The Penn State Agriculture Council sponsored a press conference accompanied by both House and Senate members, Penn State officials, and young Pennsylvanians to support the agriculture industry. Together, they expressed a desire for Pennsylvania legislators to know the importance of the funding allocated to the Department of Agriculture at the budget hearing before the House Appropriations Committee.

According to the Ag Council, “Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf line-item vetoed the Land Scrip Fund within the state budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, denying $50 million in funding to Penn State University for main campus and extension agriculture programs.” The council said it “would be forced to close all extension offices and programs, including agriculture education services as well as youth 4-H” were the funding to not materialize.

Jim Shirk, Penn State Ag Council director, spoke about his 20-year involvement in the university’s Ag Council and the work of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. He said this work “is critical to the future of agriculture in Pennsylvania as well as for all those we produce food for every single day.” He said, “This is a crisis, the partnership has existed for 160 years for a reason. And once this infrastructure is gone, it can be gone for good.” He shared some of the benefits of the school’s programs and spoke about areas of nutrition, health, food safety and production that are impacted by a lack of funds. 

Brad Hollabaugh, from the State Horticulture Association of Pennsylvania, spoke about his Adams County fruit growing industry. He offered remarks on the value the Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences research and development has to his specific industry and the importance it contributes to agriculture across the region. He said, “We consider the strong team at our fruit research and extension centers in Pennsylvania as the first responders to new pest issues.”  

Madison Shaw, a Penn State 4-H participant, read from the 4-H Youth Development & Mentoring Programs’ mission and mottos to demonstrate the value agriculture has on empowering youth. She said agriculture is Pennsylvania’s number-one industry and she is learning how to feed and clothe “all of us.” It is her youth development organization that teaches her how to have a strong work ethic, contribute well to society, and gives her an opportunity to discover her future. She said, “4-H is empowering youth with leadership opportunities, challenging us to try our hand at engineering, teaching us how to become involved in our community, and engaging us to find our passions and talents.”

Penn State Dean Rick Roush provided details of the impact the university is experiencing due to a lack of funding. He said, “In good faith, Penn State University has since July 1 already covered more than $30 million of the state’s part in agricultural research and extension, with the assumption that there would be a timely resolution of the budget impasse, and the funds would eventually be released for the college.” He explained the risk without the Land Scrip funding for Penn State, noting, “We cannot fund extension through tuition, or some 99 percent of our endowments, which legally can only be used for the purposes specified by their donors.”

Rep. Martin Causer (R-McKean), chair of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, provided remarks in support the agriculture industry which he said will increase the state’s generated revenue by preparing future leaders in agriculture. He told attendees of his work to introduce legislation including $50 million appropriated to Penn State through the Land Scrip Fund in the budget passed by the General Assembly in December. 

Dean Roush concluded, “I don’t believe the budget dispute one way or the other would be settled but the delay in addressing our $50 million is doing damage every day to the College of Agriculture, and will do a lot more damage by the end of June.”

*  

This column is prepared by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association in partnership with the  Pennsylvania Legislative Service.