Farm bureau picnic serves hot food and hotter topics

“With farmers, you never go hungry,” said Russ Reitz, vice president of the Lycoming County Farm Bureau.

And he’s right. At the bureau’s annual picnic near Reitz’s farm on Sunday, there was London broil, corn on the cob, baked potatoes, salad, chocolate chip cookies, brownies and cake.

Members of the bureau came out to enjoy the food and to discuss hot issues in the farming community, such as government regulations at the local, state and federal levels that make it difficult to get farming permits.

“When a farmer goes to get a permit, they keep moving the target,” Reitz said of government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. “Farmers have to keep jumping through all sorts of regulations and hoops.”

It can be a three-year process to get the right permits, Reitz said, citing the trouble one member of the bureau had in starting his pig farm.

“He received a list of regulations, he would meet them, and then they’d give him a brand new list of regulations,” he said. “It takes away productive time.”

Other concerns the bureau has are related to the gas industry.

Anyone who leases their land to a gas company for drilling is entitled to 12.5 percent of the money made from selling the gas, but many landowners aren’t seeing the full 12.5 percent.

“Some of the companies recently are interpreting it that they can take expenses out from that percentage, so the person might end up with 1 or 2 percent,” Reitz said, adding that the bureau is backing legislation that would guarantee landowners and farmers get the full percentage.

Those expenses often are classified as post-production fees, according to state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, who attended the picnic and advocated imposing a severance tax on the gas companies to generate revenue in the areas directly affected by gas production.

Reitz said he and the bureau as a whole oppose a severance tax. He worried that if the tax is imposed, it could eliminate the gas drilling impact fees, which he said have helped repair roads that gas companies have worn down.

“The gas companies have done a wonderful job at fixing damages that they create or cause,” Reitz said. “And, in many cases, they have improved roads and paved roads that no one dreamed would ever get paved.”

Reitz also said that a severance tax is a slippery slope, that it eventually could increase and ultimately drive away the industry. Even if the gas industry stays in the area, he isn’t sure the money generated from the tax will go back to the communities directly affected by drilling.

If a severance tax is imposed, that revenue would end up in the state’s general fund and may be distributed elsewhere, he said.

Despite its concerns, the farm bureau has seen some success in recent years, according to Reitz, such as a bill the organization had lobbied for so farm machinery of a certain width would be allowed on roads. The bill became law last year, increasing the allowed width.