Ag businesses may be eligible for disaster relief

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding encouraged farmers, small agricultural cooperatives, aquaculture businesses and other small businesses and non-profits to apply for low-interest federal loans to help them recover from losses due to excessive heat and draught between June 18 and Sept. 14 of this year. 

 Following U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s four disaster declarations for New Jersey counties, USDA Farm Service Agency disaster recovery loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are now available in adjacent Pennsylvania counties Bucks, Delaware, Monroe, Northampton, Philadelphia and Pike. 

Farmers and other agriculture producers are eligible to apply for USDA disaster recovery loans. Nurseries are eligible to apply for SBA loans to recover from drought-related damage. Businesses not eligible for USDA emergency loans may be eligible for SBA loans. 

“These vital federal resources can mean the difference between surviving and going under after bouts of increasingly severe weather,” said Redding. “Just as we hope agriculture businesses don’t leave money on the table that helps them assess their risks, diversify revenue and plan for growth, we would encourage Pennsylvania businesses to take advantage of federal loans to help them recover from severe weather.” 

Loan amounts can be up to $2 million with interest rates of 2.935 percent for small businesses and 1.875 percent for private nonprofit organizations, with terms up to 30 years.  

Applicants in Pennsylvania should search for current disaster declarations in New Jersey – four declarations cover different PA counties and date ranges — and follow directions to apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website at https://disasterloanassistance.sba.gov/ela/s/  



SNAP expanded to assist nearly half-million Pennsylvanians

More than 420,00 Pennsylvanians and 174,000 households in the commonwealth are receiving increased food assistance due to expanded eligibility through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Updated October 1, 2022, those newly eligible for SNAP will receive an average of $63 per month to aid in the purchase of produce, meats, dairy, and additional groceries.

“Being able to eat and nourish yourself every day is one of the most essential building blocks to living well and doing everything else in life,” said Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Acting Secretary Meg Snead. “It’s easy to take for granted, but for too many people, being able to afford your next meal isn’t a given. SNAP helps to make that possible. Expanding eligibility for SNAP allows us to extend a reprieve to people who may be struggling so we can help more Pennsylvanians meet this most essential need that literally fuels us to live, work, grow, and thrive, and I strongly encourage Pennsylvanians not currently using this program to apply and see if SNAP can help them make a little extra room in their monthly budget.”

SNAP eligibility is being expanded through Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE). A federal program, SNAP’s benefits are funded through the federal budget with states administering eligibility and the issuance of benefits.

BBCE allows states to determine income thresholds that are appropriate and extend SNAP benefits to families and individuals whose low income causes them to struggle to purchase food.

“For years, we’ve gotten calls on a daily basis from folks who are hoping to qualify for SNAP but don’t,” Ann Sanders, Public Policy Advocate for Just Harvest, said. “They include parents who are trying to feed their kids, people who are struggling between skyrocketing rents and rising food prices. Often, they’re just a few dollars over the limit, so we’re thrilled that the Wolf Administration found a way to allow more of these households to qualify for some help.”

More than 2 million Pennsylvanians, including one in seven children, experience daily chronic hunger and food insecurity. Increased risks for disease, hospitalization, and increased health care costs can result from chronic nutrient deficiencies. SNAP and other programs help provide access to food for working adults, individuals with disabilities, older adults, and children. Expanding purchasing power means individuals will not have to choose between eating a meal or paying for a doctor’s appointment.

Grocery stores, food retailers, and various farm markets across the commonwealth accept SNAP. Applications for SNAP and additional public assistance programs can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us.

State protects 18 new farms from development

Pennsylvania protected 784 acres on 18 farms in nine counties from future development today, investing more than $3.166 million in state, county and local dollars to ensure that prime farmland is not lost to development.  

Russell Redding – submitted

Pennsylvania has now protected 6,094 farms and 614,668 acres in 58 counties from future commercial, industrial or residential development. 

 The 18 newly preserved farms are in Berks, Centre, Chester, Erie, Lebanon, Lehigh, Northampton, Washington and Westmoreland counties. 

“Preserving farmland is an investment in our economy, our environment, our quality of life, and our future food security,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “We’re proud of that investment and we owe these farm families a debt of gratitude for making a decision that guards their family legacies and benefits all of Pennsylvania.”    

 By selling their land’s development rights, landowners ensure that their farm will remain a farm and never be sold for residential, commercial or industrial development, Redding said. Farm families 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 others’ family farms. 

Pennsylvania partners with county and sometimes local governments and non-profits to purchase development rights, ensuring a strong future for farming and food security and leading the nation in the number of preserved farms. Since 1988, Pennsylvania has invested more than $1.6 billion to protect open, green spaces and food production for the future. 

Among the farms preserved today are: 

 Berks County Total investment $157,936 state, $24,150 county. 

The Sharon P. Cameron Farm, Centre Township, a 31-acre crop farm. 

The David L. and Linda J. Nirschl Farm, Penn Township, a 34-acre crop and livestock farm. 

Lebanon County Total investment $710 state (owner donated land). 

The Sue Ellen and John T. Bowman Farm, North Lebanon Township, a 1-acre crop farm. 

 Lehigh County – Total investment $337,396 state, $556,536 county, $ 212,500 township. 

The Susan M. and Edwin C. Gardner, Jr., North Whitehall Township, Farm, a 17-acre horse farm. 

The Robert A. Schmidt Farm, North Whitehall Township, a 50-acre crop farm. 

The Kevin L. Smith Farm #4, Washington Township, a 12-acre crop farm. 

The Marshall M. Mangold Farm, Lowhill Township, a 94-acre crop farm. 

 Northampton County Total investment $267,879 state, $160,882 county, $239,102 township. 

The Richard B. and Lois P. Kerbacher Farm, Moore Township, a 57-acre crop farm. 

The Kyle J. Kerr Farm, Washington Township, an 11-acre beef farm. 

The Carol Nagy Smith and Stewart C. Smith Jr. Farm, a 20-acre crop farm. 

The Dianne L., Marshall A., Hope D. and Donald W. Woolverton Sr.; and Jayann M. and Jeffrey W. Kerr Farm, Washington Township, a 52-acre crop and livestock farm. 

Pennsylvania’s Farmland Preservation Program recently secured a $7.85 million grant from the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program to support climate-smart conservation on preserved Pennsylvania farms, the Department of Agriculture said. 


UGI Energy Services invests in renewable natural gas  

Wyomissing-based UGI Energy Services LLC, a subsidiary of UGI Corp., announced Tuesday an agreement with MBL Bioenergy to fund the first set of renewable natural gas projects under development in South Dakota. 

This will represent $70 million-plus of investment by MBL Bioenergy, 100% of which will be provided by UGI Energy Services. With the purpose of developing renewable natural gas projects in South Dakota, MBL Bioenergy is a joint venture partnership among UGI Energy Services, Sevana Bioenergy and a subsidiary of California Bioenergy. 

The first set of projects, to be built at three farms north of Sioux Falls, is expected to annually generate approximately 300 million cubic feet of renewable natural gas, known as RNG, when it’s finished in 2024. Dairy waste will be anaerobically digested and then piped to a central upgrading facility before delivery into the interstate natural gas system near Dell Rapids. 

UGI Energy Services, through its subsidiary GHI Energy, will be MBL Bioenergy’s exclusive marketer. 

“This project sets a new standard for UGI in terms of scope and size and represents a huge milestone in UGI’s investments in, and expected earnings contribution from, RNG projects,” Robert F. Beard, UGI’s executive vice president of natural gas, global engineering, construction and procurement, said in a release. 

“We are pleased to be partnering with industry-leading developers on this project that will substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, using dairy RNG as a vehicle fuel.” 

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer. 

Three Lehigh Valley agriculture businesses awarded funding

Three businesses in the Lehigh Valley are receiving grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of a larger, $32 million investment in rural Pennsylvania.

The goal is to “keep resources and wealth right at home through job training, business expansion and technical assistance,” a release stated.

The following projects were awarded Value Added Producer Grants:

· Coexist Build LLC in Berks County, $49,135 for processing and testing hemp blocks for the construction industry. Hemp blocks are durable, lightweight, carbon-negative construction blocks made from industrial hemp, lime and other minerals; they offer superior thermal resistance and mechanical properties that improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality in buildings.

· Castanea Farm LLC in Berks County, $10,244 to support the family-operated, diversified farm. The funds will be used to market and sell chestnuts, filling a niche void in the supply chain for chestnuts. Customers include farm stands and markets, people ordering online in other states, and local immigrant communities.

· Willow Haven Farm in Lehigh County, $42,965 to hire a consulting firm to help prepare a market analysis, marketing plan and business plan to promote its organic cut flowers and expand its Community Certified Agriculture program for its organic vegetables. The farm is owned by Reuben Demaster.

Live and in person, it’s the 2022 Farm Show 


An aerial view of the 2018 Farm Show. 

The Pennsylvania Farm Show will go live in 2022. 

After going virtual last year because of COVID-19, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced the return to a traditional, in-person gathering. 

The 106th showcase, featuring the theme “Harvest More,” will be held Jan. 8-15 at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. 

“This iconic annual event brings Pennsylvanians together to experience the very best of Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry,” the Department of Community and Economic Development’s executive director of tourism, Michael Chapaloney, said in a release. “These visitors inject $39 million into the region’s economy by filling hotels, restaurants and other attractions along the way. These dollars support 5,600-plus jobs and generate $820,000 in state sales taxes.” 

Agriculture is a $132.5 billion industry in Pennsylvania, and the Farm Show is the largest indoor agricultural exposition under one roof in the nation, according to farmshow.pa.gov. 

Redding said it will feature “a harvested bounty of innovative projects, sustainable practices, empowered agriculturalists, engaged youth and inspiring stories of our powerful agriculture industry.” 

The 2022 show will include popular features like the 1,000-pound butter sculpture, food court, bunny hopping, sheep shearing competitions and cooking demonstrations at the PA Preferred Culinary Connection. 

There will be virtual opportunities as well. Returning from the 2021 show are the Butter Up! competition (home butter sculptures), duckling and beehive live cams, Ag Explorer stations and the Farm Show Trail. 

Innovative duck egg collection system among projects receiving state loan assistance

The state First Industries Fund has provided low interest loans for four Berks County farm projects.

The state provided a $400,000 Pennsylvania Development Authority loan to Gerry and Darlene Noecker.

They will be constructing a 20,000-square-foot duck breeding facility that includes a 600,000-gallon liquid manure lagoon.

According to a press release, the 6,600-head barn will have laying boxes located over a conveyor belt to move eggs to the end of the barn for collection.

This will be one of the first barns in the United States to use the labor-saving system.

The current industry standard is daily hand-picking of eggs.

The total cost of the project is $1.47 million.

The state also provided a $400,000 loan to Jay and Lorelle Nolt.

They will be constructing a 20,000-square-foot duck breeding facility in Center Township. The duck breeder house will hold 6,650 birds and will be under a 15-year contract with Joe Jurgielewsicz & Son. Ltd.

This barn will also have the new conveyor belt system for egg collection.

The total cost of the project is $1.2 million.

The state provided a $325,000 loan and Victoria Wessner of KCLW LLC to acquire a 57-acre farm property in Albany Township.

The property contains 25 tillable acres, a two-story stone dwelling, a stone barn and a 480-square-foot stone recreational building.

The property’s 25 acres of open farmland is currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and they plan to crop farm the property as soon as the CREP expires. The total cost of the project is $650,000.

The state provided an $189,148 loan to Theodore and Christine Auman of Hex Provisions LLC for the construction of a small-scale meat processing facility and purchase of equipment.

The system is made up of “lockers,” which are repurposed sea containers that are retrofitted for refrigeration and designed for expedited approval for USDA approved inspection.

The system is manufactured by Dirigo Food Safety.

The entire cost of the project is $378,296.

All of the loans are 15-year, .75% loans through the Pennsylvania Development Authority. They were made through the Greater Berks Development Fund.

Pa. Ag Dept. offering $300K in grants to promote Pa. agricultural products

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is looking to grow sales of the state’s agricultural products and has grant money for those with ideas on how to do it.

Eligible projects can promote any agricultural product from Pennsylvania . –

Pa. Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding has announced that the department will award up to $300,000 in 1:1 matching funds to reimburse the costs of promotional and educational projects about the state’s agricultural products that increase consumer awareness and grow sales and export markets.

Nonprofit agricultural promotion and marketing organizations can apply for the funds.

“We’re looking for skilled, innovative marketers and educators who can help tell that story to consumers here and abroad,” Redding said.

Priority consideration will be given to educational exhibits and vendors at the 2020 PA Farm Show. He said the Farm Show in Harrisburg attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the state and around the globe and is a strong way to get the message out about the state’s agricultural products.

Eligible projects can promote any agricultural product from Pennsylvania including wine, wool, hardwoods, honey, fruit, vegetables, herbs, fish, meats, and dairy products.

Program guidelines can be found HERE.

State seeks to bolster organic farming through Rodale partnership

Rodale Institute Executive Director Jeff Moyer speaks about consulting services for farmers transitioning to organic –

Pennsylvania farmers seeking to convert to organic cultivation can now get assistance from consultants at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown thanks to a new partnership with the state Department of Agriculture.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding introduced the program during an event at Jaindl Farms in Orefield. Jaindl Farms produced 60,000 organic turkeys in 2018 and is shifting some of its corn and soybean crops to organic.

“Pennsylvania’s partnership with Rodale … will provide a new opportunity to producers and consumers alike,” said Redding. “By increasing access to resources and technical assistance, farmers will be able to more easily expand and diversify their operations and consumers will have more options at the farmer’s market and grocery store.”

Rodale Institute’s consulting services will be available to help farmers interested in transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture. Farmers can get advice in areas such as certification, crop rotation planning, recordkeeping, marketing, equipment advice, weed-control methods, soil sampling and seed sourcing.

“Family farms can make a living on the organic price premiums, while protecting the health of our soils, air, and water, and providing healthy, nutritious foods to our families,” said Jeff Moyer, executive director of the Rodale Institute. “Transitioning to organic isn’t just about not using pesticides. Farmers need education, mentorship, one-on-one coaching and advice to make the switch.”

Hopes running high for trade-war resolution

As the trade war continues with China, observers in Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley hope the latest stalemate might budge if and when President Donald Trump meets with Chinese leaders at the international G-20 conference in late June and agree that both countries can resolve their disputes sooner rather than later.

An agreement was supposed to have been reached this spring, but it was delayed after China tried to make last-minute changes that were rebuffed by U.S. negotiators. Trump has since signaled that he would meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the economic conference of 20 nations to see if the talks can stay on track for possible resolution this year.

“Tariffs drive up costs,” said Darlene J. Robbins, president of the Northeast PA Manufacturers and Employers Association, which is based in Pottsville. “We want to see the administration be successful for bringing China back to the table.”

Robbins, like others, said that an agreement shouldn’t be made without careful thought, as China has not been playing by the rules for decades.

“No tariff is good,” Robbins said. “But we certainly need a fair and level playing field.”

Pennsylvania observers – from farm interests to manufacturers – note that the strength of the U.S. economy has allowed growth to continue, despite the trade disputes have not undermined growth, at least not yet. Several experts pointed out that the tariffs have helped some and hurt others, so opinions vary. But, they add, a resolution would be in everyone’s best interests.

In a May 15 article, Wall Street Journal reporter Greg Ip, explained how the tariffs are rippling through the economy:
“As with any tax, the person paying the tariff doesn’t necessarily bear its burden,” Ip wrote. “If the tariff is simply passed along to the importer, American businesses or consumers bear the burden. If Chinese exporters cut prices to avoid losing sales, they bear the burden.”

“If imports shift to another country, no one pays the tariff — but Chinese are burdened by lost jobs and Americans by a higher price,” he continued. “And if production shifts to the U.S., some of what Americans pay in higher prices goes to other Americans as wages and profits.”

Some shifting of production already is helping in western Pennsylvania, said David N. Taylor, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, which is based in Harrisburg. He pointed to a May announcement, reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that U.S. Steel will be investing about $1 billion in western Pennsylvania facilities.

Gordon Denlinger, Pennsylvania director of the National Federation of Independent Business or NFIB, said such news is good for small businesses in the Pittsburgh area. Such a huge investment could create opportunities for new businesses to open and existing businesses to grow, as steel mills ramp up construction and then hire new workers.

“Certainly, small businesses will be benefiting,” he said.

Those positive improvements are important for everyone to recognize, said Taylor, who has been outspoken about how U.S. negotiators have a duty to make sure that any deal with China is fair. For decades, China has been cheating on trade, stealing intellectual property, limiting access to its own markets and conducting espionage – none of which should be accepted by a trade partner, Taylor said.

“Trade is for allies,” he said, adding that he fully supports free trade and open markets. “The principle of reciprocity stands above all others. Our national interest matters. Trade is necessary, but trade is for allies.”

Taylor credits Trump for making sure that any deal addresses the issues head on, though he said the implementation of Trump’s plans “has been messy.”

“He actually has defended our country and our economy against a hostile foreign power,” Taylor said. He isn’t confident that a deal will be reached soon, only because China hasn’t shown a willingness to change.

Mark O’Neill, media and strategic communications director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, agrees that any agreement needs to be “fair and equitable.”

But for farmers, a deal needs to be reached as soon as possible, he said.

Pennsylvania farmers have been struggling for more than five years, predating the tariff crisis. But freer markets had helped, and farmers generally support open markets, he added. The tariffs are hurting farmers, but many farmers agree that there are important principles that need to be worked out with China.

The tensions with Mexico and Canada have had more of an impact on Pennsylvania, O’Neill also said. As long as the deal worked out to revise NAFTA is ratified by all three countries, the agreement will help the state’s farmers, particularly with opening dairy markets in Canada, he said.

“Our famers are very supportive of the current deal and would like to get it signed,” he said. “The political parties need to come together and hopefully they can.”

The North American Free Trade Agreement, which deepened trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico, took effect on Jan. 1, 1994. The Trump Administration sought to renegotiate the deal, saying it was outdated and unfair to U.S. workers. The new deal, called USMCA, was reached late last year but Democrats and Republicans in Congress need to ratify it. In late May, Trump threatened to add new tariffs to goods coming from Mexico unless Mexican authorities do more to stem the flow of people emigrating illegally from Central America into the United States.

Unlike counterparts in other parts of the country, Pennsylvania farmers export very little soybeans, pork and dairy to China. But those who raise such crops still are affected because prices are worldwide, so any changes globally will affect local operations, O’Neill said.

For soybeans, in particular, China cut imports by 97 percent, which means there is an oversupply – and lower prices – “everywhere,” he added.

The administration’s plan to offer financial payments to aid farmers for the duration of the trade talks will help, he said.

“But farmers don’t want payments. They would rather earn the money on an open market,” O’Neill said.

One concern is that supply chains are changing and that could hurt businesses long-term, as well as China’s latest threat to increase the costs of raw materials, said Tom Palisin, executive director of The Manufacturers’ Association, based in York County.

“Once you lose a market, it is hard to get that back,” Palisin said.

So far, a lot of consumers might not have noticed higher costs because some businesses have been holding off on price increases or had been stockpiling supplies until the trade tensions eased, several observers noted.

“But the hope was that the tensions would be short-lived,” Palisin said. “As it drags on, that isn’t always going to be possible.”