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State official: Agriculture still key economic driver for state

State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding reminded a Union County breakfast audience Friday that farming continues to be a key economic driver for the state.

“I’m as excited about agriculture as I’ve ever been,” he said.

He noted that the Pennsylvania Farm Bill brought a comprehensive package of legislation that invests $24 million into farming.

And, most recently, agricultural markets are moving in the right direction.

Consumption of state dairy products are increasing, although fluid milk consumption is down.

Looking around the room at the high school students in the audience, including those enrolled in 4H programs, Redding said, “It’s good to see young people here. They are our future.”

But he made it clear that farmers face challenges, including the task of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Six states, including Pennsylvania, are required to take steps to help significantly reduce bay pollution by 2025.

Excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in runoffs from agricultural operations find their way into streams including the Susquehanna River, a major waterway flowing south through the state and Maryland to the bay.

Pennsylvania is home to more than 30,000 farms as well as 50 municipalities in the watershed.

“We have to make sure we do our part,” Redding said.

But he also noted that agricultural runoff certainly cannot be blamed for all the pollutants finding their way to the bay.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, said much of the problem comes from Lancaster County farms.

He said the state needs to try and reduce its nutrient loads but conceded it’s doubtful that the state will be able to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements for the cleanup.

“No one knows what EPA might do if we don’t meet these requirements,” he said.

Redding talked about the problems caused by the spotted lanternfly, which has spread to 14 counties in eastern and southeastern Pennsylvania since it was found in the state in 2014.

“You know it’s invasive,” he said. “We have seen the destruction of it.”

The lanternfly causes serious damage in trees and plants and is a great threat to the agriculture industry.

Redding noted that vineyards in Berks County were destroyed by the lanternfly.

Now, the insect has moved toward Philadelphia, a key port for overseas shipping.

“We don’t need invasive species in cargo,” he said.

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