AG ONE Newsletter November 19, 2017

BUDGET FOLLOW UP

Despite enactment of the State Budget, there are still some loose ends.

  • Up in the air is Governor Wolf’s plan to take out what amounts to an equity loan on the state-owned Harrisburg Farm Show Complex.  His goal was to have the state receive a $200 million loan which would have to be repaid to the lender over 30 years.  There is speculation over the legality of such a move.  The bidding period closed November 13.
  • The medical malpractice insurer of last resort, the PA Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), sued the Commonwealth for what it says is illegally taking $200 million out of the insurer’s reserves to help balance the State Budget. (Act 44).
  • Governor Wolf has dropped his plan to borrow against future profits from the PA Liquor Control Board after the PA Commonwealth Financing Authority approved plans to borrow $1.5 billion from future Tobacco Settlement monies coming into the state. (Act 43 of 2017)
  • Unknown as of November 19 is from which dedicated funds Governor Wolf will take $300 million.  Thanks to authority given to him by the General Assembly in order to pass State Budget revenue bills, Governor Wolf can choose from as few or as many he wants.  Of concern to the agricultural industry are special funds such as the Conservation District Fund and others dedicated to agricultural and conservation efforts.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION RATE HIKE POSTPONED

A 6.06% increase in Workers’ Compensation premiums that would have taken effect November 1 has been delayed as reported by the Central Penn Business Journal due to a challenge from the PA Association for Justice (trial lawyers). Details were not released by the Insurance Department but the following was given in response to a query from Phillips Associates:  While the PCRB proposed a November 1, 2017 effective date in the filing, the Department can use up to 180 days to review the filing in accordance with Article VII of the Workers Compensation Act.  While we don’t anticipate needing the full 180 days contemplated by the law, we have not yet completed our review… If the filing is ultimately approved…there would be an amended effective date as we are now past the November 1, 2017 effective date proposed by the PCRB and cannot approve rates retroactively.

POLITICS

  • Former PA Secretary of Agriculture Denny Wolff is running for the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Barletta who is seeking the nomination to oppose Senator Casey in 2018.
  • PA Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Washington/Allegheny) was chosen as the GOP candidate in the special election to succeed resigned U.S. Representative Tim Murphy.  He defeated two PA Senators, Kim Ward and Guy Reschenthaler to win the Republican nomination.  The special election will take place March 13.  The winner would serve out the remainder of Murphy’s term, meaning that the winner faces a re-election contest in November 2018.
  • House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) announced his candidacy for the Republican nominee for Governor on November 14.  His announcement brings to four the Republicans vying for the nomination: Senator Scott Wagner (R-York), Allegheny County health consultant Paul Mango and Pittsburgh attorney Laura Ellsworth. 
  • January 25 is the date of the special election to replace Rep. Marc Gergely (D-Allegheny).  This district is traditionally Democratic.  Rep. Gergely was forced to step down after pleading guilty to violating gambling laws.
  • State Representative Justin Simmons (R-Northampton/Lehigh/Montgomery) has withdrawn from the contest for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Representative Charles Dent.

BILLS SIGNED BY GOVERNOR

Signed by the Governor October 30 was House Bill 790 (controlled and noxious weeds) which is now Act 46 of 2017. Prime sponsor is House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne). House Bill 176 (Pickett-R-Bradford) is now Act 35 after being signed by Governor Wolf October 25.  It exempts roadside marketing stands and some animal feeding operations from Uniform Construction Code (UCC) building requirements.

QUICK LOOK AT LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

  • Senate Bill 740 (Aument-R-Lancaster) continues Universal Service Fund (land-lines for rural areas).  Status: Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee
  • Senate Bills 819 and 820 (Aument) agritourism liability are in Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee and Senate Judiciary Committees respectively.
  • House Bill 544 (Moul-R-Adams) is in the House Appropriations Committee.
  • House Bill 577 (Everett-R-Lycoming) Marcellus natural gas royalty 12.5% guarantee to leaseholders is in the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee.  There is also a discharge resolution to have the full House take up the matter, bypassing the committee.
  • House Bill 944 (M. Keller-R-Perry) Commission for Agriculture Education is in the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

GRANTS

  • Up to $1,600.00 from KidsGardening can go to nonprofit, school, or youth programs that plan a new garden or expand an existing one.  Deadline for applications is December 8, 2017.  info@kidsgardening.org ; 802-660-4604
  • Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant applications are due December 5, 2017.  Awards are capped at $15,000 and applicants must work with a technical advisor such as an Extension educator or private crop consultant.  Details: http://www.northeastsare.org

AG ONE Newsletter October 30, 2017

BUDGET SAGA (FINALLY) ENDS

Update:

Please note the following updates to the AG ONE Newsletter below posted earlier today. These were signed into law today by Governor Tom Wolf:


HB 790
sponsored by House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) (controlled and noxious weeds) is Act 46

HB 542
Tax Code (taxes on fireworks, $1.5 billion loan from Tobacco Settlement, etc.) is now Act 43.

HB 785 Capital Facilities Debt Act (state indebtedness levels) is now Act 45.

HB 674 Fiscal Code (takes $200 million from an insurance company reserves; gives Governor discretion as to where $300 million will come from dedicated funds) is now Act 44

HB 118
(Labor & Industry inspection fees) is now Act 40.

SB 651
Capital Budget (authorization wish list for wide variety of state bricks and mortar projects) is now Act 52.

HB 271 (expands gambling in hopes of generating $200 million more revenue to the state) is now Act 42.

*****

With House action October 25 and 26, the revenue side to the State Budget was sent to Governor Wolf for his signature.  He has ten days to approve, veto, or let the legislation go into effect without his signature.  Some major elements include:

  • Borrowing of $1.5 billion from future payments to Pennsylvania from the Tobacco Master Settlement to be paid back within 30 years  NOTE:  House Bill 542, page 271 http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=0542&pn=2598
  • Taking $200 million from reserves held by the Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), the medical malpractice insurer of last resort.  The Administrative Code bill specifies that if JUA does not hand over the money by December 1st, it will be abolished.  JUA says that it is illegal for the state to “seize” insurance company reserves and that it will sue to prevent this from occurring.  NOTE: House Bill 674, Article II-D, section 201-D  page 14: Similar language is found in House Bill 118 but this specifies that the Supreme Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear any challenge. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=0674&pn=2624
  • $200 million to come from gambling expansion (House Bill 271)
  • Senate Bill 651, the Capitol Budget, is a bricks and mortar wish list for projects funded by the Commonwealth.  Just because projects are listed here does not mean that the money is actually there. This is an authorization bill.  Examples for Capital Budget items might be a new barn for the Farm Show complex or significant upgrading to a state building HVAC system.
  • New Labor & Industry inspection fees schedule (boilers, elevators, ski lifts, etc. are found in Administrative Code bill, House Bill 118 starting on page 12.  www.legis.state.pa.us
  • New taxes on fireworks: 12% for consumers buying fireworks; annual fees ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 for permanent structures selling fireworks; and $3,000 per year for temporary structures.  One miscellaneous insurance provision is a $50,000 bond requirement for municipal fireworks displays.  (HB 542 page 257 dealing with new taxes on fireworks)

FARM SHOW LOAN IN LIMBO

In limbo is the Governor’s unilateral decision October 4 to borrow ahead (“securitize”) future profits from the PA Liquor Control Board and his October 9 pronouncement that PA would take out an equity loan on the Farm Show Complex owned by the state.  His rationale was that he would take budget matters into his own hands, absent a legislative resolution to the State Budget impasse. PSCFO has requested a meeting with Governor Wolf to discuss the Farm Show Complex loan issue.

AND…THERE IS A SLEEPER BUDGET ISSUE.

House Bill 674 contains this section:  SECTION 1726-G.FUND TRANSFERS.

DURING THE 2017-2018 FISCAL YEAR, $300,000,000 SHALL BE

TRANSFERRED FROM AMOUNTS AVAILABLE IN SPECIAL FUNDS AND

RESTRICTED ACCOUNTS TO THE GENERAL FUND.

This is the ultimate outcome of those seeking to balance the State Budget by taking monies from over 50 specified dedicated funds.  The Senate derailed that notion but this final language gives the Governor the discretionary authority to decide from which funds this $300 million shall come.  HB 674 does not contain language limiting his choices so they might or might not be  agriculture or environmental funds. PSCFO sent a heads up memo to Council members about this section.

SENATE BANKING & INSURANCE COMMITTEE HOLDS RX PRICE HEARING

On October 23, the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee convened a prescription drug price transparency hearing relative to Senate Bill 637 (White-R-Indiana).  It presented starkly contrasting views between the pharmaceutical industry which maintained that manufacturing costs increases are quite reasonable versus insurers and prescription benefit managers (PBMs) which pointed accusing fingers at the drug industry for unwarranted price increases.  Testimony also came from the PA State Grange which said that price transparency could give insurance companies the ability to negotiate more effectively because they could compare pricing practices between states, such as a hypothetical Epi-pen charge of $150 in one state versus $600 in PA.

WEED BILL GOES TO GOVERNOR (No, not that weed…)

Presented to the Governor October 25 was House Bill 790 regarding controlled and noxious weeds.  Prime sponsor is House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne).

EXPECT WORKERS’ COMPENSATION HIKES

The PA Compensation Rating Bureau (PCRB) revised loss cost filing goes into effect November 1st. This translates into a general increase in Workers’ Compensation premiums of 6.06%, necessary to adapt to the Supreme Court striking down a major provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act regarding permanent  impairment evaluation standards.

YOUTH GARDENING GRANTS up to $500 will be awarded by Katie’s Krops.  Eligible are youths aged 9-16.  Harvests must be donated to food banks.  Application deadline is December 31.  Details:  http://www.katieskrops.com/start-a-garden.html House Bill 790 (Pashinski-D-Luzerne) passed the Senate 49-0 on October 18 and was referred to the House Rules Committee.  The House now must consider amendments made to the bill in the Senate.

AG ONE Newsletter October 19, 2017

On Tuesday October 17, the PA House of Representatives passed House Bill 542, the latest incarnation of a revenue plan to match the State Budget spending plan passed last summer.  The vote was 102 – 88 with significant crossovers.  46 Republican Representatives voted no to Republican leadership-endorsed HB 542 while 32 Democrats including Democratic leadership voted to support the bill.

Now, of course, it is up to the Senate to concur.  Previously, the Senate voted for Marcellus Shale taxes which the House did not accept.  The House countered with a revenue bill that went after special dedicated funds such as a fund used to cover Insurance Department general government operations, monies dedicated to conservation, districts, etc.  The Senate disagreed so this House vote on HB 542 was its response to the Senate rejection. The Senate is expected to vote next week.  If the Senate agrees, HB 542 will go to Governor Wolf.

Following are a number of provisions in HB 542 that might be of interest.

  • Borrowing from future revenues from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement is expected to generate $1.5 billion.  It will be repaid over the next 30 years.

Background: The Tobacco Settlement was the result of lawsuits against tobacco companies which resulted in a settlement where tobacco companies would not have to fight off many individual lawsuits but would instead pay states certain amounts each year.  Pennsylvania uses that money to fund medical research, smoking cessation, uncompensated care from hospitals, specialized state health programs, etc. 

  • Expansions of the Sales Tax
  • “Remote sellers” = $10 million in this fiscal year and $50 million thereafter
  • Exemption from the Sales Tax: Beer kegs
  • Personal Income Tax (PIT) Expansion = $20 million
  • Those making rent or royalty payments to out of state entities exceeding $5,000 must withhold the PIT.
  • Out of state independent contractors coming into PA for work receiving over $5,000 will see PIT withheld from their compensation.
  • Personal Income Tax
  • Deductions for contributions to ABLE (disabled account similar to IRA) allowed
  • Makes permanent check-offs for Wildlife Resource Confirmation Fund, Organ Donation Awareness Fund, American Red Cross, Military & Family Relief Assistance Fund, Children’s Trust Fund
  • New Taxes
  • Carsharing Fee depending on distance from 25 cents to $2.00. Monies go into a dedicated account, the Public Transportation Assistance Fund.  Carsharing is defined as membership providing an alternative to a privately-owned vehicle where the rental is not trip-specific written agreement, no attendant is present when the car is used, and with access to shared vehicles 24 hours a day, fees can be based on time or distance.
  • Fireworks: 12% tax on consumer fireworks
  • Annual license fees paid by fireworks sellers for permanent structures facilities range from $7,500 to $20,000 depending on square footage.
  • Annual license fees for temporary (seasonal) fireworks facilities are $3,000.
  • Miscellaneous:  Anticipated revenue is $20 million/year.
  • Taxpayer period to file petition for reassessment shrinks from 90 to 60 days.
  • Period where a taxpayer appeals a Board of Appeals tax decision to the Board of Finance Revenue decreases from 90 to 60 days.

Those interested in how Representatives voted may go to

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/RC/Public/rc_view_action2.cfm?sess_yr=2017&sess_ind=0&rc_body=H&rc_nbr=768

OTHER LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

  • No funding yet for Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.  A joint hearing will be held by the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Senate Education, and Senate Appropriations Committees October 25 on funding for Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
  • The House adopted House Resolution 515 (Fritz-R-Susquehanna) on October 17 putting the House on record as opposing a September 13 decision by the Delaware River Basin Commission to move a Rule forward to ban fracking in most of northeast PA.  The Commission vote was 3-1 with one abstention.  PA Governor Wolf voted with the Governors of New York and Delaware for the anti-fracking Rule.  The House vote does not legally prevent the Delaware River Basin Commission from moving ahead with the Rule review process.
  • House Bill 790 (Pashinski-D-Luzerne) passed the Senate 49-0 on October 18 and was referred to the House Rules Committee.  The House now must consider amendments made to the bill in the Senate.

AG ONE Newsletter August 21, 2017

PSCFO BOARD SEEKS RENEWAL OF AG FUNDING

On August 16, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations (PSCFO) Board met at AG Progress Days to discuss Harrisburg’s State Budget impasse.  While not getting into various revenue options, PSCFO will be urging legislators to pass the so-called “non-preferred” bills which supply funding to institutions of higher learning.  These enable Ag funding for two agricultural programs, the ones at Penn State (Land Scrip Fund – extension and agriculture research) and the University of Pennsylvania (Vet School).  Penn State’s School of Agricultural Sciences is additionally hampered because federal funds to the school cannot be released until funding enabling legislation is passed by the General Assembly.  On August 12, PSCFO sent out an advisory to Council members detailing the situation and urging action.

WOLF TOUTS ADMINISTRATION SUPPORT OF AGRICULTURE

In an address to a capacity crowd at AG Progress Days, Governor Tom Wolf called PA Agriculture one of the Commonwealth’s most important economic and environmental resources.  In the speech, he said that since 2015, PA Department of Agriculture operational funding has been increased by 23%, that two million additional dollars were allocated for avian influenza planning and response, and that farmland preservation funding had increased by 45% compared to fiscal year 2014-15.  In addition, three million dollars were allocated to distribute fresh farm products to the needy through PA’s food banks.  The Governor charted an ambitious 10-year strategic plan for PA Agriculture including increasing PA’s competitiveness and developing a workforce to meet PA’s future needs.

FARMLAND PRESERVATION UPDATE

On August 11, the PA Department of Agriculture announced that it added 33 farms in 12 counties to the roster of 5,169 farms in 59 counties preserved for future agricultural production.

REGULATORY UPDATES

  • PA Wine Marketing & Research Program Board grant applications deadline are due to PA Department of Agriculture Bureau of Market Development ATT: Agricultural Commodity Board Grant Program, 2301 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17011 by September 1, 2017.
  • Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cancelled the August 24 meeting of the Agricultural Advisory Board.  The next meeting is scheduled for October 26, 2017.
  • DEP announced that the annual Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report which was submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is available. (Water Quality Division 717-787-9637 or RA-WQAssessments@pa.gov )  This report documents PA’s water quality management programs per the federal Clean Water Act.  The report also identifies “impaired” waters even after appropriate pollution control technology has been applied to point sources and best practices are in place for nonpoint sources.
  • On August 11, the PA Department of Agriculture August 11 identified 21 additional municipalities in Berks, Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton Counties to be quarantined due to the presence of the invasive insect, Spotted Lanternfly.  Parts of Chester County were previously quarantined.

NATIVE AMERICAN AG SCHOLARSHIPS …The First Nation Development Institute is now accepting applications for five $1,000 scholarships to Native American college students majoring in agriculture and related fields such as agribusiness, agriscience, animal husbandry, horticulture, irrigation, food safety, etc.  Deadline for applications is September 28, 2017.  Details: www.firstnations.org/grantmaking/scholarship .

SCHOLARSHIPS 2017-18 AND BEYOND

It is not too early to look at scholarships for the 2018-19 college year.  Just updated, www.scholarships.com  has a list of at least 100 agriculture-specific scholarships.  Some are state-specific but many should be considered as active leads for any current student or enrolling student.  Details:  https://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/college-scholarships/scholarships-by-major/agriculture-scholarships/

PENNSYLVANIA’S COLLEGE AGRICULTURE PROGRAMS

In addition to the Big Three (Penn State University, Delaware Valley University and University of Pennsylvania), there are other Pennsylvania colleges and universities offering agricultural studies. (www.american-school-search.com/colleges/agriculture/pennsylvania )

  • Temple University has three agriculture majors: Chatham University (Pittsburgh) has two majors as does Pennsylvania College of Technology (Williamsport)
  • Degree programs: Wilson College (Chambersburg), Arcadia University (Glenside)
  • Associate degrees: Bidwell Training Center (Pittsburgh) and Harcum College (Bryn Mawr). A specialized program is offered by PA Institute of Taxidermy (Ebensburg)
  • Community and regional colleges: Westmoreland County Community College (Youngwood), Schuylkill Technology Center (Frackville), Harrisburg Area Community College, Community College of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Lancaster County Career and Technology Center (Willow Street)

AG ONE Newsletter June 21, 2017

PSCFO ADOPTS BUDGET POLICY POSITIONS

The PA State Council of Farm Organizations (PSCFO) adopted several policy positions relating to issues facing the General Assembly, chief among these being the FY 2017-18 State Budget.  PSCFO is urging the General Assembly to restore the PA Agriculture Department’s General Government Operations (GGO) line item budget to what was originally proposed to the legislature in February ($31.612 million).  Doing so would allow the Department to continue animal, plant, food inspections at current levels versus continued erosion of PDA’s ability to handle the core function of food security.  PSCFO also urged restoration of other budget cuts in areas such as the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, conservation, the agriculture research line item in PDA’s budget, etc.

The State Council also adopted two additional policy positions to:

  • Thank the PA House for voting unanimously for House Bill 176 (Pickett-R-Bradford) which exempts roadside stands from building requirements of the Uniform Construction Code (UCC).  The Senate was urged to concur and pass the bill before the start of the summer recess.
  • Support legislation that limits liability for those engaged in agri-tourism.  The point was made at the June 12 meeting that given the situation with dairy particularly, farmers must rely on additional sources of income.  Fear of a lawsuit is a real barrier.

DOG LAW REVISIONS URGED BY PDA

On June 16, the PA Department of Agriculture asked the General Assembly to take prompt action on House Bill 1463 and Senate Bill 738.  Per the Department, the Dog Law Restricted Account is nearing depletion while demands for the Department’s work in regulating and inspecting kennels, protecting stray dogs, and responding to dog bite situations have skyrocketed.  The bills would create a single state-wide system for purchasing and renewing dog licenses rather than the currently fragmented system.  License fees would increase from $6.50 to $10.00 annually and from $31.50 to $47.00 for lifelong dog licenses.

AGRICULTURE ISSUES in the General Assembly…The Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee convened a hearing June 13 on the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) which could have a devastating effect on the 1,000-plus deer farms in PA… A bill limiting liability to land owners from recreational users passed the House Tourism & Recreational Development Committee June 6 and was referred to the House Rules Committee….Also on June 6, the House passed House Bill 410 (Warner-R-Fayette/Westmoreland) to establish performance-based budgeting in PA.  Advocates say it will force agencies to justify their budget every year rather than ‘coasting’ based on previous budgets.  The vote was divided 115-79…House Bill 187 (Sonney-R-Erie) which allows wind energy easements for protected farms is on the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee agenda June 20.  It passed the House May 10 by a 192-4 vote….

CONTROLLED PLANT & NOXIOUS WEED BILL BEING CONSIDERED BY SENATE COMMITTEE

Also on June 20, the Senate committee will take up House Bill 790 (Pashinski-D-Luzerne) regarding the Controlled Plant & Noxious Weed Act.  Among other things, it establishes a system to control weeds that might have economic value such as a biofuel.  Its’ Senate counterpart is Senate Bill 567 (Argall-R-Schuylkill and Schwank-D-Berks).

ASSOCIATION NEWS

  • Wayne Campbell (PA State Grange) was appointed by the Board of Directors to fill the unexpired term of Beth Downey who resigned.
  • The PA Department of Agriculture/PSCFO- sponsored Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)/Risk Management workshop June 1 in Tamaqua had two legislators in attendance, Senate Majority Policy Committee Chair Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) and Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

HOUSE AG COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER TWO BILLS

On June 20, the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee is considering two bills.  House Bill 1518 (Causer-R-McKean/Cameron/Potter) adds two farmers as alternate members of the Agricultural Lands Condemnation Board.  This Board meets to see if there are prudent alternatives to taking farmland for highway purposes.  Currently, there is no provision for the farmer members of the Board to have alternates.  The second bill is House Bill 1550 (Klunk-R-York).  It allows a farmer to choose not to create an additional farmstead residence to reduce the protected farmland value for a tax write-off or make it easier to pass on the farm to the next generation at a lower value.

COMING UP…

  • PA Certified Organic is hosting the 6th annual FarmFest in Centre Hall, PA July 28-19 to celebrate “our state’s rich organic heritage.”  Details: 814-422-0251
  • FARM AID Concert is returning to Pennsylvania September 16 in Burgettstown, PA, about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh. Details: https://www.farmaid.org/concert
  • The PA Fair schedule flyer has been released.  Details: PA Department of Agriculture 717-787-6298 or PA State Association of County Fairs 866-814-6985, www.pafairs.org  Trivia question: What is the longest-running annual fair in the country? It is the Jacktown Fair in Greene County.  The oldest fair in the U.S. is of course the York Fair.

AG ONE Newsletter May 17, 2017

REDDING TAKES AIM AT HOUSE BILL 218

At a May 10 hearing of the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, PA Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding warned legislators that the House Republican State Budget bill (House Bill 218) could endanger a number of core PDA functions:

  • A $2 million cut from what Governor Wolf proposed in February
  • Losing 21 positions in areas such as restaurant health and safety inspections
  • $407,000 less for the Nutrient Management Fund, leaving the fund in a deficit position by mid-2019
  • Conservation district cuts ($130,000 from PDA and $376,000 from the Department of Environmental Protection budget) could force districts to cut positions and services.

Secretary Redding also sent a letter to the General Assembly stating much of what was in his May 10 testimony, a link to which follows: http://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Pages/Letter-to-Legislature.aspx

REAL ID PROGRESSING

On May 10, Senate Bill 133 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) was referred to the House Appropriations Committee after a contentious session of the House State Government Committee which amended the bill along party lines May 8.  This legislation brings PA into compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005, a Federal law requiring an upgrade to state systems of personal identification.  If PA does not comply with legislation in June, the consequence is that a driver’s license will NOT be accepted as identification on boarding commercial flights or providing access to Federal offices (Social Security, Farm Services Agency, military bases, etc.) in 2018.  The issue was an amendment in the House State Government Committee creating a two-tier system which allows Pennsylvanians to keep and use current ID if they choose.  Anyone going for the upgrade would have to pay for it, cost unknown.

POLLINATOR ISSUES SUBJECT OF STATE FORUM

On May 22, the Joint Legislative Conservation Committee will hold an Environmental Issues Forum in Harrisburg to profile Pennsylvania’s bee decline and its impact on agriculture.  For example, PA fruit crops depend on pollination with over 90% of the apple crop relying on honeybees.  The session will also look at ways to reverse the bees’ decline.  Details: Mike Nerozzi 717-787-7570, mnerozzi@jcc.legis.state.pa.us

OTHER LEGISLATION OF INTEREST

  • Fair Dealership Act legislation was introduced by Rep. Will Tallman (R-Cumberland/Adams).  House Bill 1348 is the top priority of PSCFO member Northeast Equipment Dealers Association.  The group argues that the bill is necessary to ensure accessibility to equipment options for agriculture producers.  On May 14, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations wrote to House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Majority Chair Martin Causer (R-McKean/Potter/Cameron) and Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) asking for prompt committee consideration of the legislation.
  • New Senator John DiSanto’s (R-Dauphin/Perry) first major legislation was reported out by the Senate Rules Committee May 8.  Senate Bill 561 gives the General Assembly veto power over any regulation with an economic impact to the Commonwealth, its’ units of government, or the private sector exceeding one million dollars.  The legislative language suggests that Notices in the PA Bulletin, a less formal way to implementing policies, would not be governed by this bill.  Often, an agency will use Notices to inform as to its policy or change in policy.

GAME COMMISSION PROPOSES RULES

On May 13, the PA Game Commission published several proposed rules in the May 13 PA Bulletin, the links to which follow: Hunting and trapping; general ; Lands and buildings—special wildlife management areas; hunting and furtaker licenses—antlerless deer licenses ; Special permits; deer control

APPLE GROWERS ADOPT APPLE PROGRAM

Announced by the PA Department of Agriculture May 6 were results from an April referendum as to whether PA should reinstitute its Apple Program. The vote was 103 producers for and 48 against with six ballots ruled ineligible.  Link to the text of the Program Order follows: http://www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol47/47-18/770.html

FSMA/RISK MANAGEMENT SEMINAR in TAMAQUA JUNE 1st

In conjunction with Schuylkill County’s legislative delegation and with financial support from the PA Department of Agriculture, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations is offering a no-cost seminar on Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliance to produce farmers in the region. Held June 1 in Tamaqua, It will cover elements of a farm risk management plan which includes food safety, Crop Insurance, and information on what to ask an insurance agent to make sure that farmers’ insurance needs are met.  Details: 717-232-9665, xenobun@aol.com. Thanks to PSCFO members such as PA Vegetable Growers Association, PA State Grange, PA Association of Conservation Districts, PennAG Industries Association, MidAtlantic Farm Credit, and others for helping spread the word.   Also, PSCFO member PA Farmers Union is planning FSMA compliance webinars.  Details: www.pafarmersnion.org

AG ONE Newsletter May 4, 2017

STATE COUNCIL SELECTS LEADERSHIP

At its Annual Meeting in Harrisburg, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations (PSCFO) selected its new leadership for 2017-18.

Officers
President                               Jeff Nogan (PA Cattlemen), previously Vice President
Vice President                        Gregg Robertson (PLNA), previously Secretary/Treasurer
Secretary/Treasurer               Tim Wentz (Northeast Equipment Dealers), previously Board
Immediate Past President       Eugene Richard (PA Mushroom Farmers), previous President

Board
Heidi Secord (Farmers Union), re-elected
Brenda Shambaugh (PACD), re-elected
Jennifer Heltzel (Dairy Farmers of America), new to Board
Steve Case (PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture), new

USDA ISSUES SCHOOL LUNCH CHANGE

On May 1, 2017, new USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a Proclamation mandating changes in the school lunch programs.  Citing that “schools have worked diligently to overcome operational challenges in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs”, he addressed flexibility in meeting sodium requirements, allowing waivers to school districts in trying to achieve whole-grain goals, and giving school districts the option of serving one-percent fat flavored milk.  As Secretary Perdue said “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition.”

PSCFO MEMBERS ADDRESS FEDERAL BUDGET CUTS

Four PSCFO members, PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture, PA Farmers Union, PA Association of Conservation Districts, and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, wrote the chairs of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees April 5 urging restoration of conservation funds cut in the Budget proposed by the Trump Administration.  Among the specifics were calls to reject proposed cuts in NCRS field staff and to provide at least $865 million in “critical discretionary funding for Conservation Operations, including Conservation Technical Assistance.”

LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY

  • On April 26, the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee reported out two bills:
  • House Bill 187 (Sonney-R-Erie) amends the Agriculture Area Security Law to provide for wind power easements on protected (preserved) farmland.
  • House Bill 790 (Pashinski-D-Luzerne) updates the Noxious Weed Control Law and re-names it as the Controlled Weed and Noxious Weed Act. A link to Rep. Pashinski’s summary follows.  He serves as Minority Chair of the committee.  A Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 567, was introduced by Senator Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill).  http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20170&cosponId=22746
  • On April 25, the Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee reported out Senate Bill 144 (Yaw-R-Lycoming).  This would require DEP consideration of alternate technologies when an onlot septic system is installed.  Although opposed by DEP, SB 144 was passed unanimously by the committee. It is a major priority of PSCFO member PA Septage Management Association.

HEARINGS

The House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee plans a hearing May 10 in Harrisburg to discuss the 2017-18 State Budget for the PA Department of Agriculture with Secretary Russell Redding.  On May 3, Redding sent a letter to various agricultural groups warning that House-passed House Bill 218 would hurt PDA’s ability to complete its regulatory responsibilities.  On May 10, the House Transportation Committee will convene a hearing on Governor Tom Wolf’s proposal to levy a per-person tax on rural municipalities who rely on PA State Police for law enforcement in lieu of having their own police force.  Proponents argue that these State Police services should be paid for by the communities which use State Police as primary law enforcement.  Opponents suggest that many smaller communities simply cannot afford this cost, leading to insufficient protection for citizens.

MORE SCHOLARSHIP/AWARD OPPORTUNITIES

  • The PA Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation and PA Dairymens’ Association offer ten scholarships.  Eligibility includes being a PA resident enrolled in certain agricultural fields of study with an intention to work in the dairy industry.  Details: Mary Foote 717-346-0849, mfoote@centerfordairyexcellence.org.  Deadline is June 1.
  • National Corn Growers Association offers The Fields of Corn Photo Contest geared toward photos of field corn (Not sweet) from seed to harvest.  There are 25 cash prizes including a $500 grand prize. Details: http://www.fields-of-corn.com. Entries are due Nov. 1, 2017

FSMA/RISK MANAGEMENT SEMINAR in TAMAQUA JUNE 1st

In conjunction with Schuylkill County’s legislative delegation and with financial support from the PA Department of Agriculture, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations is offering a no-cost seminar on Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliance to produce farmers in the region.  Held June 1 in Tamaqua, It will cover elements of a farm risk management plan which includes food safety, Crop Insurance, and information on what to ask an insurance agent to make sure that farmers’ insurance needs are met.  Details: 717-232-9665, xenobun@aol.com.

Also, PSCFO member PA Farmers Union is planning FSMA compliance webinars: www.pafarmersnion.org

AG ONE Newsletter April 6, 2017

HOUSE REPUBLICAN BUDGET ADVANCES TO SENATE

By a 114-84 vote April 4, the PA House voted to send the Republican-crafted State Budget Bill to the PA Senate.  There were four Republicans voting no on House Bill 218: Representatives DiGirolamo (Bucks), McGinnis (Blair), Harper (Montgomery), and Hennessey (Chester).  No Democrats voted for HB 218.  Following is a comparison between the present fiscal year, what Governor Wolf originally proposed in February, and what House Bill 218 seeks to do.

PA Department of Agriculture

Budget Line Item                                FY 2016-17        Governor                  House Bill 218

General Government Operations          29.379 million   31.612 million           29,557 million

Centers for Excellence                        1.21 million       0                                1.029 million

Food Market Coupons                         2.079 million     2.079 million             2.079 million

Ag Research                                      1.687 million     0                                0

Ag Promotion, Education, Exports       250,000             0                                0

Hardwoods Research & Promotion      385,000             0                                328,000

Livestock Show                                 195,000             0                                0

Open Dairy Show                              195,000             0                                0

Youth Shows                                     154.000             154,000                     131,000

Food Purchases                                 19.188 million  19.188 million            19.188 million

Transfer Nutrient Fund                       2.714 million     2.714 million             2.307 million

Transfer Conservation Districts           869,000             869,000                     739,000

Land Scrip (PSU Ag Research/Ext.)     51.813 million   51.813 million           51.813 million

PA Preferred                                      605,000             605,000                     514,000

UPenn Vet School                              30.135 million   0                                0

Department of Environmental Protection budget in HB 218 includes $2.13 million transferred to the Conservation District Fund and $2.423 million for Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Source Management.

COMING UP

  • On April 17, there will be a joint hearing of three House committees (Human Services, Aging & Older Adult Services, and Health) on Governor Wolf’s proposed consolidation of four separate Cabinet departments into one Department of Health & Human Services.  There has already been strong backlash from Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) who led a well-attended rally April 5 of supporters of the PA Dept. of Drug & Alcohol Programs.  Dept. of Aging advocates have also weighed in, fearing a dilution of the Commonwealth’s commitment to seniors if the Aging Dept. is absorbed.
  • On May 3, the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at the University of Pittsburgh, Bradford, on issues related to the forest products industry.
  • On May 10 in Harrisburg, the same committee will hear from PDA Secretary Russell Redding on budget and other priorities of the PA Department of Agriculture.

APPLE MARKETING ORDER

On April 4, the Agriculture Department issued a release stating that PA apple growers may vote on the “Pennsylvania Apple Program”.  This replaces the terminated PA Apple Marketing Program.  Eligible growers are those with 500-plus apple trees.  The proposed program has a grower assessment of five cents per bushel with an estimated $200,000 – $250,000 in revenue which would be used to fund U.S. Apple Association membership, apple research, consumer education, and program administration.  PDA must receive ballots by April 21. Details: www.pennsylvaniaapples.org/about/board-staff

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

  • Sunday Falconry Hunting (Senate Bill 123 (Scavello-R-Monroe) passed the Senate 47-0.
  • Structures used in maple sugar operations would be exempted from building requirements of the Universal Construction Code (UCC) per House Bill 177 which passed the House 196-0.

USDA NASS SEEKS AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION HELP

The National Agricultural Statistics Service issued a plea for agricultural groups to actively partner with NASS in urging farmers to participate in the 2017 Census of Agriculture, a survey that will be forthcoming in December of this year.  Even though the request comes early, Regional Director King Whetstone says that support in promoting the Census is critical to its success.  He notes that the Census is taken every five years and provides a basis for various Federal program resources and activities to be apportioned.  It also provides base yield data to help farmers receive an accurate Crop Insurance payment should a claim be filed.  Details: 717-787-3904, www.agcensus.usda.gov

NASS ISSUES PLANTING FORECASTS

On April 3, NASS issued prospective planting numbers for Pennsylvania.  It projects a three-percent increase in soybeans from last year, 18% increase for barley, five-percent increase for winter wheat, seven-percent increase for hay, and no change in planted acres for oats.  Decreased acreage is forecast for corn (down two percent) and tobacco (down one percent).

POLITICAL NOTE…

Phila. Democrat Emilio Vazguez won a special election in the 197th district.

House Consumer Affairs Committee Hearing on Digesters

The House Consumer Affairs Committee scheduled a September 2 hearing in Harrisburg on House
Bill 1349 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster), a bill concerning net metering and use of anaerobic
digesters. This is a reaction to the Public Utility Commission’s attempt to limit the amount of
electricity generated via anaerobic digesters. Its’ companion in the Senate is Senate Bill 844
(Vogel-R-Beaver), now in the Senate Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee.

Hearing Held on Rural Telephone Access

On August 24, the House Consumer Affairs Committee convened a hearing on House Bill 1417 (Major-R-Susquehanna and Hanna-D-Clinton), continuing PA funding for the Universal Service Fund (USF) until December 31, 2021 and requiring provision of basic landline service as a condition for telecommunications companies to receive any USF monies. According to Rep. Major, in 2011, the Federal Communications Commission dramatically altered the USF system away from basic rural telephone service to expansion of broadband. With the Federal shift, the PA Universal Service Fund is the only remaining support mechanism to ensure that rates for basic services in rural areas closely mirror those in non-rural areas.

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