BLOG: Making the Most of Opportunities in Agriculture

By: Russell Redding, Secretary of Agriculture

January 28, 2016

When I returned to the department following Governor Tom Wolf’s inauguration, I said these are extraordinary times to be in the industry. There are a number of opportunities and challenges, but we are on a path to addressing those challenges and making the most of those opportunities.

Making the Most of Opportunities in Agriculture

Over the past year, we have accomplished a great deal in areas central to our core mission of protecting consumers and safeguarding animal health, and of creating new market opportunities for producers. At the same time, we continue looking further down the road to how we can best position the industry for long-term viability and success.

With the threat of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, and the discovery of the spotted lanternfly, the departments’ established relationships with local government and industry proved critical to protecting producers and communities throughout the commonwealth.

We also continued to help producers tap new markets, such as organics, and helped bring new people into production agriculture in 2015. This year, the department received $617,000 in federal Organic Cost Share Program funds, which reimburse operations up to 75 percent of their eligible organic certification costs and the department’s Center for Farm Transitions provided technical assistance to nearly 1,200 beginning farmers.

Governor Wolf Visits 100th Annual Pennsylvania Farm Show

Thinking about farm transitions is just one of the ways we focused on the future of agriculture in 2015. There will be nearly 75,000 job vacancies within the next decade in our agriculture and food industries, and we need trained workers to fill those positions. Working with our sister agencies, employers, schools, universities, career and technical education programs, and veterans’ organizations, among others, we have begun a dialogue about creating sustainable pathways, making the linkage from the classrooms to careers in the agriculture and food industries.

We realize that while looking at the opportunities, we have to continue to work to aid those who need us most. Governor Wolf signed an Executive Order to coordinate Pennsylvania’s food and nutrition programs. According to Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap” data, more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians – one out of seven – are at risk of hunger and may not know where their next meal is coming from. That number includes more than 564,000 children, or one in five. In his 2015-16 budget proposal, the governor made the largest investment in years to the commonwealth’s food security systems, proposing $3 million dollars to fund, for the first time, the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS).

Finally, what a tremendous way to cap off 2015 and ring in 2016 with the 100th Pennsylvania Farm Show! Exhibitors and visitors from all corners of the Mid-Atlantic arrived to Harrisburg to experience the largest indoor agricultural event in the United States for its centennial year. More than 10,000 competitive exhibits and nearly 300 commercial exhibitors were on display within the 24 acres spread throughout the complex’s 11 halls and three arenas. With the unusual warm January weather, the family-oriented atmosphere and low prices continued to bring in spectators all week, with more than 62,000 vehicles parked from Saturday through Friday.

Ribbon Cutting event

Looking ahead, we will continue to focus on issues that have long-term implications for the future – two of which we have laid the groundwork for this year: improving water quality and developing a strategic plan for Pennsylvania agriculture. Additionally, we have begun facilitating the development of a 10-year strategic plan for Pennsylvania agriculture. By bringing together private sector stakeholders, we have held listening sessions to gather ideas on where we need to go as an industry to capitalize on emerging opportunities and avoid looming threats.

Indeed, it is an exciting time to be in agriculture. People are more focused on the quality and origins of their food. Improving technology is creating tremendous prospects. We want to be sure Pennsylvania is at the forefront of this growth potential and that we have the tools, resources and knowledge we need to make the most of it. After 2015, I’m confident we are off to a great start.


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