by Stephen Wagner

With the introduction of 2019, thoughts about the title topic are inevitable, and questions about it even more so, and on many fronts. The answer to the question about what is the value of agriculture in Pennsylvania is “about 135 billion dollars,” according to PDA Deputy Secretary Greg Hostetter, who gave his assessment at the PennAg Poultry Council Annual Meat and Egg Meeting in December of last year. “It also provides 580,000 jobs.” Without rules and regulations where would Pennsylvania be?

The answer to that question begins with the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (phase 3), which is acronymed WIP3. “That plan is due at the EPA in April,” reminded Hostetter. There is more in play here than just agriculture. Wastewater agencies in municipalities and counties are also involved in this, but the onus seems to fall on agriculture. Agriculture is the poster child for WOTUS, or Waters of the United States, a regulation that came in under President Obama and sparked immediate lawsuits from the 48 contiguous states. Twenty states have successfully extricated themselves from WOTUS with suits from the remaining 28 still pending. I overheard a state lawmaker at a cattle get-together remark that Pennsylvania must feel like that poor soul who wasn’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.

In an earlier story, Communications Director for the PA Farm Bureau Mark O’Neill said this particular regulation is likely to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court before it is settled. WOTUS essentially revolves around water on farmland, cows standing and defecating in that water which then runs off into local streams and waterways that ultimately make their way to the bay. But it is more than that. WOTUS points the finger at every puddle of water on a farm, not only the streams that cool off cattle that stand in it during hot weather. Storm water and sewer water are also villains in this equation insofar as flooding and overflows. Talk about reaping the wild wind. “By 2025, Pennsylvania must reduce nitrogen pollution levels by 34 million pounds per year; phosphorous levels by .7 million pounds per year; and sediment levels by 531 million pounds per year,” according to the PA Department of Environmental Protection.

“How do we pay for that?” Hostetter asked rhetorically. “I mean, how do you install those additional BMPs? How do you get them on the landscape? Yes, there’s some public funding out there and there’s some private money. But how do you really work through that?”

It is a huge challenge for agriculture to meet that goal and that obligation. Rather than pointing out what farmers do wrong, Hostetter said they are focusing on what is done right.

PA Ag Secretary Russell Redding wrote to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue asking for a Disaster Declaration, in the wake of extreme rainfall this past summer and autumn. “It doesn’t matter whether it was late plantings or crops that were drowned out, or crops in the field that couldn’t be harvested, it opens up the opportunity for low interest loans,” affirmed Hostetter. “That doesn’t really help a lot of farmers; it’s not like you got a Relief Package, but it does set it up that if Congress would want to do a relief package, once that disaster declaration is in place, it creates a structure for FSA to be able to distribute those dollars.”