HERSHEY, PA — Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) says the overall state budget agreement reached between Governor Wolf and Republican leadership appears to include necessary funding increases to support the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) and positive steps toward reforming an out-of-control pension system, but it falls woefully short in providing property tax relief for farm families.
The budget is expected to provide a sufficient boost in funding for PDA’s General Government Operations and an adequate increase for agriculture research and Cooperative Extension programs administered by Penn State University, including $2 million for Avian Influenza research.
“Animal health issues and disease prevention are of utmost importance to Pennsylvania farmers. We support efforts to study, identify, reduce or eliminate the risk of diseases that could negatively impact the agriculture industry and the state’s economy,” said PFB President Rick Ebert during a news conference at PFB’s 65th Annual Meeting in Hershey.
Farm Bureau, however, is frustrated that the budget agreement will do little to provide relief for farmers from real estate property taxes.
The compromise agreement falls short for farm families across the Commonwealth, because tax reductions under the plan are limited to homesteads and farmsteads (homes and other buildings) and do not include tax reductions for farmland,” added Ebert. “Farmers had hoped that the budget process would result in meaningful tax relief for farm families. Unfortunately, any relief will be minimal, because the largest portion of a farmer’s property tax bill is assessed on farmland.”
On another subject, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau announced an agreement to work in partnership with Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and several state agencies to identify voluntary best management practices (BMPs), which are paid for and implemented by farm families, that are not currently counted as reducing nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and other major state watersheds in which environmental impacts from agriculture are being measured.
“Farmers are not currently receiving credit for the numerous voluntary projects (riparian buffers, grass buffers, stream bank fending, no-till farming, etc.) they have implemented on the farm to reduce runoff into waterways located in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and elsewhere,” said Ebert. “We are encouraging farmers statewide to participate in the survey in order to demonstrate the wide scope of actions they have taken to protect our soil and water resources. The findings should provide EPA with a more accurate assessment of what farmers are doing to reduce nutrients, phosphorus and sediment in Pennsylvania watershed basins.”
Under the voluntary project, farmers would fill out a paper or online survey, in which they provide details of all of the BMPs they have installed, including projects completed without funding from the federal government. Penn State would receive and compile all of the data and report aggregate numbers by county to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which would then turn that information over to EPA. A randomly selected group of farms that submitted surveys would be visited by a representative from Penn State Extension, DEP or the State Conservation Commission to verify the accuracy of the survey information.
Meanwhile, PFB recently joined the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and a coalition of agricultural and builder groups in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a federal court decision that upholds EPA’s implementation of a TMDL in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
“We disagree with a lower court’s decision that provides EPA the authority to supersede land use decisions typically made by states. Farmers are deeply concerned about EPA’s projections that call for more than 600,000 acres (or 20 percent) of all cropland in the watershed to be removed from food production and converted to grassland or forest in order for EPA to achieve its water quality goals,” added Ebert.
Farm Bureau also continues its strong opposition to the “Waters of the United States” or WOTUS rule implemented by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that would significantly expand the agencies’ ability to regulate land and water beyond what is allowed under the Clean Water Act. Farmers, however, are pleased that a federal court has temporarily blocked enforcement of the rule. PFB had hoped that legislation would force EPA to withdraw WOTUS and begin a new process to partner with farmers and other stakeholders interested in improving water quality, but a “cloture” vote in the U.S. Senate to eliminate the possibility of a filibuster fell three votes (57 in favor, 41 opposed) short of the needed 60 votes to move the bill forward for a vote by the full Senate. One of the opposing votes came from Senator Bob Casey.
“Farm families across Pennsylvania appreciate the support they’ve received from Senator Pat Toomey, but they are extremely disappointed with Senator Casey, who has ignored the vocal dissatisfaction of farmers, builders, counties, municipalities and other stakeholders who oppose the rule. Despite overwhelming evidence that WOTUS lacks legal and scientific credibility, Senator Casey continues to align himself with EPA in defending a rule that could threaten the future of farm families,” concluded Ebert.