Pa. Ag Secretary visits region

MILL CREEK – The future of one of Pennsylvania’s premier industries is looking bright, as agriculture continues to grow in the fields and in the classroom, a state official said Thursday.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture George Greig was the featured speaker at a luncheon presented by the Huntingdon County Chamber of Commerce and Huntingdon County Business and Industry. Greig addressed a full room of industry supporters with enthusiasm over the future of agriculture in Pennsylvania.

Greig said the year kicked off with the Pennsylvania Farm Show, an indoor agricultural exposition held annually in Harrisburg.

“Last year, we broke all attendance records at the Farm Show. This year, we did it again,” he said.

More than 585,000 individuals flocked to the show, he said, which featured thousands of animals, competitive exhibits and commercial exhibits.

“It takes a lot of people to make something like that happen,” he said, commending his colleagues and the agricultural community for their contributions.

Greig also shared other highlights of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s work to encourage, protect and promote agriculture throughout the commonwealth. He listed a number of bureaus, commissions and councils that offer varied work in agriculture and related industries in the state.

Greig said the department’s job entails numerous and varied jobs in food safety and consumer protection, including inspections of all the restaurants in Pennsylvania. He said 2,004 new restaurants opened across the commonwealth last year, and an additional 1,019 restaurants had to be inspected in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last fall.

The department also offers funding and support for county and community fairs, he said. Greig said the governor’s budget proposal includes a $500,000 increase in funding for the 108 fairs throughout the state. An animal health and diagnostic committee of 28 veterinarians travel the fairs to check on the animals, he said. Greig said the committee is responsible for identifying and controlling animal outbreaks such as avian influenza.

A three-part animal diagnostic system also is in place through the Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory, Penn State University’s Animal Diagnostic Laboratory and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Greig said the system tests state livestock for zoonotic diseases.

He also spoke on the State Food Purchase Program, which provides food assistance to the needy through the purchase and distrubution of goods. Greig said the program works in cooperation with local food banks and feeds 1.7 million people every year.

The agriculture industry in Pennsylvania is not only prospering now, but has safety nets in place to ensure its survival in the future, Greig said.

“Pennsylvania leads the nation in farmland preservation,” he said.

According to the Department of Agriculture’s website, protected farmland is permanently preserved for agricultural production. Greig said Pennsylvania will be able to pass on the tools developed today to the next generation, encouraging food supply for the future.

Additionally, the department developed PA Preferred, a permanent branding contract for Pennsylvania-produced commodities. When consumers buy local produce, the dollars they spend stay in the community, Greig said. He said the trademark is a way for consumers to know whether they’re supporting homegrown products.

Greig also spoke briefly on Corbett’s budget proposal and emphasized that state officials continue to seek federal grants and opportunities to support the industry. Pennsylvania also exports a number of its agricultural products to support the state’s economy. Though balancing funds is one of the more difficult aspects of their job, Greig, a dairy farmer himself, joked that “it’s still easier than dairy farming.”

After a brief question and answer period, Greig presented a proclamation from Corbett to Raystown Area Future Farmers of America declaring Feb. 16 to 23 FFA Week in Pennsylvania.

“I appreciate all that the FFA students do to make ag awareness come to every community,” he said.

“This is an exciting time to be in agriculture,” agreed Bill Hoover, Huntingdon County Farm Bureau member, who emceed the luncheon.

Opening and closing ceremonies for the event were provided by Raystown Area FFA members: Kaitlyn Brazell, president; Kyli Foor, vice president; Katrina Hammon, secretary; Dustin McBeth, treasurer; Maddy Pine, reporter; Eli Beezer, sentinel; Taylor Heeter, chaplain; and Jessica Heeter, advisor.

The meal was prepared and served with PA Preferred products by Huntingdon County Career and Technology Center Students Amanda Eaken, Chelsea Cerett, Levi Ferguson, Dustin Foor, Devon Green, Kelli Keller, Brianna Lantz, Kasey Lightner, Dillon Osborne, Chase Yablonski, Hippalito Matos, Kasey Powell, Gage Ramey, Scarlett Scott, Kurtis Smith, Noah Covert, Cassandra Kane, Kirsten Serena and Laura Shriner.

Floral displays were arranged by students Tesla Baxter, Hammon, Kaitlyn Brazell, Aaron Clark, Cody Bowser, Elisha Crane, Devin Haney, David Rourke, Michael Sausman, Adam Thompson and Brady Klauss.