The legislation would create a new Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP), providing funding and technical support to expand on-farm conservation practices throughout Pennsylvania, including high-priority areas such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed [if funded].
“As stewards of the land, Pennsylvania farmers know that protecting the environment and natural resources is vital to the success and future of our farms and communities,” said PFB President Rick Ebert, a farmer from Westmoreland County. “Farmers in the Keystone State have been leaders in implementing practices to improve water quality, but we know there is more to be done. Many of the investments needed are too costly for farms to afford on our own, especially in a difficult farm economy. Senate Bill 465 would provide much needed support for farmers to work with our conservation partners to grow our conservation efforts.”
Ebert was joined at the news conference by Sen. Gene Yaw, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 465; Shannon Gority, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania office; and host farmer Andrew Flinchbaugh, who is a leader in farm conservation work and was one of several farmers who helped advise the development of Pennsylvania’s plan to meet federally mandated goals for reducing nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.
“Agriculture is looked to for significant reductions to meet pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay and other major watersheds in the state,” Sen. Yaw said. “Nevertheless, almost one-third of our commonwealth’s streams do not meet standards for drinking, fishing or recreation, and agriculture remains one of the largest sources of impairment. To meet the challenges, I have again introduced legislation to establish an Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program.”
“We haven’t met a farmer that didn't want to leave the farm better than when they found it. Increasingly, farmers want conservation to be part of their legacy,” Gority said. “We all want agriculture to succeed, and farmers can succeed with the right amount of resources and technical assistance to finish the job. Our economy, health, heritage, and quality of life depend on it.”
The proposed ACAP would work similarly to the State Conservation Commission’s Dirt and Gravel Roads program.
Funding would be distributed to county conservation districts throughout the Commonwealth using a formula that benefits all parts of the state while directing additional resources to areas with the greatest opportunity for improvement.
Conservation districts would then partner with farmers and landowners in their communities to complete the conservation projects that make the most sense locally.
The bill allows the program’s funding to come from multiple sources, including federal and state dollars and private investment.
[Note: No specific funding source is identified in the bill, however, Sen. Yaw has proposed to allocate $250 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to establish a Clean Streams Fund for Pennsylvania. Read more here.
[Senators John Gordner (R-Columbia) and Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) have proposed allocating $500 million from the federal American Rescue Plan to fund Growing Greener watershed, farm conservation, mine reclamation and recreation projects. Read more here.
[There are, however, outstanding questions about whether this federal economic stimulus funding can be used in this way.]
“The strategies I use to protect water quality on my farm in the Ohio River Watershed aren’t necessarily the same practices that would be most beneficial here in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” Ebert continued. “The ACAP puts decision making in the hands of the people who know best which conservation practices would have the most benefit in their communities: Local farmers and conservation leaders. This locally focused approach will help ensure that our state’s investments in water quality will be as effective as possible.”
Senate Bill 465 was introduced March 22 and is now in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3076 or sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-8925 or sending email to: SenatorSchwank@pasenate.com.PA Environment Digest