8/17/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. — For three days, Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry turns its eyes to Centre County as Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences holds its annual Ag Progress Days.
Farmers take in workshops, demonstrations and tours to gather ideas. Public officials attend to hear from constituents and talk about their legislative goals. And Penn State leaders discuss the accomplishments of the college.
U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., talked about the challenges of moving agricultural policy forward, pointing out that only about 100 of the 435 U.S. congressional districts are agricultural.
Because of that growing divide between the farm and dinner table, he challenged farmers at the industry luncheon Wednesday to do more to show how farmers benefit others.
After the luncheon, Thompson followed up with a question and answer session at the T.A. Seeds tent, where he spoke about the separation of the Farm Bill into two parts — a farm program bill and the nutrition title.
Thompson said that when the nutrition program and Farm Bill were merged in the 1970s, it was an “equitable marriage.” The contribution to both programs was equal. In contrast, nutrition was 88 percent of the total funding in the last Farm Bill.
He said it will be a tough debate when the House returns in September, but he is hopeful the House can pass the nutrition title. He is also ready to see the conference process begin that will iron out House and Senate differences on the rest of the bill.
There are marked differences in the dairy title of the Farm Bill. But Thompson said there is universal agreement that the dairy title needs changes and he believes the two bills are not too far apart.
“It is alarming from 2001 to 2009, 30 percent of dairy farms were lost,” he said.
Both versions of the Farm Bill include margin insurance as part of the dairy title. The significant difference is supply management. The House overwhelmingly approved an amendment to eliminate the supply management program proposed by the Senate.
Thompson said he believed supply management could hinder dairy innovation. Plus, he worried of unintended consequences that a supply management program could cause.
“Innovation is important for dairy, and what other opportunities are out there,” he asked, pointing to how the growth of the Greek yogurt industry has affected the Northeastern milk supply.
Responding to a question about the failure to pass the Farm Bill last year, Thompson said a bill was passed, it just was not the one everyone wanted. Instead of a new bill, it was an extension of the last Farm Bill.
Other ag leaders spoke at Wednesday’s industry luncheon regarding the college and the state’s agriculture industry.
Penn State and the state Department of Agriculture have received increases in their budgets, ending what had been a multiyear budgetary freeze.
“Despite federal sequestration, we continue to have a robust portfolio of research,” said Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who also highlighted several projects happening at the college.
The university has used its Rock View property to work on several renewable energy projects, putting its latest farm acquisition to good use, Erickson said.
Barbara Christ, Penn State’s acting ag dean, and state Agriculture Secretary George Greig spoke about the new Agricultural Resource Centers, which are a partnership between the College of Agricultural Sciences and the state Department of Agriculture.
“A while back we thought about combining our resources, especially in a time when tax dollars are few and far between,” Greig said.
These centers — focused on food safety, animal care and plant health — will provide a focus for research and programs in each of the topical areas, as well as an umbrella to address a broad spectrum of issues and establish connections among the leadership and staff of each organization.
The university is also adding a new minor called entrepreneurship and innovation, which Erickson said will encourage students to produce new ideas and businesses.
Christ talked about the continuing search for a new dean for the college. She reassured the audience that efforts to find a new dean for the college continue.
The university announced in June that there was a set of on-campus interviews with three finalists. It was decided based on feedback provided by stakeholders to Erickson and former Provost Rob Pangborn that no candidate had emerged with a sufficient consensus to move forward with an offer. So the search for a new dean continues.