It’s a time of change in Pennsylvania… with a new governor and new leadership within the state General Assembly. Even we had a change in leadership at Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB), as Past President Carl Shaffer decided not to seek re-election after serving for 10 years as head of the Commonwealth’s largest farm organization. I’m excited to be taking over as president after serving for nearly 10 years as PFB vice president.
The new year marked the beginning of a new legislative term in Harrisburg, and that means a fresh slate of issues impacting agriculture. All of the bills that were not voted on last year have effectively died, although many of them will likely come back in similar or modified forms in 2015.
In contrast, what’s old is now new again. We are pleased that Governor Tom Wolf selected Russell Redding to serve as the state’s next secretary of agriculture. Farm Bureau enjoyed a good working relationship with Redding during his previous term as secretary, and we maintained that rapport when he took his experience to Delaware Valley College as the dean of agriculture and environmental sciences.
Redding, who served for more than a year as agriculture secretary under former Governor Rendell, earned excellent marks for his knowledge of the industry, his academic insight, and his practical nature. Plus, he grew up on a farm in Adams County and has a keen understanding of the day-to-day struggles and challenges facing farm families.
Meanwhile, I’ve already met with the leadership of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly and the new chair of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
We talked about some of the pressing needs facing Pennsylvania in 2015, including the $2.3 billion budget deficit. The conversation focused on issues affecting the agriculture industry, including budget and legislative priorities. We emphasized that agriculture must have a seat at the table in budget discussions.
In all our interactions, we continue to remind lawmakers and other stakeholders that agriculture is the leading economic engine in the state.
While it’s true that working farmers may not top the labor force in Pennsylvania, the goods we produce create numerous jobs. In fact, the state agriculture department says one out of every seven jobs in Pennsylvania is connected to farming. The state’s dairy industry, which ranks fifth in the nation, is a prime job creator for many industries, while those farmers spend about 85 percent of their income in local communities.
Agriculture is more than the men and women who till the soil. Instead, it’s a composite of all the complex businesses and service providers who help farmers grow food. It’s the processor who turns the raw materials into the products consumers have come to enjoy. And, ultimately, it’s the consumer who enjoys the bounty of our farms in the form of affordable food.
No matter how you calculate it, Pennsylvania’s economy is deeply tied to agriculture. Many of the faces in our state capitol are new to the process of governing. Those of us in agriculture cannot assume they understand the economic impact farming provides for its citizens, nor can we assume they understand the challenges facing farm families and public policy concerns.
While some in Harrisburg may seem focused on partisan posturing and finger-pointing, Farm Bureau is engaging both new and seasoned lawmakers, planting the seeds for legislative successes down the road.
We’ve also established an open dialogue with Secretary Redding and the Wolf administration, letting them know that Farm Bureau is a resource they can count on to help agriculture prosper and maintain its status as Pennsylvania’s top industry.
Rick Ebert is president of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.