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Worries About Budget Cuts for the Agriculture Department
February 27, 2014
HARRISBURG- PA Agriculture Secretary George Grieg talked about his budget with the Appropriations Committee. Sen. Schwank praised the department for what it is able to do with limited resources. She pointed out that just 4 million dollars could restore most of the cuts that have been made to the department's budget. 
 
She asked about the elimination of funding for the Centers for Excellence, which -- among other things -- run the "PA Preferred" program that promotes Pennsylvania-grown produce. Secretary Greig said the Centers' programs have allowed Pennsylvania to remain fifth in the nation in dairy production. He said the department promotes Pennsylvania farm products when it can, but said difficult budget decisions had to be made. Sen. Schwank expressed her hope that the program will be re-funded.

Secretary Grieg said that the state's new Ag Resource Centers "are pretty close to up and running." He said his department has developed three resource centers in conjunction with Penn State in animal care, plant health, and food safety, with $300,000 budgeted in the current fiscal year for the project. Sen. Schwank discussed the elimination of $757,000 in ag research funding and asked if this means the department may not be able to act quickly if an issue, such as control of stink bugs, arises. The secretary said that is a possibility.

The Secretary was also asked about the proposed horse race entrance fee and drug test fee. He said the Racing Fund and the portion available to the commission have continually seen revenue decline, so the department has been working with the industry to develop ways to ensure the commission is adequately funded. He said the two proposed fees will generate revenue and spread the cost over all horsemen. The entry fee, he explained, will be imposed on the approximately 100,000 horses that are entered in programs and the drug testing fee will be billed to those who are actually drug tested.

He was also asked about the reduction to the agriculture conservation easement purchase fund. Sec. Greig explained the reduction is a result of the department paying less for land recently, and said that Pennsylvania leads the nation in farmland preservation, with 484,000 acres having been preserved.

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