by Jon M. Casey
While the unseasonably cool weather took center stage at this year’s Ag Progress Days Wednesday Aug. 14, the Government and Industry Day luncheon was warm and friendly where approximately 300 members of Pennsylvania’s Ag community gathered at midday for an update on the latest in agriculture. Barbara Christ, Sr. Associate Dean at the College of Agricultural Sciences, who is currently serving as interim Dean began by saying that despite the changes in funding and departmental leadership, the overall effort continues under her leadership at the same level of “ownership, pride and passion” as it did in the past. She said the support of local and state governmental officials during the restructuring of the PSU Ag Extension Service, has been excellent and appreciated by all within the university system. These changes are the result of reduced funding.
Penn State President, Rodney Erickson, said while there have been a number of challenges during the past year including federal financial sequestration, at the same time, Penn State University has been named as one of the top 10 universities for Agricultural and Forestry education, worldwide. He noted the efforts of researchers at the university who are looking for a solution to the ongoing problem with the disappearance of pollinators like the honeybee and certain butterflies, continues as well. At the same time as this year’s Ag Progress Days, there is an international conference on Pollinator Biology taking place at the nearby Nittany Lion Inn. According to Penn State information, “Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research is a consortium of more than 25 faculty members involved in research, education and extension efforts focused on improving pollinator health, conservation and ecosystems services.”
PA Secretary of Agriculture, George Grieg, highlighted the partnership between the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences as they work together to develop three Agricultural Resource Centers. These new entities will focus on priority issues affecting the industries directly tied to plant and animal health. The resource centers will focus on the protection concerns of food, fiber and building materials as well as natural and renewable energy resources. These centers will be devoted to Food Safety, Animal Care and Plant Health, with an overarching effort to work in unison as they individually focus on issues specific to each area of concern.
According to recent informational materials provided by the Penn State Agricultural Council, the new Food Safety Resource Center will, “for the first time, offer food safety regulations [that] will include animal feed and product traceability, which will have sweeping impacts for Pennsylvania dairies and animal producers. It will also have significant impacts on crop producers, who will need to be trained in Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) in order to access markets. These changes will significantly impact not only food producers but also farmers markets, food processors, food retailers, restaurants, and consumers.
PDA’s regulatory responsibilities will be expanded as they are charged to ensure compliance in Pennsylvania. The college will likewise need to expand its research and already extensive educational programs to inform both PDA professionals and the industry on best practices, employee training, and regulatory expectations.”
The Animal Care Resource Center “will focus on research and training around science-based best practices, certification standards, new facility needs and assessments, regulatory compliance, management and employee training, industry performance assessments, animal euthanasia, animal transportation, economic impacts, and public education.”
At the same time, the Plant Health Resource Center will “protect plant resources by coordinating and collaborating with stakeholders [to] enhance and sustain the economic growth of these industries through increased efficiencies and improved management practices. This proactive, solution-driven Resource Center will build on this model to focus its resources on monitoring and surveillance practices to prevent pests from becoming a problem as well as containment of any infestations that do occur.” (www.cvent.com)
Concluding Wednesday’s luncheon, U.S. Representative Glenn Thompson (PA-5), discussed his role within Congress where he serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, & Forestry within the House Agriculture Committee. He also serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Education & the Workforce Committee. He said overregulation by various governmental agencies, has had a negative impact on Pennsylvania farmers as well as farmers across the nation.
by Jon M. Casey