On Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding hosted a panel discussion highlighting Pennsylvania’s resources for farmers looking to pass the torch to a new generation and for young people seeking to enter the field.
Held during Penn State University’s annual Ag Progress Days, Tuesday’s panel featured partners in businesses, non-profits, and the legislature along with farmers who have taken advantage of PA Farm Bill-funded assistance to succeed in agriculture. “Pennsylvania leads the nation in protecting farmland and leads the nation in young people taking up farming. But without increasing our numbers of young farmers, even more, we can’t feed a growing population on that land. We still have work to do, but there is help available,” said Redding. “Last week, Governor Wolf joined us to celebrate the nearly $72 million Pennsylvania has invested in the future of agriculture through the PA Farm Bill. Leading young people to funding and connecting them with the expertise and resources to succeed is still our top priority.”
During the Panel
Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Chairman Elder Vogel joined the panel to discuss the PA Farm Bill’s Beginning Farmer programs and the Ag Education Excellence Commission, which works to ensure that Pennsylvania schools’ curricula lay the groundwork for an agile workforce to innovate and adapt rapidly changing farm technology. Dean Rick Roush from PSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Lynn Kime and Jay Harper of the PSU Extension Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program joined the panel to discuss critical expertise and support available through the state-supported land grant institution. Erik Sink, a graduate of Pasa Sustainable Agriculture’s Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship Program, shared his experiences in one of seven state-certified earn-while-you-learn ag apprenticeships. The panel was rounded out by Mark Rohrbach of Rohrbach Farms, who talked about steps he has taken to keep his preserved family farm in Catawissa in business, and Katie Hetherington Cunfer of Never Done Farm in Douglassville, who shared her experiences and expertise with county and state economic development resources.
About the PA Farm Bill
Supporting new and aspiring farmers and those seeking to pass their operations to new owners was one of the primary goals of the PA Farm Bill. The farm bill established the Agricultural Business Development Center to connect farmers with resources, expertise, and financing; Beginning Farmer Realty Transfer Tax Exemptions has added tax incentive for owners of preserved farms to lease or sell their assets to beginning farmers; and Next Generation Farm Loans to reduce costs for young farmers expanding or establishing new operations. To date, the state has financed 20 loans totaling $11,104,000 in tax-exempt, low-interest loans to Lancaster and Chester County farms through the Next Generation Farmer Loan Program. The program gives beginning farmers access to affordable capital to purchase farmland or agricultural equipment, lowering interest rates and boosting farm profits through a unique state-federal-private industry partnership.
Pennsylvania leads the nation with 14 percent of the state’s farmers under 35, and Lancaster County alone in 2020 has 2,400 young farmers, the most in any US county. Numbers have grown significantly since 2012, but farmers over 65 still outnumber those under 35 by six to one.
The Department of Agriculture has certified 41 beginning farmers, and in turn, preserved farm owners and beginning farmers have received $425,338 in Beginning Farmer Realty Transfer Tax Exemptions for the sale of farm property to young people picking up the torch to farm in the future. Additionally, twelve farm owners have received Beginning Farmer Tax Credits of $199,561 for leasing or selling their property to beginning farmers.
The PA Farm Bill also established Farm Vitality Planning Grants, which have been awarded to 255 Pennsylvania farm businesses to plan conservation measures that will sustain their businesses in the future. Through partnerships with Horizon Farm Credit, the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center, and Pennsylvania Farm Link, the Agricultural Business Development Center has connected beginning farmers with mentorships, expertise, farmers who have land or equipment available, and educational events to learn how to succeed in their new ventures.