Pa. commission suggests strategies to bolster industry
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Dairy Future Commission’s report released on Aug. 5 described 54 recommendations for the dairy industry.
During the 2019-10 session, the legislature authorized the commission’s report to promote and strengthen the industry. Several studies have identified and documented the challenges in recent years. The plight of the dairy farmer has been intensified by five consecutive years of depressed milk prices. Plus, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the situation. The dairy industry contributes $12.6 billion and 52,000 jobs to the state’s economy.
The commission focused on the industry at the consumer, farm, market and state levels. The recommendations in no particular order are grouped as those targeted for implementation within one, three and five years.
The report explains some of the difficult issues: “At times when a recommendation was challenged by the prohibitive nature of a current law or regulation, anticipated costs or controversy, the commission was reminded that their charge was simply to identify the actions that would most help the dairy industry, not to determine whether or not they could be easily achieved.”
In addition, as the commission neared their study completion, the economic shutdown drastically altered the existing “essential” dairy industry. The coronavirus forced unprecedented amounts of wasted milk and price volatility. It also weighted the estimates of the length of time the recommendations would take to implement.
Twenty recommendations are targeted within one year. Extending the Pennsylvania 17-day code for fluid milk, which is mandated in the state, means that Pennsylvania-produced milk is disadvantaged compared to the longer shelf life codes on the other states. The commission recommended moving to an open code supported by the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance product testing.
Lowering the somatic cell count limit to 400,000 is recommended to be modified for Class 1 milk sold by Pennsylvania farms.
Because milk must be moved from the farm to the processing plant within a day or two, a disruption such as that caused by the pandemic causes serious concerns. The commission has two recommendations — one for short term waivers of nutrient management plans and CAFO plans to allow shallow injection or soil incorporation by conservation tillage of manure/milk mixtures. The second would designate funding to pay for the emergency cost. These recommendations would allow more flexibility for on-farm disposal during a milk crisis.
Another crisis recommendation involves exempting milk trucks from weather travel bans.
Enforcing the definition of milk on product labels would preclude non-dairy products to use dairy terms to promote their goods which have different nutritional values. This would require Food and Drug Administration action.
Improving the school milk experience to include permitting the choice of flavored and unflavored, plus whole milk is recommended. Also, another recommendation encourages dairy processors to provide students with a pleasing variety of dairy products.
The recommendation to encourage FDA to update and modernize their standards of identity for dairy products would counteract standards that hinder product innovation, especially those such as recent technologies for milk concentration.
Among the 28 recommendations targeted for implementation within three years is to support legislation that would provide liability protection for agritourism businesses.
Promotion of agritourism is another recommendation.
Financial support for on-farm internship and establishment of a dairy herd management apprenticeship for the next generation of dairy managers is recommended as well.
Incentivizing investment in dairy through tax credits legislation to farmers and farm businesses that lead to productivity is recommended for three-year implementation.
Enhancing access to new and beginning farmer loan programs, providing federal year-round guest worker visas for dairy operations, incentivizing participation in risk management, promoting dairy exports to the expanding global markets, enhancing exports through the Port of Philadelphia, streamlining the NPDES storm water review process, expanding education and workforce development within production agriculture, and supporting a comprehensive approach to emergency preparedness are also targeted for three-year implementation.
Six recommendations are included for implementation within the five year implementation period. Expanding and improving broadband infrastructure through State leaders, local stakeholders, the federal government and the private sector is recommended.
Enacting Clean and Green II property tax abatement for farm investment facilities and improvements is recommended. The commission further recommends that if a referendum is required, it should be executed and supported by the legislature and the executive administration.
Also targeted for implementation within five years is the recommendation for a Farm Discovery Center to be started and supported by the State. The project, similar to those at Fair Oaks in Indiana and Wisconsin educates consumers on food and agriculture. This recommendation indicates that the Commonwealth should partner with the private sector.
The Dairy Future Commission asked the Center for Dairy Excellence to host and maintain a dashboard to monitor, document and celebrate the progress on implementation of its recommendations.
The commission’s report is accessible on the CDE’s website, CenterforDairyExcellence.org.