CHRISTIANA, Pa. — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and conservation partners visited a no-till, rotational grazing farm in Lancaster County to highlight Governor Tom Wolf’s $22.5 million investment in conservation and sustainability through his Pennsylvania Farm Bill. Partners demonstrated farm management methods that are resulting in more efficient operations; cleaner waterways; and nourished, productive land, and discussed the financial support and initiatives Pennsylvania is investing in to support their success.
The 28-acre vegetable, grain, and beef cattle farm has received a Conservation Excellence Grant through the Wolf Administration’s Pennsylvania Farm Bill to improve operations and protect the environment through the planning and construction of a heavy use area and other strategies.
“Pennsylvania farmers know that sustainable practices are critical for the future of agriculture and the industry’s ability to continue to feed and fuel PA communities,” said Redding. “The conservation grants provided by the PA Farm Bill, which total $22.5 million in state funding, have been instrumental in supporting farmers as they implement measures that grow and sustain their operations and protect the natural resources they rely on.”
Some of the agricultural conservation programs supporting farmers and others in Pennsylvania agriculture make progress in protecting the environment include:
USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program
Recently, the department announced that its Farmland Preservation Program won a competitive partnership grant of $7.85 million from the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to support climate-smart conservation on Pennsylvania farms.
Pennsylvania’s $12.8 million investment in preserving farms will leverage these federal dollars for farms that implement and measure the impact of practices that address climate change.
Pennsylvania’s grant will fund projects to install climate-smart practices on preserved farms – measures and practices targeted to meeting the specific challenges climate change is presenting on each farm. Funds will also support producers interested in transitioning to organic production. The PA Farm Bill-funded PA Preferred® Organic Program will provide assistance with organic certification of farms.
Pennsylvania Dirt, Gravel, and Low Volume Roads Program
The department recently celebrated 25 yearsOpens In A New Window of the Pennsylvania Dirt, Gravel, and Low Volume Roads (DGLVR) Program with a tour of improved rural roads in Huntingdon County used by farmers, loggers, and others. This program results in better roads and cleaner streams. Local governments can reach out for more information from the State Conservation Commission, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Penn State Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies, to talk about a project their area.
Clean Streams Fund and Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program
The 2022-23 state budget established the Clean Streams Fund, with $220 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. This fund provides $154 million to fund the new Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP), supporting farmers’ efforts to reduce water pollution and improve soil quality, and $22 million to increase funding for the existing Nutrient Management Fund, which supports technical assistance to farms to reduce run-off. The department will announce more information about ACAP when it is available.
Farmland Preservation Program
Pennsylvania has now protected 6,118 farms and 616,713 acres in 58 counties from future commercial, industrial, or residential development investing more than $1.6 billion in conserving land resources for the future.
Farm families, with the support of state and local investment, often sell their land at below market value, donate additional land, or agree to conservation practices on their farms in order to leverage additional federal and state money to preserve more family farms.
Resource Enhancement and Protection Program
Redding recently reminded Pennsylvania farmers to apply by November 18, 2022, for tax credits for measures they have taken to improve soil and water quality. Up to $13 million in tax credits are available through Pennsylvania’s innovative conservation financing program, Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP).
The department is accepting applications for REAP tax credits from agricultural producers who implement management practices or purchase equipment aimed at reducing nutrient and sediment runoff, enhancing soil, and improving the quality of Pennsylvania’s waterways.
This is the fourth year of increased funding and expanded eligibility for the program under the PA Farm Bill. Farmers may receive up to $250,000 in any seven-year period, and spouses filling jointly can use REAP Tax Credits.
REAP can be combined with Clean and Green tax incentives, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, the Chesapeake Bay Program and other state funding to support farmer’s conservation investments.
The Agriculture-linked low Interest Loan (AgriLink) Program, amended under Act 39 of 2019, provides ‘low-interest’ loans to assist farmers in implementation of best management practices listed in approved Act 38 nutrient management plans, Chapter 91 manure management plans, agricultural Erosion and Sedimentation plans or conservation plans.
The AgriLink Program is administered by the PA Treasury, in collaboration with the State Conservation Commission, which subsidizes interest rates to provide a true low-interest loan for farmers through eligible commercial lenders and the Farm Credit Service.
It is the intent of the AgriLink Program to offer a low-interest loan alternative if a conventional loan is not practical for the farmer.
Conservation Excellence Grant
Established under the 2019 PA Farm Bill, the Conservation Excellence Grant (CEG) program is administered by the State Conservation Commission in partnership with county conservation districts to provide financial and technical support to implement best management practices on agricultural operations in high-priority areas throughout the commonwealth. It has made $8.5 million in state funding available since 2019.
It offers farmers financial options through a bundle of grants, loans, and tax credits to implement best management practices such as cover-cropping, riparian buffers, streambank restoration, nutrient management plans, and more. Eligible projects are reimbursed for costs associated with project engineering and planning, installation, equipment, and post-construction inspection.
For more about the Wolf Administration’s investments in growing opportunities and resources for Pennsylvania agriculture through the PA Farm Bill, and other conservation-specific programs and resources, visit www.agriculture.pa.gov.
–Shannon Powers, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture