AGRICULTURE IS PENNSYLVANIA’S NUMBER ONE INDUSTRY AND CERTAINLY PLAYS A MAJOR ROLE DRIVING THE ECONOMY OF THE 9th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT.
Pennsylvania has long been a leader in the agricultural industry and farming has played an important role in our history. Today, agriculture continues to be our Commonwealth’s top industry and farmers from Carbon to Schuylkill, from Berks to Lebanon, from Northumberland to Montour, from Luzerne to Columbia Counties, continue to drive the economy in the 9th Congressional District. We are home to many commodities and products, including: dairy, grains, vegetables, specialty crops, cattle, poultry, equines, wineries and the timber industry.
Agriculture is critical for a robust world economy, national economy, and national security. Broadly speaking, we must ensure:
“Ag Sustainability”: While important to use environmentally sound practices, we cannot impose requirements so burdensome and costly that we deter the next generation of farmers. Most farmers in Pennsylvania are 55+; we must help the next generation to stay in agriculture.
“Ag Security”: We must be able to feed ourselves without heavy reliance on other nations. It is imperative we lift burdensome regulations and create an environment that best assures success for farmers.
Eliminate Unnecessary Regulations: One of the biggest issues facing family farmers are facing is over-regulation from the EPA. President Trump has made great strides to ensure our environment is protected, while allowing our family farmers the flexibility to operate in a manner necessary to grow food and create jobs.
Inheritance Tax: As the Secretary of Revenue, I helped to push the efforts to eliminate the state inheritance tax on family farms. The final tax reform bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, increases the exemptions for the Federal inheritance tax which virtually eliminates the tax on family farmers.
Tax Cuts: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will provide about $1.5 trillion for families and businesses, including farm families. I support making this tax cut permanent and believe it is critical funding that can be reinvested into our family farms. Further, it is time the PA Legislature eliminate property taxes and I will do all I can from the federal level to work with state elected officials on this as a priority.
Dairy: Pennsylvania is the fourth largest dairy producing state and dairy is the largest sector of Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry. Unfortunately, many dairy farmers in our Commonwealth have endured great difficulties in the past decade, due to depressed and volatile prices as well as the Obama Administration’s War on Milk in schools. We need to change that policy and encourage more milk fat consumption and processing capacity. Pennsylvania can be a major international exporter of dairy products, but we need to expand our state’s ability to process milk into powdered milk, yogurts, cheeses, etc. Dairy is of particular concern in the short term and long term and must be protected.
Livestock: The 9th Congressional District has a rich and diverse livestock industry. These industries are impacted greatly by overregulation. We must ensure we have common-sense policies that allow our farmers to cut through the red tape and do business. The Trump Administration’s recent executive order reviews the Obama Administration’s expanded federal protection, putting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in charge of wetlands, streams and waterways.
Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS): The Waters of the U.S. Rule. WOTUS was a classic example of President Obama giving the EPA carte blanche to regulate every waterway, even making a puddle a navigable waterway under the charge of the EPA. We need commonsense regulations that protect the environment but don’t hinder farmers and businesses the ability to operate efficiently and effectively. Thankfully, WOTUS was suspended under the Trump Administration, but it must be fully repealed.
Chesapeake Bay: Everyone wants clear water and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay is a noble goal, but the guidelines the EPA has put forth are both unfair and unrealistic. Today, the EPA or DEP can go on to a farm and force them to draw-up and implement pollution reduction plans to reduce nutrient discharge or face fines. That is wrong. With that being said, some farmers have taken advantage of Conservative Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) funding to put in buffer zones to protect waterways and irrigation ditches and that is making an impact. We need to be working with farmers, not against them.
Farm Development Rights: As strip malls, condominiums and parking lots have taken more of our open space. It is critical that we preserve as much open space and farmland as possible. Purchase of development rights programs provide a way to financially compensate willing landowners for not developing their land. When buying development rights, the community obtains a legal easement, sometimes referred to as a conservation easement, that (usually) permanently restricts development on the land. The landowner, however, still owns the land and can use or sell it for purposes specified in the easement, such as farming, timber production, or hunting.
Spotted Lanternfly: We must continue to devote resources to combat the spotted lanternfly and other invasive species which are destroying our crops. We must work to eradicate these insects as they continue to destroy crops, trees and hurt our economy.
Trade: Our goal should be to make U.S. farm food products and dairy as attractive to overseas markets as possible. The President’s initiatives are intended to strengthen the U.S. trade position and to make trading with other countries free, fair and reciprocal. The goal is not to raise U.S. tariffs but to have other countries lower theirs, which would open up new markets for the U.S. agriculture industry.
Farm Bill: Congress must get a Farm Bill to President Trump’s desk quickly. This bill will help by providing assistance to farmers to get through the ongoing trade negotiations.
Rural Development: Rural Development is a key issue and as a member of Congress I will be working to create an environment that helps to increase jobs and expand technology, such as broadband and cell phone coverage. Farms are businesses and not having access to broadband technology is an incredible disadvantage. Broadband matters to farmers for a variety of reasons, telemedicine, online education opportunities, helping equipment to function properly, ability to check commodities pricing online and be able to complete and submit government paperwork electronically. Additionally, GPS technology also helps farmers to measure water and fertilizer input, reducing costs and increasing quality. I understand this is a major challenge that must be met in order to improve and sustain rural Pennsylvania.
Forest Products: Pennsylvania has some of the finest hardwood timber in the world. Timber harvesting has been a key industry throughout the region, while also serving a dual role of providing environmental and forest management benefits.
Organic Farming: Organic farming is a very important and a tremendous opportunity for the future. The USDA defines organic agriculture as “a production system that is managed to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” Organic farming is a growing industry and is a new market for Pennsylvania agriculture.
Immigration: We cannot fix our immigration issues without first securing our borders. That means using all available technology and building a wall to secure our southern border. Any decision as it relates to immigration shall only be made after fully securing our borders. While recognizing the need for additional help in the agricultural industry, we must explore expanding a guest worker program to allow for critically needed seasonal workers. Visas should be awarded based upon strategic workforce requirements.
These priorities are subject to further modification pending additional discussions with and feedback from members of the agricultural community across the 9thDistrict.