Local Food, Farmer’s Markets, Rural Jobs and Investment Initiatives Featured

Harrisburg – March 12, 2018 – Bolstering farms and farmers, promoting the use of locally produced food and significantly increasing a tax credit to spur job creation and investment in rural communities is the focus of a package of bills offered by three state Senate Democrats. 

Senate Democratic Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Chair Judy Schwank (D-Berks), Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia) and Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia) are the prime sponsors of the initiatives which are designed to aid farmers, increase access to healthy foods and ensure markets for locally produced food. 

“From my many years of work with farmers and the agriculture industry, I know there are specific initiatives that will help immediately and immeasurably,” Schwank said.  “The elements in this package of bills will address key aspects of farm production, market development and making the finances of farming work that much better.”

Schwank’s legislation would allow governmental entities to accept a bid higher than the lowest bid by 10 percent if they use locally-sourced food.

According to the state Department of Agriculture, 93 percent of Pennsylvanians prefer food that is locally produced.  There are 58,000 farms and nearly eight million acres devoted to agricultural production in Pennsylvania. 

“Giving this small price adjustment to support local food production and use is important to farmers and the farming community,” Schwank said. 

Haywood, who serves as Democratic chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, said his legislation would significantly expand the Farmer’s Market Development Program.  Under Haywood’s plan, grant eligibility could be used for agritourism, construction and renovation of farmer’s markets, satellite markets and other infrastructure needs.  The maximum grant would increase to $100,000.

“Farmer’s markets have become an integral part of the food delivery system,” Haywood said.  “Fresh food is now available through farmer’s markets, which have become very popular.”

Pennsylvania has the fourth largest market in the country for direct farm sales. 

“The goal of my legislation is to expand access to farmer’s markets to boost local sales and generate more income for farmers,” Haywood said. “Helping develop farmers’ markets is a win for farmers and a win for consumers.”

Another key component of aiding farmers and helping agriculture is providing fiscal stability for farmers and the industry.  Hughes’ legislation would raise the rural jobs and investment tax credit from $1 million per fiscal year to $20 million over the next three years.  The credit would increase $5 million each year for three fiscal years after rising to $5 million in fiscal 2018-19.

“Ensuring that farmers have capital on hand is important to successful farming and the agriculture industry,” Hughes said.  “Increasing the tax credit for investment into our rural areas is critical, given that a large portion of Pennsylvania is designated as a rural area.

“Spurring investment and job creation in rural areas helps the entire state and provides direct financial assistance for farmers and the industry.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 48 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are designated as rural.  These counties hold more than a quarter of the state’s population.  More than 37 percent of rural household had incomes below $35,000.

The senators said that the bill package would help focus policymaking on issues impacting farmers and the agricultural industry. 

“We need to do more to assist farmers and help them become more productive and successful,” Schwank said.  “This legislation addresses three key components that are important to agriculture: local production, access to markets and capital.”

Hughes, who is the Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, echoed Schwank’s comments.

“Finding ways to resolve issues that impact farmer productivity is a benefit to every Pennsylvania resident,” Hughes said. 

Haywood said that he was pleased that the legislation was being developed as a package and said he was hopeful that the measures would be considered by the Senate this year.