and wind generators.

The governor pointed to several of his budget proposals that would expand the growth in farming. Property tax relief, Wolf said, should affect agriculture more than any other industry. The investments in transportation infrastructure, he explained, would exploit the geographic advantage enjoyed by Pennsylvania’s proximity to markets by helping supply chain management.

Wolf suggested that farming innovations such as year-round hydroponic production and new ‘farm to table’ marketing methods should be explored.

Wolf concluded with his assurance of working with the farm community on the budget and stressed, “Make sure we make the adjustments we need for a great future.”

Prior to Wolf’s luncheon address, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau president Rick Ebert, while pleased with many of the budget initiatives, said the proposed property tax relief to farmers would be limited by the exclusion of farmland. Also, it would not prevent school districts from increasing the millage rate.

Ebert also expressed disappointment that Penn State’s agriculture research and cooperative extension programs received no funding increase.

However, the Farm Bureau said it recognizes that Wolf’s proposal is just the starting point of the budget process. Ebert concluded, “We are committed to working with the Governor and members of the General Assembly throughout the budget process to ensure that vital agriculture programs are adequately funded.”