Dairy’s Future Requires New Ways of Thinking

A Letter from Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding

Like many of you, what is happening now in our dairy industry has me concerned, but I have faith that the strength and enduring spirit of our agriculture industry—especially our dairy sector—will see us through this crisis. As the recent economic impact analysis of Pennsylvania’s agriculture and food industries made clear, there are tremendous opportunities before us, and Pennsylvania’s leaders from Governor Wolf to the General Assembly and the Department of Agriculture are committed to helping dairy farmers affected by this tightening dairy market take full advantage of those opportunities, while helping them to manage in the short run.

I recently testified before the House Agriculture Committee on the current state of Pennsylvania’s dairy industry. I was joined by the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Elder Vogel, whose background is in dairy farming, just like mine. During that session and recent budget hearings, I was asked by legislators what could be done to help.  One representative asked if the dairy industry is costing me sleep.

“Yes,” I replied, “it is.” I know the same can be said for many of you.

Like you, I wake up at nights wondering how we got here and what the future holds. We find ourselves in a market where milk prices are increasingly subject to global market forces; where there are limits to what the United States, much less one state like Pennsylvania, can do to balance supply and demand. The trend we’ve seen in Pennsylvania over the last two decades may continue if we lose dairy farmers whose cows go on producing in someone else’s herd, keeping downward pressure on prices while negatively impacting communities, farms, and related industries.

But we are not without hope and reason for optimism.

According to our economic impact analysis, Agriculture accounts for roughly 18 percent of Pennsylvania’s Gross State Product today, with an annual economic impact of $137.5 billion. The report found promising signs for dairy and a separate study of the state’s processing capacity potential was likewise encouraging. The bottom line is that there are opportunities, and that dairy will remain a key part of our agricultural sector for the foreseeable future, although the decisions dairy farmers and the commonwealth face over the next 12 to 18 months will significantly shape its prospects.

Dairy farms across Pennsylvania have a breadth of options and resources at their disposal as they consider their next step. Some of these options include:

The Center for Dairy Excellence for business tools to help manage production costs and optimize herd health;

Ideas for diversifying your operation and income sources or transitioning to organic products where demand is growing, but supply remains inadequate;

Potential financing options beyond traditional lenders;

Direct marketing services, as consumer interest in buying local is at an all-time high; and

Revisiting risk management programs, including the recently reformed Margin Protection Program.

The Department of Agriculture supports the commonwealth’s dairy farmers, and is committed to providing communities with the resources and connections they need to ensure that our dairy industry will thrive in the years to come. To be successful, though, will require new ways of thinking.

Perhaps Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best as the nation was searching for solutions amid the depths of the Great Depression, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Those words of wisdom are particularly apt today as we find ourselves in these challenging times. Many dairy families are wondering how did we get to this point. Again, I say that you’re not alone. There are plenty of good producers out there who are facing the same hardships, the same questions, the same difficult choices you are. We’re at this point because of factors no one individual, organization, or government entity could control alone. It’s been a confluence of factors over nearly 20 years, but now that we’re here, one thing that won’t solve the problem is standing still, holding onto the past rather than planning and acting for the future. We’re committed to being here with you throughout that process.

 

Secretary Russell Redding

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

AG ONE Newsletter March 13, 2018

BUDGET PROCEEDS TO NEXT STAGE

Now that the State Budget hearings have concluded, the next step is initial consideration of a budgetary spending document.  Right now, the vehicle that will be considered by the House initially is House Bill 2121 (Saylor-R-York) which was reported out by the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, March 12.    Following is a link to the text of the 186-page bill:  http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=2121&pn=3056  As far as the PA Department Budget, there are changes between what Governor Wolf proposed and House Bill 2121.

Line Item                                                        Governor Wolf                      House Bill 2121

PDA General Government Operations                $33.407 million                       $31.110 million

 Includes Spotted Lanternfly $1.6 million

Fruit & Vegetable Inspection and Grading          $460,000                                 NA

Conservation District Grants                            $2.877 million                         $3.375 million

Centers for Agricultural Excellence                   0                                            $1.331 million

Ag Research (not Penn State)                          0                                              $1.687 million

Ag Promotion, Education, Exports                    0                                              $303,000

Hardwoods Research & Promotion                    0                                              $424,000

Open Livestock Show                                      0                                              $215,000

Open Dairy Show                                           0                                              $215,000

Food Marketing                                              0                                              $494,000

Penn State Extension & Research                    $52.313 million                           same

PA Preferred                                                  $605,500                                  $600,000

Youth Shows                                                  $169,000                                 $169,000

Nutrient Management                                     $2.714 million                           same

Dirt/Gravel Roads                                          $28.0 million                              same

State Food Purchases                                     $19.188 million                         same

 Includes $1.0 million for PASS (Food Banks)                                            

Farmers Market Coupons                               $2.079 million                            same

Fairs (Race Horse Development Fund)             $4.0 million                               same

 

The process is shaping up to be smoother than in each of Governor Wolf’s previous State Budget proposals since, with the exception of a tax on natural gas (severance tax), there are no major taxes being proposed.  NOTE:  HB 2121 is a spending bill.  Tax increases would come from revenue bills.  Something else that may reduce tension in Harrisburg is continued growth in PA tax revenues for this fiscal year.  If PA has a surplus or breaks even, it could dampen fears of another billion-dollar deficit for the next fiscal year beginning July 1.  According to the PA Revenue Department, February revenues exceeded estimates by $406.3 million.  Above prediction areas were Sales Tax, Personal Income Tax (PIT), and Inheritance Tax.  Coming in lower than expected were Real Estate Transfer Tax and Corporate Income Tax.  What makes the numbers look so good however is a transfusion from the Tobacco Settlement “advance” on future monies coming into the state.  Right now, revenues for this fiscal year stand at $20.9 billion, or $496 million (2.4%) above projections.

A separate issue is Governor Wolf’s reintroduction of a proposal to charge $25 per head for communities that rely on law enforcement from the State Police rather than their own police.

There is no line item per se in either the Governor’s proposed State Budget or HB 2121 for Broadband access for rural areas.

BUDGET (FARM SHOW LOAN) COMMENT

Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York/Cumberland) issued the following in her re-cap of Budget Secretary Randy Albright’s hearing before the House Appropriations Committee March 8:

Thursday’s hearing was with Secretary Randy Albright from the Office of the Budget. Several members questioned the Governor’s unilateral decision on a financing agreement. The agreement originally involved the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex but it is no longer included in the signed loan agreement. Albright described the agreement as a straight-up borrowing plan. Under the agreement, the Commonwealth received $200 million for its General Fund but will pay back $391.5 million over 29 years. Apart from being a bad deal for taxpayers, the Governor sidestepped the Legislature in making this decision. The General Assembly should have been not only involved in the decision-making process, but should have had the final say in the matter. Now future generations are on the hook for $191.5 million in interest payments, about $6.6 million a year, for the next nearly three decades.

UPCOMING

  • On April 5, the Center for Rural PA is holding a hearing in Wellsboro on Rural Broadband Access.  Information on this hearing is not yet available on the Center’s web site.  http://www.rural.palegislature.us/events.html
  • On March 21, the Senate Game & Fisheries Commission has scheduled a hearing on the annual reports of the PA Game Commission and the PA Fish & Boat Commission.
  • The House Game & Fisheries Committee is holding an informational meeting on the Fish & Boat Commission’s Annual Report March 27.  The following day, the committee has an informational meeting on the Annual Report of the PA Game Commission.
  • The March 14 hearing by the House Consumer Affairs Committee on House Bill 1620 (Broadband access) is cancelled and is not yet re-scheduled.

AG ONE Newsletter March 5, 2018

PSCFO CONCLUDES FOOD SAFETY WORKSHOPS

On March 1, the last of four workshops was held in Bedford County to inform produce growers on how to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act’s regulatory requirements.  The other three were held in Tamaqua (Schuylkill County), Kutztown (Berks County), and Windsor (York County). Presenters were from the PA Department of Agriculture who walked growers through areas such as worker safety & hygiene, use of water, risk of animal contamination, and ways to avoid contamination during storage.  Statistically, 46% of food sickness incidents requiring medical treatment and/or hospitalization have been traced back to farms.

In addition to farmers, numbers of legislators and staff also attended.  Attending were legislators Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, Senator Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill), Reps. Gary Day and Dave Maloney (R-Berks), Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford), and Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar (R-Somerset/Bedford).  Staff represented the following legislators:  Rep. Judy Ward (R-Blair); Reps. Kristin Phillips-Hill and Rep. Kate Klunk (R-York); Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh); Senator Wayne Langerholc (R-Cambria/Bedford/Clearfield); and Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York), Majority Chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

DEPARTMENT & COMMODITY MARKETING

The PA Department of Agriculture announced March 3 that the PA Wine Marketing & Research Program Board is soliciting proposals on marketing and research projects to increase quality profitability, production and sale of wines.  Applications are due April 20, 2018 to PA Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Commodity Board Grant Program, 2301 N. Cameron St., Harrisburg, PA 17110.  Details: www.pabulletin.com

March 20, 2018 is the last postmarked date for referendum ballots on continuation of the PA Vegetable Marketing & Research Program to be submitted.  Eligible voters are vegetable producers who grew at least one acre of vegetables in 2017’s growing period or grew vegetables in greenhouses located in PA with total space of 1,000 square feet or more.  Voting began March 5.

AG DEPARTMENT PLANS SEVEN REGULATIONS

The PA Department of Agriculture plans to issue seven regulations in the first half of 2018:

  • Conservation Easement Program Contact: Douglas Wolfgang 717-783-3167
  • PA Preferred Contact: Laura England 717-783-8462
  • PA Vegetable Marketing Contact: Bill Troxell 717-694-3596
  • Rabies Prevention & Control Contact: Nanette Hanshaw, DVM 717-783-6677
  • Kennel Canine Health Contact: Kristin Donmoyer 717-705-8896
  • Weights, Standards & Measures Contact: Walt Remmert 717-787-6772
  • (Raw) Milk Sanitation             Contact: Lydia Johnson 717-787-4315

BUDGET HEARINGS CONCLUDE THIS WEEK

The annual House and Senate Appropriations Committee hearings on the State Budget conclude this week. Of key interest is the Governor’s Office and Office of the Budget on March 8 for both House and Senate Appropriations Committees where scrutiny may center on from where the revenue will come to fund the State Budget.  PA Cable Network (https://pcntv.com/schedule/ ) airs most of the hearings.  Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding testified before both committees.  Thanks to the Senate Majority Communications Office, following is a link to the Senate Appropriations hearing on February 28. https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/h86ncu5jfq The hearing touched on an array of topics ranging from hemp to the Farm Show lease-lease-back (equity loan).

POLITICS

  • Minority House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Bill Keller (D-Phila.) is not seeking re-election.  This means that both Majority and Minority Chairs of this committee will be new in 2019.
  • Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh)has dropped his congressional plans as did because of the PA Supreme Court imposed redistricting and is running for re-election.
  • Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) withdrew her bid for the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor and is now running for Congress in the redrawn 4th congressional district.

PA SPECIAL ELECTION GARNERS NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

  • March 13 is the date of the special congressional election in southwest PA’s 18th district, pitting PA House Representative Rick Saccone (Republican) against Democrat Conor Lamb.  Saccone was elected to the PA House in 2010.  Lamb was an attorney with the Marines and former Assistant District Attorney in Pittsburgh during the Obama Administration.  This is seen as a referendum on Trump and GOP control of Congress.  Notables such as former Vice President Biden and President Trump are actively campaigning in the district.

USDA RENEWS CENSUS REQUEST

Even though the initial deadline was February 6, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) asks farmers who have not completed the Census of Agriculture to do so.  Please respond to www.agcounts.usda.gov or call King Whetstone at 717-787-3904 with questions.

FARM LINK PLANS SUCCESSION WORKSHOP in Chambersburg March 8.  The Farm Succession and Transition Workshop will help farmers to pass on the business to the next generation.  Farm Link and partner AgChoice Farm Credit are both PSCFO members.  Details: Michelle Kirk 717-705-2121  mkirk@pafarmlink.org