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Ag secretary shares thoughts on farm importance

REEDSVILLE — Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding was guest speaker at a breakfast hosted by state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff Thursday open to those in the agricultural industry.

Redding, a Pennsylvania native who has a deep understanding of production agriculture from his time growing up on a dairy farm and being a dairy farm operator himself, shared some of the things he is focused on post pandemic. He is a strong advocate for the dairy industry and fair pricing.

“We arrive here today different people for what we have witnessed the last two years. The silver lining of a pandemic is that we have an appreciation for agriculture,” Redding said, “There is an awareness of food like we have never had and that is a good thing. You cannot have a food system without folks who produce that food. When we talk about food or food access a lot of folks take for granted everyday that is just simply going to be there.

“But there is a whole lot of work that goes into making that possible and we have witnessed that in the last couple of years and I am hopeful we retain that appreciation. We each need to teach and talk about the food system and how important it is to Pennsylvania’s economy and our health. Pennsylvania has an amazing and diverse food economy and diversity is our strength”

Redding talked about what agriculture really is and the importance of including forestry in that definition. According to a study at the Fox School of Business at Temple University, agriculture is responsible for 18% of Pennsylvania’s gross state product.

“That is 490,000 jobs and 132 billion dollars every year coming out of agriculture. It is an incredibly important part of our economy,” Redding said.

During this study not only was agriculture defined, but the question of what does it need was addressed as well.

“That is how we got the Pennsylvania farm bill, it is the only state-level farm bill in the nation,” Redding said. “And it responded to what was in the report. Things like thinking about the transition of farms, what is going to happen to this land, do we have a plan for this land. There is no farmer that is not in a transition, just look at the markets and what’s playing out. So, the bill includes farm vitality grants.”

Redding shared that, according to the USDA, Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state in the nation with the highest number of farmers under the age of 35.

“I think that is amazing and gives me a lot of hope. We will also be talking about organic and conventional production, markets and investments in the Port of Philadelphia and look at conservation components, all of that was in the Pennsylvania farm bill. As of today there have been one thousand different grants and components and tax credits that are part of the farm bill being invested into PA agriculture,” he said. “There are more conservation plans being written today, more transition to organic and more REAP tax credits and investments in conservation equipment. We have a center for poultry and animal agriculture that we didn’t have before because of the farm bill. It is important to us and we are investing in it. Sixteen pieces of legislature came together to form the PA farm bill.”

Redding also focused on the importance of immigration reform among agriculture, “having been in some of the meat processing plants over the last two years and seeing the employee postings in 13 or more languages, I ask you who is agriculture and who is feeding us. We need to advocate for them, these folks in agriculture on the front lines in processing plants. We have a completely dysfunctional immigration policy and we have got to change it.”

Redding said he has a strong appreciation for what he calls the opportunity to work in agriculture.

“Everyday you get a chance to work in this industry and work with great people and represent food and agriculture and know that it is incredibly important to the state,” He said. “Not just from a jobs and health perspective, but a quality of life. We see these farms and marvel at their stewardship and really want to see them stay here but they are also economic enterprises, and they have to make money to stay here.”

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