For a few hours Wednesday, Ag Progress Days became the stage for the biggest political race in the state as Gov. Tom Corbett and opponent Tom Wolf stopped to speak at the annual Ag Progress government and industry luncheon.
The luncheon is an invitation-only event that typically attracts politicians and political hopefuls as well as some Penn State leadership.
Penn State President Eric Barron was welcomed to his first Ag Progress Days as head of the university. He thanked Corbett for reinstating the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Agricultural Sciences after a five-year hiatus.
The school allows 40 high school students to participate in five weeks of exploring animal and plant science, food science, engineering, and environmental and natural resource conservation, Barron said.
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The program ran from July 13 through Saturday, and funding has been secured to host the students again in 2015.
Barron also noted that the university has attracted national attention with a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to launch the Center for Integrated Multi-scale Nutrient Pollution Solutions.
The center will combine existing research efforts with new studies and programs to tackle the growing problem of nutrient pollution and its effect on areas such as the Chesapeake Bay basin.
Corbett, who was introduced to the stage by Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary George Greig, said he was pleased to reinstate the Governor’s School.
Corbett said it was no secret that the agricultural community in the state has special focus from his administration.
“Agriculture is the single-biggest industry in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It touches one in every seven jobs in some way or another. It touches every one of us when we eat.”
He said agriculture adds $6.8 billion to the state economy every year.
“It’s more than just an industry, it’s a way of life to the people of Pennsylvania,” he said. “It’s a way of independence, self-reliance and hard work. It’s a part of the culture.”
Corbett also noted steps he has taken to improve the agriculture industry, even as far back as his time as attorney general and the “battleground between zoning and Pennsylvania’s right to farm.”
He also referred to passing bipartisan legislation that put an end to inheritance tax on family farms.
“It’s my hope and expectation that we’re going to be able to continue to work together and build on the progress we have made into the future,” he said.
Wolf was introduced by Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences interim Dean Barbara Christ, and related his experience as an agricultural extension agent during his time with the Peace Corps.
“I would venture to guess I’m one of a few people here that has plowed a field with a wooden plow pulled by a pair of bulls,” he joked.
Wolf said that in order to make sure agriculture succeeds in Pennsylvania, policies must connect with the industry. He used recent funding for a market in Philadelphia as an example of how the funding should connect with the agricultural areas where the food is coming from.
“If public funding is going to create these markets, we need to draw a connection,” he said.
“We need to do things to make sure the infrastructure helps the agricultural sector.”
Wolf noted that the Pennsylvania agriculture market is in the middle of “the richest market in the world”; the Pennsylvania agricultural area is the most open space between New York, the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
He said the infrastructure needs to take advantage of the connections the industry has and continue to build connections to get local goods to those outside markets.
Wolf commended Penn State on the work it does connecting higher education to the agriculture industry.
“If we’re going to build a great future for Pennsylvania, agriculture, as it has been in the past ... has to be with us in the future,” he said.
Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, who was in attendance, said he’s been coming to Ag Progress Days for several years.
“If we had amusement park rides, it would be the biggest fair in the state,” he said.