Pennsylvania Agriculture Receives $26 Million Boost from USDA, But Challenges Remain

Governor Josh ShapiroCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

HARRISBURG, PA — In a move aimed at strengthening Pennsylvania’s agricultural sector, Governor Josh Shapiro announced on Wednesday the availability of $26 million in USDA funding through the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure (RFSI) program. The announcement, made at the PA Farm Show, underscores the state’s commitment to support its robust agriculture and food manufacturing industries.

The RFSI grant program aims to bolster the middle of the supply chain, the critical link connecting farm production and consumer plates. It is within this sphere that processing, aggregation, and distribution of targeted agricultural products occur. The funding will be utilized for projects that enhance capacity and resilience in these areas, creating more opportunities for Pennsylvania’s farming community.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has identified several funding priorities for the RFSI program. These include projects benefiting historically underserved farmers, initiatives focusing on processing dairy, fruit, vegetable, and organic commodities, endeavors enhancing worker safety and training, and proposals submitted directly by growers, producers, processors, and shippers.

However, while such an investment is undoubtedly beneficial, it doesn’t come without challenges. One potential drawback is the requirement for grant applicants to contribute 50% of the total proposed project cost as a match to federal funding. This may pose a hurdle for smaller entities struggling with tight margins. To alleviate this, the required match is reduced to 25% for historically underserved farmers and ranchers, along with small businesses that qualify under the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Moreover, the grant application process, which opens on January 15 and closes on March 30, 2024, may not provide ample time for all potential beneficiaries to prepare their proposals adequately. The selection process, performed by an independent panel, also raises questions about transparency and fairness.

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On the brighter side, the RFSI funding builds on the bipartisan 2023-24 budget that allocated $47 million for agriculture. This will support Pennsylvania’s farmers and agricultural workers, provide more access to capital, and fund a new Organic Center of Excellence.

Overall, while the grant program is a promising step towards fortifying Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector, it also underscores the need for continued efforts to ensure that these funds are accessible and beneficial to all stakeholders in the farming community. As Governor Shapiro puts it, this initiative serves as a reminder of the work needed to strengthen the connections between agriculture and our daily lives.

Learn more about funding and resources for farmers and the ag industry at agriculture.pa.gov/funding.

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