Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau Annual Spring Banquet
By Steven Hoffman
Russell Redding, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, was the featured speaker at the annual spring banquet of the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau at Octorara High School on March 14.
The audience at the spring banquet included many hard-working farmers from an area that has a long and rich agricultural history, as well as local, county, and state officials who play a part in shaping agricultural policy. Also in attendance were numerous 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) members who will be the next generation to carry on Pennsylvania’s farming traditions. So this audience was invested and engaged in what the state’s Secretary of Agriculture might have to say. But, while Redding said that he always appreciates the opportunity to share updates about the efforts to promote and protect agriculture, he viewed the event not as an opportunity to deliver a speech to an audience, but an opportunity to listen. He wanted to hear about some of the issues that local farmers are facing, whether it was the workforce challenges of the mushroom industry or the pricing concerns of the dairy industry. He wanted to learn about the impact that state and federal policies are having on farming operations. He wanted to benefit from spending time among the people who make farming their life’s work because the state’s agricultural community is as varied as it is vast, and there are plenty of lessons to be learned at the grass-roots level represented by the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau. After all, the grass-roots level is where seeds of success must be planted.
Daniel Miller, the president of the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau, said that the spring banquet offered a good opportunity to discuss issues impacting the agriculture industry, such as commodity prices being low for products like milk and grains. The challenges and changes that the agriculture industry faces makes collaboration and communication essential.
Howard Robinson is a retired teacher and Oxford School Board member. He and his wife, Janet, own a farm and they have, for years, been tireless advocates for both the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. Robinson said that it’s always good to have the state’s Secretary of Agriculture at an event. Indeed, the turnout for the event was strong even though the spring banquet was held a little earlier than is typical.
“This is the largest crowd that we’ve had in years,” explained Robinson.
The banquet was held at Octorara High School. The setting was very appropriate considering the emphasis that is being placed right now on educating the next generation of rural farmers in this area. Numerous FFA students were in attendance, collecting food items and monetary gifts for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s “Farmers Care Program.” Contributions were to be distributed to local food banks.
Redding pointed out that the Farmers Care Program is another illustration of the importance of agriculture and farming to the state and the local communities.
He also addressed the complexities and challenges of shaping policies that ensure the future success of Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry are illustrated by a Pennsylvania Farm Bill that was included as part of the proposed 2019-2020 state budget.
Redding explained that when people think of farm bills, they typically think of federal farm bills aimed at promoting and protecting agriculture across the entire country. But this year, Pennsylvania has its own farm bill aimed at creating new opportunities as the industry grows and changes at the state and local level.
The farm bill covers everything from investing in research and protecting agriculture infrastructure to preparing for disasters and reducing regulatory burdens.
A Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program, funded at $5 million in the proposed budget, would fund research and development, organic transition assistance, and marketing grants in support of Pennsylvania’s dairy industry.
The Agriculture and Rural Youth Organization Grant Program, funded at $500,000, will reestablish this program to fund agricultural and rural youth organizations to help increase knowledge and awareness of agricultural issues within the commonwealth.
The Pennsylvania Farm to School Grant Program, funded at $500,000, will be utilized to improve childhood nutrition while increasing exposure to agriculture.
A State-level Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, funded at $500,000, is targeted to invest in and encourage farming of high-priority horticultural crops like hemp, hops, and hardwoods.
While the Pennsylvania Farm Bill won’t be finalized until a state budget is adopted, most likely before the deadline of June 30, Redding said that there is bipartisan support for the farm bill. While it is certainly a challenge to establish policies and address issues in such a diverse state, Redding said that, “Diversity is our strength.”
Redding, the state’s 26th Secretary of Agriculture, has served in that role since 2015, making him one of the leading advocates for the agriculture industry. It’s an industry that he knows well. While he was growing up in Pennsylvania, Redding learned the basics of agricultural production on his family’s dairy farm. He was later a dairy farm operator. Redding studied at Penn State University, earning a bachelor of sciences degree in agriculture education and a master’s degree in agriculture and extension education. He was also a graduate of the Agribusiness Executive program. His professional career has included more than 20 years serving Pennsylvania in Harrisburg and Washington D.C. He worked on Capitol Hill as an agriculture policy advisor to U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and worked for 16 years in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, serving as secretary from 2009 to 2011 under Governor Ed Rendell. He currently serves as Chair of the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture.
In other business at the spring banquet, Robinson reported that the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau was able to meet every goal that the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau had set for it during the last year. The Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau maintained a membership of nearly 7,000 members, making it number one in the state for membership once again.
It was also noted that members of the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau will be among the group heading to Harrisburg on March 27 to talk with state legislators about issues affecting agriculture.
The Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau is a volunteer organization that works to advance the interests of agriculture and rural communities by collaborating with policymakers at the state and federal levels. It offers numerous benefits and services to its members. More information about the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau is available on its Facebook page.