Year in Review: Working for You

1/5/2013 7:00 AM

Every year around this time, I take a moment to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. In my six decades, I’ve learned a few things: There’s never enough time; the past always holds a lesson for the future; and if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

In the two years since I took office, I’ve enjoyed being part of events, meeting our farm families and agribusiness employees, and seeing parts of the state I never visited before.

Keeping Farms Viable

The department is keeping farms viable by preserving more than 470,000 acres on 4,364 farms in 57 counties for future agriculture production — more than any other state.

And we’re keeping our farmers viable too. Gov. Tom Corbett eliminated the “death tax” on farm real estate, helping producers save thousands of dollars that can then be reinvested in their agricultural operations.

To help guide those investments, PAgrows is helping farmers, food processors, farmers market operators and other agricultural businesses put all of the pieces of the lending puzzle together.

Another priority of this administration has been expanding markets. Few states are home to such a diverse food supply as Pennsylvania. From mushrooms and hardwood lumber to milk, apples and wine, our farm products are earning a worldwide reputation for quality — and we’re working to ensure consumers know.

PA Preferred, the official brand of agricultural commodities made or grown in Pennsylvania, helps consumers identify products produced here by Pennsylvanians.

When Pennsylvanians buy PA Preferred they are supporting local farms and producers, and helping keep farmers and food processing jobs in Pennsylvania.

Growing Profits

Just as other business sectors have struggled to stay profitable over the past few years, dairy producers have been hit with high input costs and low milk prices.

Gov. Corbett established the Pennsylvania Dairy Leadership Council to strengthen the industry and ensure our farmers have the tools they need to keep their farms viable. The council is helping to shape the direction of our dairy industry and ensure the state is supporting its growth.

The council has met, split into work groups and developed recommendations on policies, procedures, regulations and legislation that may help further develop the dairy industry.

We’re reviewing these recommendations, which cover every aspect of milk production from cow to glass.

Operating Efficiently

The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center hosts more than 300 events and meetings, and welcomes in excess of 1 million visitors annually. To ensure the complex operates efficiently and remains profitable, a new strategic plan is in place to increase complex utilization, ramp up marketing efforts and make capital improvements.

Over the past several years, complex staff have increased revenue by 20 percent. Occupancy in major halls increased to 76 percent from 72 percent five years ago.

During the same time, we cut expenses by more than $200,000 by cutting energy costs and operating more efficiently.

We’re using public-private partnerships to help in the operation of the complex with minimal taxpayer dollars. This year, the complex entered into a $750,000 sponsorship agreement with Weis Markets for naming rights to the Expo Hall. Other advertisers include Ford, Nationwide Insurance and Highmark. All told, the sponsorships bring in nearly $225,000 to the complex’s overall operating budget each year.

Agriculture’s Future

It’s tough to predict agriculture’s future — after all, 100 years ago we were relying on horses for our field work, and steam engines and threshing machines to finish preparing crops for storage, all with the work of dozens of hands.

Just 30 years ago, we had no idea that computers would change the way we conduct business. Now, tractors can almost drive themselves, planting arrow-straight rows with the aid of GPS, leaving farmers free to check weather and commodity information from their tractor seats on their smartphones and tablets.

I can tell you no matter how technology changes how we operate, farmers’ first priorities withstand the test of time. Whether in 1812, 1912 or 2012, farmers have been caring for their animals, their land and their families. Pennsylvania’s future farmers will continue that tradition.

My department — our department — is making it easier to keep farming today, ensuring a bright tomorrow for the next generation to keep Pennsylvania growing.

George Greig is the Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture.

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