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Politics & Government

PA Budget Holds Mixed Bag for Agriculture

The governor’s budget proposal would mean a three percent boost in overall funding for the Department of Agriculture, due to special funds.  But Gov. Corbett wants to make a 10 percent cut to dollars earmarked for the agency in the state’s General Fund, and farmers are hoping some portion of that reduction can be rolled back.

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill said not enough money is going toward crucial agricultural research programs run through Penn State, including Cooperative Extension.

“We hear about things like stink bugs – you may have heard we eradicated the plum pox virus here in Pennsylvania,” said O’Neill. “Well, certainly there was a big role to play with research in that.”

O’Neill said the governor has basically proposed flat-funding such research programs, but they were hit with a 19 percent funding cut two years ago, and he fears Extension could shed people or services if it doesn’t receive more money.

“These are really programs that really help farmers with key information as they plan for the future,” he said. “It also gives them technical assistance from people in Cooperative Extension who come out to farms – who talk to different farmers about their different plans, and pass on new information to them.”

O’Neill said his group is pleased another $35 million could be headed toward a farmland preservation program, under the governor’s proposal. The fund allows the state to buy the development rights for plots in exchange for those lands remaining for agricultural use.

“In the long term, what it does is it makes sure that land remains in farming and that not only benefits farmers but commonwealth residents as well,” said O’Neill. “When you talk about what farmers require in terms of infrastructure and other services within a community, it’s very low per dollar compared to what putting in a new housing development does.”