Senate Democrats Push Legislation to Aid Farmers, Bolster Local Agriculture, Develop Markets

Hughes, Schwank, Haywood offer multi-faceted approach

Harrisburg – March 6, 2019 – Senate Democrats said today that they are sponsoring a three-bill legislative package designed to provide additional tax credits to farmers, encourage the use of locally sourced food and expand farmers’ markets.

State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Democratic Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Sen. Art Haywood, (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) who serves as Democratic chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee are the prime sponsors of the package.

Hughes’ legislation would raise the Rural Jobs and Investment Tax Credit from its current capped amount of $1 million per year to $20 million over four years. 

“A comprehensive economic plan requires investments in a broad array of industries, including agriculture,” Hughes said.  “There is strong justification to raise the tax credit cap and allow farmers to retain and reinvest because agriculture is a key feature of our economy.”

Hughes noted that 48 of 67 counties in Pennsylvania are classified as rural and that more than a quarter of the state’s population lives in rural counties. 

Schwank, who has a long record of involvement in agriculture issues, is the prime sponsor of a measure to help farmers sell their products locally.  Under Schwank’s legislation, the requirement for using the lowest bidder on a state contract for the purchase of food would not apply to locally sourced products, provided the deviation in price was not more than 10 percent from the lowest bidder.

“It is important that local markets be better developed, and one way to achieve this goal is through a pricing incentive that encourages the use of food produced in state,” Schwank said.  “Our farms are able to deliver high-quality foods to local markets at reasonable prices.”

Pennsylvania has more than 58,000 farms and an estimated 7.7 million acres are involved in agriculture production.  According to survey data, 93 percent of Pennsylvanians prefer locally produced food.

Haywood said rising demand has opened an opportunity to expand the Farmers’ Market Development Program to serve more communities.  His legislation would enable grants through the program to be used for agritourism initiatives, renovations, and establishment of new satellite locations the bill also increases grants per market from $10,000 to $100,000.

“Consumer demand for fresh blueberries, mangoes, and spinach continues to grow exponentially and the expansion of farmers’ markets provide local access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” Haywood said.  “Farmers’ markets offer an effective way to make fresh foods available, especially in areas where they are not.”

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

The senators indicated that they were reintroducing the legislation.  The bills were initially introduced last session (Senate Bills 1075 -1077) but were not scheduled for a vote. 


Senate Democrats Propose Legislation to Bolster Farmers, Agriculture Production

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. 


Schwank: Additional Farmland in Berks County to be Preserved

Harrisburg – June 9, 2016 The Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board today approved an additional 194 acres of Berks County farmland for preservation, state Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) said today.

“The farmland preservation program is so vitally important to the agriculture community of Berks County and all across the state,” Schwank said. “Preserving farmland for agricultural purposes enhances family farming, promotes efficient land use and keeps acres in production without outside development pressures.”

Schwank who is a member of the board in addition to serving as Democratic chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said that 110. 7 acres in Centre Township and another 82.7 acres in Perry Township will be preserved.

The board approved conservation easements valued at $483,500 to preserve the farmland.

“Berks County has been a statewide leader in preserving farmland,” Schwank said. “We have a long history of farming in the county and with the help of preservation activities we will continue to keep land in agricultural production.”

The farm that will be preserved in Centre Township belongs to Dale and Carolyn Machmer. The Perry Township farm is owned by Marie Strause and Carol Fetherol.

Statewide 4,977 farms totaling 522,545 acres have been preserved since the program’s inception. In Berks County, 711 farms consisting of 70,227 acres have been preserved. Berks County has preserved more acreage of farmland than any other county in the state program.


2nd Session of Schwank’s ‘Model Senate’ to Open Thursday

READING, March 16, 2016 – The second session of state Sen. Judy Schwank’s third annual “Berks County Model Senate” will give area high school participants to experience the legislative committee process and the opportunity to interview subject matter experts.

The session will open at 11 a.m. in Sen. Schwank’s district office on George Street. The committee session are scheduled to take place at noon.

“Our model senators have learned how to elect leaders and propose bills to help their constituents and improve the quality of life in their communities,” Schwank said. “Tomorrow, they will introduce their bills and sit opposite people who understand the impact their ideas could have on people as they work to make their bills become law.”

Thursday’s Model Senate will include six committee sessions. The topics and subject matter experts include:

Agriculture – Sen. Judy Schwank

Judicial – Richard Podguski, the director of the Bureau of Offender and Re-Entry at the Board of Probation and Parole

Environment – Greg Kauffman, a legislative liaison for the PA Department of Environmental Protection

State Government – Ron Young, PennDOT district press officer

Education – Dr. Solomon Lausch, former Schuylkill Valley School District superintendent and current executive director of the Berks Business Education Coalition

Health & Welfare – Mary Turner, MS, the program coordinator for “Keystone Education Yields Success,” or KEYS, at Reading Area Community College

Sen. Schwank’s Model Senate will meet once more before concluding.

Media coverage is invited.

WHAT: Sen. Judy Schwank’s third annual Berks County Model Senate

WHEN: 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Thursday, March 17

WHERE: Conference room, Muhlenberg Township Municipal Building, 210 George St., Reading


Follow Sen. Schwank on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Sen. Schwank Honored With PVMA’s President’s Award for ‘Tireless Work’ On Agriculture, Animal Issues

HARRISBURG, Dec. 10, 2013 – The Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association today bestowed its prestigious “President’s Award” to state Sen. Judy Schwank.

PVMA said it picked the Berks County Democrat because of her “tireless work to raise awareness about agricultural and animal issues” in Pennsylvania.

“I have been a life-long advocate for farmers, agriculture professionals and animals because all of them – separately and together – impact our quality of life in Pennsylvania, the United States and throughout the world,” Schwank said. “Agriculture continues to be one of the commonwealth’s biggest economic generators and it would not survive without the help of dedicated veterinarians.

“I am extremely pleased and honored to receive the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association’s President’s Award,” the senator said.

PVMA presented its 2012 President’s Award to the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team for its work to safeguard animals through disaster preparedness and response, and to create public awareness throughout the commonwealth.

The response team, also known as PaSART, helps counties build local teams of volunteers who jump into action when needed.

Agriculture is the number one industry in Berks County, which is why Schwank has brought fellow senators to the region to better understand how local farming and food prices work together.

Sen. Schwank is the Democratic chair of the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.


Follow Sen. Schwank on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Policy Committee Roundtable Discussion Focuses on Farm Profitability

READING, Sept. 20, 2012 — Agriculture is not only the No. 1 industry in Berks County, but also in Pennsylvania. The future of local farming and food prices will have a direct impact on the industry, consumers, businesses and the economy.

As farming experts continue to examine ways that the industry is sustaining itself and evolving, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today hosted a roundtable discussion at Fleetwood Grange Hall in Fleetwood, Pa. to talk about farm profitability.

[frame align=”right”][/frame]“Throughout Pennsylvania’s history, agriculture has been a key industry and economic driver in Pennsylvania,” said state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton/Monroe), the Democratic chair of the Senate Policy Committee. “It is imperative that we understand the challenges and conditions that farmers are facing, and how our communities are impacted by the far-reaching consequences.”

From open space and farmland preservation efforts to establishing the horse racing development fund that invests gaming dollars into related agricultural activities, government leaders and farmers have often partnered successfully in Pennsylvania to keep this important industry viable. Most recently, a new state law went into effect that eliminated the state inheritance tax on working farms, providing relief and sustainability to farming families.

“Agriculture is an integral part of Pennsylvania’s past, present, and future. It’s an industry that is impacted by everything from the weather to the economy, and its successes and struggles, in turn, affect all of us,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank, the Democratic chair of the Senate Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee. “We must continue to support our farms and our farming families for the health of the industry and the future of the entire commonwealth.”

As the farming population ages, some of the panelists said they are seeing fewer young people taking an interest in a career in agriculture.

“These are extraordinary times but it’s a great place to be in terms of looking to the future,” said Russell Redding, dean of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Delaware Valley College. “We need to share that story and it begins with discussions like these.”

Carl Brown, the treasurer of F.M. Brown’s Sons, Inc., said the average age of his clients is 55 to 57 years old, and he said the number of young people interested in farming is declining. He said he sees fewer students involved in 4H clubs and fairs.

“Here in Pennsylvania we’re not encouraging young people to look at agriculture as a future and that really bothers me,” said Brown, a sixth generation farmer. “How does a young person buy into the business?”

The panelists said they are concerned that young people who are interested in agriculture but do not have connections are deterred from taking that risk.

Mark Goodhart, president of Crop Insurance Agents Association of Pennsylvania, noted that farmland preservation is a solid way to maintain the farming industry, and the best way to preserve farmland is to have profitable farms.

“If we can have profitable farms we have an excellent tool to the next generation into farming,” said Goodhart, who recommended informing young farmers about risk management to protect them as they enter this industry. “We need to encourage young farmers to have risk management tools. They want to have that foot in the door and we need to have risk management tools to help them.”

Christian Herr, vice president of PennAg Industries Association, said animal health is a top priority, as it’s a matter of public health and safety. He said he’s concerned about funding in order to ensure that the industry is prepared in the event of an animal disease outbreak.

“If we have serious animal disease we could be in deep trouble,” Herr said. “It’s critical that we’re properly funded to handle it.”


Schwank: 57 Acres of Farmland Preserved in Berks County

HARRISBURG, April 19, 2012 — An additional 57 acres of Berks County farmland will be preserved through the purchase of conservation easements valued at $143,000 dollars that were approved today by the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board, according to state Sen. Judy Schwank, a Preservation Board member.

According to the senator, the following farm will be preserved:

Family                                       Municipality               Acres Preserved                    
Mark and Kim Weber                Brecknock Twsp.            57.20

“It’s important that we not only protect our farmlands but help our farming families continue to thrive because they are helping to sustain our state’s number one industry, agriculture,” Schwank said. “Thanks to the preservation board, another family farm has been preserved.”

Statewide, 4,265 farms totaling 461,206 acres have been preserved since the program’s inception.  In Berks County 636 farms consisting of 64,460 acres have been preserved.  Berks County has preserved more acreage of farmland than any other county in the state program.

The Agricultural Land Preservation Board is intended to permanently preserve large clusters of viable agricultural lands by acquiring agricultural conservation easements (ACE). An ACE prevents the development of the land for any purpose besides productive agriculture.


Schwank Applauds Passage of Farm Equipment Bill

HARRISBURG, March 28, 2012 — The Senate passed legislation today that would lift restrictions on small community farm equipment dealers that want to carry and sell competitive products, while providing more options for sellers and consumers of farm products, according to state Sen. Judy Schwank.

Currently, the Pennsylvania Dealership Law regulates contracts between independent dealers and suppliers of agricultural equipment. Under Senate Bill 1169, independent agricultural equipment dealers and suppliers would be able to sell multiple product lines.

“This legislation will certainly help agriculture – Pennsylvania’s and Berks County’s number one industry – by allowing independent farm equipment sellers to better serve their rural customers and compete with big box chain stores. Additionally, it would provide farmers with more convenient access to parts and service so that they can do their job more efficiently and profitably,” said Schwank, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee.

“Lifting certain restrictions of farm equipment sales helps the economy, the industry and all consumers of Pennsylvania agricultural products.”

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the Pennsylvania State Grange support this legislation, Schwank said.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.