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Zero-funding by Pa. governor risks major ag program damage

Farm yard scene
Penn State Extension and research, Center for Dairy Excellence and others staggered by Governor Wolf's line-item veto and budget impasse.

A number of programs under Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s wing have been affected by the state’s 2016 budget impasse and Governor Tom Wolf’s line-item vetoes. Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences agricultural research and Extension programs and Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence are two that have “gone public” with their concerns.

Penn State Extension and research are funded through the state general funds budget via the Ag Department’s budget. While, there’s strong support for the college’s research and Extension programs at all levels of state government, the funding was part of the Governor’s line-item veto and is currently zeroed out, says Matt Ehrhart, president of the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Ag Council. “If zero funding stands, it’ll have devastating impacts on the entire college, including Penn State Extension and our agricultural research stations.”

As the state’s commitment to the land-grant partnership, this state’s Land Scrip Fund leverages more than $34.5 million of USDA and county funding and supports the generation of more than $56 million in federal grant funding.

Center for Dairy Excellence restructuring
On Monday, Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence announced that it would be restructuring its programing effective February 1. The open letter from Executive Director John Frey and Board Chairman Don Risser noted that the program was “threatened by the absence of public investment.”

But the Center’s leaders did not specifically cite that as the reason. Among the suspended programs is the grant funding offered for transition, succession, transformation and profitability planning. Here are excerpts from their letter:

“The Center for Dairy Excellence was established in 2004, when leaders recognized a troubling decline in Pennsylvania’s dairy industry and gathered together to focus on strengthening the foundations of the industry. For the past 12 years, the center’s work has focused on strengthening individual dairy farm businesses, the organizations serving dairy farm businesses, and the broader dairy industry.

“A strong board and professional staff team has guided and led the work. Each year, programming, staff support and collaboration offered to the industry has grown due to the public-private partnership between the industry and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“Thousands of dairy farms and hundreds of stakeholder businesses have benefited from this coordinated effort. We remain indebted to those who have partnered with us in our vision for strengthening the Pennsylvania dairy industry. Our partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has provided the springboard allowing us to launch this initiative and continues be instrumental in our opportunity to be a central resource to the dairy industry.

“In addition to our on-farm resources, the center’s efforts in providing information and education resources in the areas of risk management, business planning and best management practices continue to bring benefit and value to a broad range of industry stakeholders.

“In recent years, key partnerships have expanded our work into the processing, manufacturing and retail sectors. Lastly, through the CDE Foundation, award winning youth education programs are preparing thousands of youth for careers in or advocacy for the dairy industry.”

Noticeable changes ahead
The transition will include noticeable changes in the programs and industry support platform. “But change is not unfamiliar territory to anyone reading this letter,” noted Frey and Risser. “Survival in any industry, including the dairy industry, requires frequent assessment, analysis and transformation.

“Our goal is to emerge from this discovery period positioned for future support of the Pennsylvania dairy industry. We look forward to developing a sustainable model to lead the future of our industry, engaging dairy industry leaders and key stakeholders as we move forward on this path.”

Pennsylvania’s dairy industry is the commonwealth’s largest ag sector and largest industry. Dairy contributes an estimated $7 billion in state economic revenue to the state via 7,300 dairy farms.

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