LEWISBURG - Over-regulation is the biggest hurdle Pennsylvania farmers have to overcome to be successful.
That is according to state Agriculture Secretary George Greig, who spoke Wednesday during a legislative breakfast hosted by state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township.
"Regulation probably is number one, above input costs," Greig said in response to concerns expressed by local dairy farmer Hal Drick. "Regulation is our biggest enemy."
State Secretary of Agriculture George Greig bemoans the level of regulation farmers face Wednesday at a breakfast in Lewisburg.
Those concerns were echoed by Mifflinburg-area farmers Wayne Hess and William Pontius.
Both men said they were concerned regulations could put farmers out of business.
"We need some regulations, but too many regulations can hurt us," Pontius said, adding that farmers are subjected to rules on everything from noise and dust control to the application of pesticides.
Greig said he understands their concerns because he is a life-long farmer.
He juggles duties as Gov. Tom Corbett's top man in the Department of Agriculture with working a 650-acre farm in Crawford County.
"I speak farming," he said. "Nobody can feed me a bunch of bull about farming."
Corbett also understands how too many regulations can choke the life out of the farming community, Greig said.
"The governor knows the difference between regulation and strangulation," he said.
Greig said he expressed his concerns to federal Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson about the agency's policies with Pennsylvania farmers involving the Chesapeake Bay cleanup initiative.
Greig said the rationale for the policies is that Pennsylvania did not have manure management manual in place.
He countered that the state implements a wide range of conservation best management practices that exceed those of other states in the bay watershed.
The state has 200,000 acres of farmland enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or CREP.
"What about Maryland? What about Delaware? Maryland would have to annex Delaware to have that many acres (enrolled)," Greig said.
The state recently developed a manure management manual "that is something we can live with," Greig said, adding that state officials and residents need to continue pressuring federal officials regarding unfair regulations.
Michael Sherman, Lycoming County Farm Service Agency director, also spoke.
Sherman was filling in for William Wehry, state director of the agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Sherman discussed the success of federally funded conservation programs administered by his agency.
In 2011, the agency funneled $65 million in payments to Pennsylvania farmers and administered low-interest loans worth $78 million to them, he said.
In Yaw's legislative district, Bradford County received $2.7 million in payments, Lycoming County, $2.1 million, Union County, $1.5 million, Susquehanna County, $900,000, and Sullivan County, $200,000.
"That's a lot of money going out the door and into this corridor," Sherman said.
Sherman said it will be interesting to see how funding for those programs plays out in a pending federal Farm Bill.
One program that has seen a significant change as a result of the last farm bill, passed in 2008, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Milk Income Loss Contract, or MILC, program.
The 2008 Farm Bill contained changes, effective this month, that will significantly impact the money dairy farmers will receive when milk prices drop to a predetermined floor price, Sherman said.
The program sets a floor price on milk and a ceiling on feed costs. If commodity milk prices drop below the floor price, the program provides dairy farmers with a subsidy taking into account a percentage of the difference in the floor price and actual price while also factoring in the difference between the feed cost ceiling and actual cost of feed.
The changes reduce the percentage covered when milk drops below the floor price and raises the ceiling for feed costs.
Under the changes, farmers who in July received an additional $1.63 per hundred pounds for their milk would today receive only 23 cents, Sherman said.
More than 60 people attended the breakfast. Among them were a group of Future Farmers of America from the Montoursville Area School District and their faculty adviser, Benjamin Hepburn.
Greig said he is confident in the future of agriculture in the state and said he and Corbett are dedicated to making Pennsylvania's agriculture industry more viable.