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Food to fuel: Shapiro lauds agriculture innovations ahead of Pa. budget deadline

A group of men stand and talk outside a farm building.
Commonwealth Media Services
Gov. Josh Shapiro and Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding visit Dickinson College Farm.

The future of agriculture could also mean the future of energy.

Dickinson College is home to an 80-acre farm that uses an anaerobic digester.

It can convert waste into biogas, and it’s fairly easy.

“Just mix some cow manure with water, warm it up and keep out the air,” said Matt Steiman, assistant director of Dickinson College Farm. “Anaerobic digestion will happen, and biogas will result.”

With some help from specialized machines, biogas is converted into electricity to power the farm.

As he tries to drum up support for various aspects of his 2024 budget proposal, Gov. Josh Shapiro is highlighting what could come of his proposed $10.3 million boost in such agricultural innovation.

His proposal coalesced into a bill that the state House recently sent to the Senate, with bipartisan support. It would create the Agriculture Innovation Grant Program.

Sens. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, and Elder Vogel Jr., R-Beaver, have proposed a similar bill in the Senate.

Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding said creating an innovation fund can benefit the state in multiple ways.

“It matters at the end of the day for the economic competitiveness of agriculture,” he said. “It matters socially to what we do with food waste and [to] generate energy. It matters environmentally what we do.”

Rep. Thomas Kutz, R-Cumberland, said funding agriculture projects is not a partisan issue.

“This is an issue we can all get behind,” he said. “Things that require investment into our farmers and our agricultural community to preserve that way of life, not only for the farms that we have today but to encourage expanding our workforce through agricultural opportunities through career and tech development.”

Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry brings in around $132 billion per year and supports around 600,000 jobs.

The House and the Senate are in session for seven days starting June 24 and will be looking to pass a budget due on June 30.