READING, Sept. 20, 2012 — Agriculture is not only the No. 1 industry in Berks County, but also in Pennsylvania. The future of local farming and food prices will have a direct impact on the industry, consumers, businesses and the economy.

As farming experts continue to examine ways that the industry is sustaining itself and evolving, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today hosted a roundtable discussion at Fleetwood Grange Hall in Fleetwood, Pa. to talk about farm profitability.

“Throughout Pennsylvania’s history, agriculture has been a key industry and economic driver in Pennsylvania,” said state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton/Monroe), the Democratic chair of the Senate Policy Committee. “It is imperative that we understand the challenges and conditions that farmers are facing, and how our communities are impacted by the far-reaching consequences.”

From open space and farmland preservation efforts to establishing the horse racing development fund that invests gaming dollars into related agricultural activities, government leaders and farmers have often partnered successfully in Pennsylvania to keep this important industry viable. Most recently, a new state law went into effect that eliminated the state inheritance tax on working farms, providing relief and sustainability to farming families.

“Agriculture is an integral part of Pennsylvania’s past, present, and future. It’s an industry that is impacted by everything from the weather to the economy, and its successes and struggles, in turn, affect all of us,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank, the Democratic chair of the Senate Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee. “We must continue to support our farms and our farming families for the health of the industry and the future of the entire commonwealth.”

As the farming population ages, some of the panelists said they are seeing fewer young people taking an interest in a career in agriculture.

“These are extraordinary times but it’s a great place to be in terms of looking to the future,” said Russell Redding, dean of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Delaware Valley College. “We need to share that story and it begins with discussions like these.”

Carl Brown, the treasurer of F.M. Brown’s Sons, Inc., said the average age of his clients is 55 to 57 years old, and he said the number of young people interested in farming is declining. He said he sees fewer students involved in 4H clubs and fairs.

“Here in Pennsylvania we’re not encouraging young people to look at agriculture as a future and that really bothers me,” said Brown, a sixth generation farmer. “How does a young person buy into the business?”

The panelists said they are concerned that young people who are interested in agriculture but do not have connections are deterred from taking that risk.

Mark Goodhart, president of Crop Insurance Agents Association of Pennsylvania, noted that farmland preservation is a solid way to maintain the farming industry, and the best way to preserve farmland is to have profitable farms.

“If we can have profitable farms we have an excellent tool to the next generation into farming,” said Goodhart, who recommended informing young farmers about risk management to protect them as they enter this industry. “We need to encourage young farmers to have risk management tools. They want to have that foot in the door and we need to have risk management tools to help them.”

Christian Herr, vice president of PennAg Industries Association, said animal health is a top priority, as it’s a matter of public health and safety. He said he’s concerned about funding in order to ensure that the industry is prepared in the event of an animal disease outbreak.

“If we have serious animal disease we could be in deep trouble,” Herr said. “It’s critical that we’re properly funded to handle it.”

Editor’s Note: Photos of the hearing are available upon request. Please contact Elizabeth Rementer at 717-787-5166 or erementer@pasenate.com

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