Since 1855, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Penn State University have partnered to create one of the most notable agriculture institutions across the nation.
The University, on behalf of the Commonwealth, provides important research, teaching, and extension support in the animal, plant, food, engineering, environmental, social, and business management sciences. It runs the 4-H program and the Master Gardeners Program, which has a combined 92,000 members. It explores issues related to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. It runs laboratories that ensure our food is safe, that our farmers have the most up-to-date research information, and that our forests are sustainable. In short, Penn State University is critical to our food and fiber sector here in Pennsylvania.
And now, in 2016, there is a distinct possibility that this 160 year partnership could soon end. This possibility exists because the governor chose not to fund Penn State or its College of Agricultural Sciences until he gets his way of more and more taxation. He is willing to hold the entire Commonwealth and our agriculture community hostage to achieve this goal.
In December, Governor Wolf slashed nearly $100 million for agriculture when he line-item vetoed House Bill 1460, legislation that would have fully-funded state government operations for Fiscal Year 2015-16. The line items vetoed by the Governor included vital funding that would prepare the state to meet the challenges of ongoing biosecurity issues, including Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), as well as county extension services that many farmers use on a regular basis.
As a direct result of this veto, the furloughing of 162 county educator-agents and hundreds of full and part-time employees affiliated with the PSU College of Agricultural Sciences could slowly become a reality at the end of this current fiscal year.
Penn State Extension maintains a presence in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, which are organized under 22 administrative districts across the state. In my Senate District, consisting of Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Union counties, this includes District 4, District 7 and District 14. On a daily basis, over 71 hard-working employees assist individuals, families, businesses, and communities throughout our region with information, and provide a broad range of educational programs for the 4,600 local farms and farm families to ensure strong agriculture and food systems.
Pennsylvania is close to becoming the only state in the nation that does not run an Agricultural Extension program. We might soon be the only state without 4-H, and we may soon be the only state without a state-supported College of Agricultural Sciences.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, I understand just how devastating this would be to our state. On a daily basis, I have farmers, food processors, extension educators, farm bureau members, and youth leaders tell me stories of how important Penn State is to them and their efforts. Every year at the Farm Show, I see first-hand the impact of the College of Ag Sciences on our state’s most important industry. And each summer at Ag Progress Days I am reminded that Pennsylvania agriculture would suffer greatly without the myriad of services that Penn State provides to our Commonwealth.
The good news is that the General Assembly recognizes a good value, and in a bipartisan fashion crafted a state budget that increased funds for Penn State’s research and extension services by $4.3 million.
As Pennsylvanians, we take great pride in our agriculture heritage. The exciting growth and development of this industry is a true testament to our history, which supports thousands of jobs, small businesses, and families across our state. It’s important that we all play a role in promoting and enhancing this industry, and that most definitely should include our Governor, as well.
Now we have just a few months to restore the governor’s veto of this funding before irreparable harm comes to these agriculture sectors. I hope you will join me in urging the Governor to finalize this crucial funding as soon as possible.