Senator Ward, J E-Newsletter

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May 10, 2019

Senate Passes “Farming First” Bills to Support Pennsylvania Agriculture

5/8/19 - Farming First

Farmers are faced with new challenges and opportunities every day, the best thing we can do as legislators is remove barriers and not add more financial burdens on our struggling dairy industry.

Recently, farmers in my local communities shared with me serious concerns about two areas in which government was having a negative impact on their family farms.

The first situation was the travel bans imposed by the Governor during a declaration of a state emergency due to bad weather.  Milk haulers faced costly fines while picking up milk on these farms.

While I appreciate and understand the importance of issuing a state of emergency during storms to ensure safe travel for motorists, it did not take into account the very unique nature of milk production and hauling.

Milking schedules can’t just be changed to comply with weather and travel conditions. Milk is very unique because cows keep producing it whether the farmers have room for it in their milk tanks or not. Our farmers need to be able to move their milk no matter what the weather.

Senate Bill 588 would allow a licensed milk hauler to transport milk on highways even during these travel bans and not face costly fines.

The second situation I heard complaints about dealt with government mandates when using barns for weddings or receptions.  Current regulations require these barns to meet costly building code standards, which would include sprinkler systems.  Several famers in my district had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade to come in to compliance with the Uniform Construction Code.  These barns are unique and do not fall into the same category as a modern building. I liken it to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Senate Bill 453 allows farmers to apply for an annual exemption to these costly requirements while ensuring appropriate safety measures. It will make it easier for farms to host these events by relaxing the onerous mandates.

The goal of these bills is to strike a responsible balance between public safety and the needs of our farmers. These two bills will help balance the scales.

Supporting policies that eliminate impediments to dairy farms’ success is an obligation we legislators should heed.

Other bills in the package include:

  • Creating a tax credit program for landowners to lease or sell farmland to future generations of farmers.
  • Creating the Pennsylvania Dairy Future Commission to bring together all stakeholders in the industry.
  • Easing restrictions on the use of farmland for farm-related tourism and entertainment activities.
  • Giving farmers more discretion regarding the construction and subdivision of residences on farmland.
  • Allowing the transportation of large farm equipment that exceeds the current width allowable by law.

I joined a number of my colleagues for a news conference at the Capitol this week to highlight all of the bills in the package. Video of the entire news conference is available here.

While these bills are a strong step forward, we must continue to look for new ways that we can support Pennsylvania’s farmers. I look forward to working with our hardworking local farmers and my colleagues in Harrisburg to identify new ways that the state legislature can support the agriculture community.

More details about the package of agriculture bills is available here.

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