Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding joined Rodale Institute and other stakeholders at Jaindl Farms in Lehigh County to announce a new consulting service for producers transitioning to organic, and to highlight the resources available for organic agriculture in the proposed PA Farm Bill.
“Pennsylvania’s partnership with Rodale and the proposed investments under the PA Farm Bill will provide a new opportunity to producers and consumers alike,” said Sec. Redding. “By increasing access to resources and technical assistance, farmers will be able to more easily expand and diversify their operations and consumers will have more options at the farmer’s market and grocery store.”
The PA Farm Bill, a package of legislation that provides support for and continued investments in the commonwealth’s agriculture industry, was modeled after the governor’s six-point plan to cultivate future generations of Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry. The legislation will provide for business development and succession planning, create accommodations for a growing animal agriculture sector, remove regulatory burdens, strengthen the ag workforce, protect infrastructure, and make Pennsylvania the nation’s leading organic state.
The organic agriculture component of the legislation would make Pennsylvania the nation’s leading organic state by further enhancing the growth of the organic industry. Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) has introduced SB 623, which would establish the Pennsylvania Preferred Organic Program as part of the existing Pennsylvania Preferred Program.
“Consumers continue to demand local products, including organic products. This new program would be voluntary for organic producers and those producers interested in transitioning to organic production,” said Sen. Schwank. “This program would not compete with other Pennsylvania producers but would instead further enhance Pennsylvania’s brand recognition and ensure the PA Preferred trademark is leveraged fairly across all production methods.”
Under the legislation, the PA Department of Agriculture would administer the program, which would encourage producers of Pennsylvania-produced organic agricultural commodities to meet or exceed USDA National Organic Program standards.
Other highlights of the legislation include:
- Creating the Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center to serve as a resource to help every farmer create a business plan, transition plan, or succession plan to ensure the best chance of success.
- Incentivizing the transfer of preserved farmland to a new or beginning farmer through the Realty Transfer Tax Exemption.
- Creating the Conservation Excellence Grant Program to offer financial and technical assistance to farmers to install and implement conservation best management practices.
- Expanding the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) tax credits by $3 million to increase the lifetime cap and increase availability.
- Developing the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program to fund research and development, organic transition assistance, value-added processing, and marketing grants in support of Pennsylvania’s dairy industry.
- Addressing issues within the animal agriculture industry–such as expanding processing capacity, transition assistance, technical assistance, food safety, and establishing industrial hemp as an approved animal feed—through the Center for Animal Agriculture Excellence.
- Incentivizing Access to Meat Processing Inspections to encourage small or new producers by reimbursing federal meat inspection costs and subsidizing the first-time purchase of equipment needed for federal compliance.
- Expanding the allowable width for the use of implements of husbandry on roads from 16 feet to 18 feet.
- Engaging with agricultural and rural youth organizations to help increase knowledge and awareness of agricultural issues within the Commonwealth through the Agriculture and Youth Organization Grant Program.
- Improving childhood nutrition while increasing exposure to agriculture through the Farm to School Grant Program.
- Improving agriculture infrastructure in urban areas, the aggregation of product, sharing of resources, and support for community development efforts.
- Ensuring a quick response to agricultural disasters–including utilizing animal or plant health officials to contain an outbreak; or providing an immediate response to foodborne illness—through the Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account.
- Supporting the PA Preferred program and to bolster enrollment in the Homegrown by Heroes Program.
- Creating the state-level Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to invest in and encourage farming of high-priority horticultural crops like hemp, hops, and hardwoods.
The Rodale Institute’s new program would provide consulting services free to any Pennsylvania farmer interested in transitioning to organic.
“This is an opportunity for Pennsylvania farmers. Family farms can make a living on the organic price premiums, while protecting the health of our soils, air, and water, and providing healthy, nutritious foods to our families,” said Jeff Moyer from Rodale. “We’ve been working on research for decades–helping farmers deal with pests, diseases, weeds. Now we can do more. Transitioning to organic isn’t just about not using pesticides. Farmers need education, mentorship, one-on-one coaching and advice to make the switch.”