3/23/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
HARRISBURG, Pa. — For the first time in his administration, Gov. Tom Corbett, along with Agriculture Secretary George Greig, sat down Tuesday for a roundtable discussion with the agriculture press.
Corbett talked about the budget, the dairy industry and attracting agricultural businesses to the Keystone State.
The state budget was a significant part of the discussion. Corbett has opted for balancing the budget without raising taxes, something that has not always been a popular move because, with limited revenue, the governor also has cut program funding.
“Just like every farmer who sits at his kitchen table and works on a budget, we are having to do the same thing,” Corbett said.
He said he has received “an infinite number of requests for a finite number of money,” so he can’t meet all of the requests.
When it comes to attracting new agribusiness to the Keystone State, Corbett says his administration is always competing with neighboring states, such as New York, which has seen several Greek yogurt and cheese plants start up in the past couple of years.
According to Corbett and Greig, the key to attracting new agribusiness is making Pennsylvania more business friendly.
The governor’s action committee at the state Department of Economic Development is always reviewing opportunities, they said, and the move by Ocean Spray from New Jersey to the Lehigh Valley is the result of one of those projects.
Greig said lowering taxes combined with lower energy costs because of the Marcellus Shale industry will make Pennsylvania more competitive for agribusiness.
As for the dairy industry, Greig said the creation of the Dairy Industry Leadership Team is designed to move the state’s leading agricultural industry forward.
The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board is one of the team’s areas of discussion. The benefit is the board’s over-order premium, which raises the state’s milk price for farmers by collecting an additional 25 cents per gallon on milk produced, processed and sold in Pennsylvania.
The challenge of that process is maintaining the attractiveness of Pennsylvania-produced milk to processors, who may be able to procure cheaper milk out of state.
“As a dairy farmer, you look at something, you say this ought to happen,” Greig said. “When you are in charge, then you look at it differently because you always have unintended consequences.”
Turning to the international market, Greig said one worry he has for dairy farmers is what happens if the U.S. dollar continues to strengthen. He said 14 percent of national milk production is exported.
If export sales are lost, “it would not take much to disrupt the market,” he said.
Turning to state funding, Corbett pointed out that the Marcellus Shale impact fee has generated more than $200 million this past year. He pointed out that this has produced more revenue than the tax plans proposed by past administrations, which were projected to generate only $100 million.
The shale gas companies are also adding to the state’s coffers by paying sales and use, corporate entity, and income taxes, he said.
“I wanted to make sure we did not lose the means to get to the gas, the rigs,” Corbett said.
Now more than halfway through his first term as governor, Corbett says one of his favorite farming experiences has been seeing the excitement of young people realizing their dreams as they step into a family farm business.
Corbett said that’s why he thinks the repeal of the state’s inheritance tax for working farms was a good idea. He also called it a different way to achieve farmland preservation.
Corbett’s budget includes funding for the state’s farmland preservation program. More than 20 years into the program, Greig says he does get the question, “When’s enough, enough” for farms preserved.
Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of farms and acres it has preserved, but with a projected population increase of 70 percent by 2040, Greig said there is still a long way to go to preserve the acres that will be needed to feed future generations.