Pennsylvania’s designation as the “Keystone State” promises to influence the new Wolf administration.
At press time, the transition teams of Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Wolf had not yet completed their reports. The head of the agriculture transition review team, Russell Redding, shared some insights on agriculture for the new administration.
The Agriculture Department’s responsibilities include animal health and diagnostic services, conservation programs, dog law enforcement, food distribution and safety, hardwoods development, horse racing, invasive species control, market development, plant health, preservation of farmland, seasonal labor welfare, standards for weights and measures and rides, and statistics of agriculture.
Currently dean of the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Delaware Valley College (DelVal), Redding’s agriculture experience spans 20 years. As agriculture policy advisor and executive assistant to U.S. Senator Harris Wofford (DPA), Redding contributed to the 1995 Farm Bill, and then served in leadership roles in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, including Secretary of Agriculture.
Redding noted that Wolf ’s appreciation of agriculture science and technology was borne from his time serving in the Peace Corps in India. His probing interest in his village project, a new rice variety, prompted Wolf to request and receive an additional year of service.
Jobs and education were often key themes in Wolf ’s gubernatorial campaign. Recognizing the challenges, Wolf stressed during his administration’s transition period, “Pennsylvania is 50th in job growth, and we are facing a deficit of $2 billion or more.”
Each transition team assesses and makes recommendations regarding its specific areas, but all teams share common concerns, including the deficit. Redding pointed out, “In this transition, there is a clear expectation to work across teams.”
Moreover, that interagency discipline model would continue in the execution of the coming programs. For example, attracting value-added opportunities in the hardwood industry would Assessing Pennsylvania Agriculture Under Governor Wolf involve the departments of Agriculture and Community and Economic Development. In addition, the Agriculture and Environmental Protection departments would collaborate on conservation projects.
In assessing agricultural jobs, human capital characteristics (i.e., worker age, current and potential skills, immigration) are evaluated in light of needs and opportunities. In Pennsylvania agriculture, seasonality must be factored in as well. For example, Adams County has numerous orchards with peak harvest seasons, while Chester County’s mushroom houses enjoy more steady harvest times.
Education plays a significant role in job growth, as experts place a high premium on STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics.) Redding’s views underscore his qualifications. He says, “It should be STEAM [with the A standing for agriculture].”
Currently in the Pennsylvania education system, the articulation process in vocational education is handled on an individual school district level. This concept can be compared to advanced placement courses that lead to higher levels of learning, particularly in technology.
Redding said the transition teams have been reviewing this process to assess whether a statewide role would enhance effectiveness plus expedite the process. The curriculum development links educational agencies with other industries or educational institutions. In effect, the certification agreement with a higher education program can enable a high school student to gain college credits. Also, it can function to ensure students possess the qualifications essential to meet industry workforce standards.
The Department of Labor determines whether a subject—anatomy, animal science, natural resources, environmental sciences, water quality, plant science, soil health, food science and agricultural business—is designated as a high-priority occupation. That role illustrates another example of interagency connection.
Redding noted a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of industry expectations that revealed a shortfall of four-year institution graduates trained for sophisticated technology. The transition teams are questioning whether supplemental training would meet workforce development needs and enhance employment prospects.
The limited fiscal resources challenge the transition teams. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, it is “too thin” to cover its legislative functions. Some are mandated by statute—the inspection law language denotes “shall” not “may,” for instance. Redding said only some of the programs can be adjusted within the budget. The reality of the deficit has demanded the team search how services could be cut per the governor’s recommendations, as well as explore greater usage of federal funding sources.
The level of support for the public health and safety services in view of fiscal constraints troubles the agriculture transition team. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Food Distribution has the lead role for the charitable food system for the 1.2 million people in the Commonwealth estimated to be at risk.
The agriculture transition team considers the impact of the federal initiatives of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and the pending Waters of the United States rulings. The agriculture industry’s vast stakeholders’ interest regarding the direction and current uncertainty of federal regulations play a major role in the assessments and recommendations to the governor.
Thus, the work of the agriculture transition team should serve as a foundation to expand Pennsylvania’s key position in the nation’s economy.