Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding says the implementation of the $24-million Pennsylvania Farm Bill has gone smoothly in the past six months, but one business owner said more needs to be done to help the state’s dairy farmers.
The Senate Majority Policy Committee met with Redding and other groups during the Pennsylvania Farm Show to hear updates.
The meeting ended with comments from Rynn Caputo, owner of York County’s Caputo Brothers Creamery, the country’s only producer of fermented cheese. Her company has been successful but could do more if dairy farmers are helped, she told the committee.
One of the main problems is the prevailing wage rule, which regulates what farmers can pay contractors. “The challenge with prevailing wage is our dairy farmers are currently not making minimum wage and we are asking them to pay two, three (times) and sometimes more to the contractors who come to do this work on their farm,” Caputo said.
Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, asked Caputo to identify regulations she feels the Legislature needs to address.
“The growth of your business means the growth and success of dairy farmers in York County,” Phillips-Hill said. “We don’t know what you don’t tell us.”
Caputo urged legislators to keep the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program. Her company received a $400,000 grant that has helped them keep up with demand. Redding said 77 proposals were received for the second round of grants, which total $5 million.
The farm bill also created the Dairy Future Commission, which will make recommendations on how to improve an industry that ranks seventh in the nation in milk production. Recommendations are expected to be ready by August, said Brett Reinford, chairman of the commission.
The panelists also were concerned about the bankruptcy of dairy manufacturer Dean Foods, which has a large presence in the state. The bankruptcy, along with the recently announced filing from Bordens, is a “clear sign that dairy is struggling across the nations,” Reinford said.
The agriculture industry is struggling and the bill was needed, according to Redding, saying it sparked a new interest in agriculture.
“I have described it many times as yeast,” he said. “It has raised a lot of interest, a lot of hope and a lot of opportunity. All of the things we are doing we said we were going to do we are doing, plus some.”
The farm bill is providing farmers with planning tools they need to weather the changes of the industry, according to Redding.
“There isn’t a farm in Pennsylvania that is not in transition, whether they know it or not,” Redding said. “Some are by market forces; some are generational and some are just out of sheer opportunity.