BURNHAM - Agriculture is a driving force in Pennsylvania, contributing $67 billion to the state's economy, Pa. Secretary of Agriculture George Greig said Wednesday night at Penn State Extension District 13's Annual Meeting and Recognition Banquet at the Burnham Lions Club.
Greig was the keynote speaker during "Agriculture Night in the Juniata Valley."
"You're not going to get anybody who's going to fight harder for the farmers ... for the citizens," relating to agriculture, he assured a full room of industry representatives.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Keynote speaker Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture George Greig, center, and guest speaker state Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, right, share a laugh as Penn State Extension District Director Tom Walker presents them each with locally produced commodities Wednesday in Burnham during the Penn State Extension District 13 Annual Meeting and Recognition Banquet.
Greig said the Department of Agriculture has a close and long-standing tie with extension education in Pennsylvania. Their cooperation was the genesis for three resource centers throughout the state, relating to animal care, food safety and plant health.
"In the past, Penn State and the Department of Agriculture have been re-inventing the wheel," he said.
In days of short budgets, he said, the agencies work together to strengthen the industry.
Greig also gave an update on some of the projects overseen by the department.
"Pennsylvania leads the nation in farmland preservation," he said.
About 7.7. million acres of farmland are being used for production, and 480,000 acres are preserved. Greig said Pennsylvania has come a long way in its efforts but still has work to do.
"We need that farmland to feed the people," he said.
On farms throughout the state, commodities like hardwoods, dairy and meat contribute to the billions of dollars of economic impact made annually by the agricultural industry. In addition to overseeing production, the department inspects weights and measures across the state, works with counties to license dogs and oversees animal health regarding auctions and livestock sales.
"We do a lot at the department and appreciate the help from our partners," Greig said.
He added that he is uplifted to see 4-H and FFA students investing in agriculture. As the industry grows in Pennsylvania, he said there are many opportunities for youth, especially in the way of food processing and safety.
At this time, Greig said up to 17 percent of dairy products in the U.S. are exported to countries that have trouble feeding themselves. Food security is one of many reasons state officials work hard to preserve the food supply, he said.
"Without food, you're in trouble. So that's why we continue to work on food production," Greig said.
He added that Pennsylvania is fortunate to have a governor and legislators that pay attention to agriculture and lobby for its preservation. As an example, Greig said Pennsylvania is one of few states that still allows raw milk to be produced and sold. Though opinions vary on the sale of raw milk and some other specialty commodities, Greig said he feels it's important that all options are available to consumers. He said state officials continue to cut as much "red tape" as possible to stimulate the industry.
State representative Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, also spoke at the banquet. Fleck said he grew up around agriculture and now resides on a farm that has been in his family since the 1700s.
"To say I have roots in the area is an understatement," he said.
Fleck said he has a passion for education and protecting the environment. He said he's proud of the legacy farming has in Pennsylvania.
Also during the banquet, Penn State Extension of District 13 recognized its association board, administration, staff and volunteers.