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An interior shot of Herman and Luther's barn on Route 87. Members of the agricultural community, including students in high school FFA programs, are seated at the tables.

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"What is Agriculture?" asked Agriculture Secretary Russell Reading during this year's breakfast meeting on agriculture, organized by Senator Gene Yaw. The meeting was held at Herman and Luther's barn on Friday, Sept. 17.

Agriculture is a large industry in this country and a large industry in Pennsylvania. Roughly 580,000 jobs connect to agriculture in this state, according to Secretary Reading. However, the economic side of agriculture cannot answer what agriculture needs until the community understands what it means to them, explained Redding.

Redding offered a perspective that prioritized the agriculture workers: "Help us define agriculture, and then we'll break out the components of it."

The legislators touched upon their policy efforts, as if explaining the important "components" of managing the agriculture industry in Pennsylvania. Senator Gene Yaw, who organized and led the discussion, highlighted his Conservation Assistance Program designed to support local streams and help farmers reduce their nitrogen and phosphorus runoff.

Yaw also addressed his work, alongside Reading, on a rewrite of a fertilizer bill. This bill would cut down stream pollution by reducing fertilizer runoff from farm fields.

Leadership also mentioned the Pennsylvania Farm Bill, noting that Pennsylvania is the only state with their own state-level farm bill; all other states follow policies of the National Farm Bill. In other words, the Pa. Farm Bill offers a state-level perspective on the industry.

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After listening to these plans, farmers in the audience saw an opportunity to help define their relationship to the legislation from a specifically local perspective.

One local farmer addressed Yaw with concerns about local stream management. A farmer of nearly 100 acres and a mile stretch of the Muncy Creek, Jean Roger has faced difficult soil conditions as a result of flooded streams.

When a flood hits, this leads to "anywhere from two to three feet of water over my field sedimentation," said Roger.

The problem is not simply that he loses fertilizer off his fields during a flood, which is then passed downstream, and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay. Rather, a weak stream infrastructure forces him to re-build his soil foundation, including additional spraying, to compensate for the stream destruction from floods. 

Roger spoke passionately about stream maintenance. He believes measures such as dredging and dike re-building can improve the local stream system.

Another local farmer reflected upon the role of the agriculture industry in creating pollution, compared to other sources of pollution. "Every garbage disposal in your home or business is sending nutrient load to the bay," said the founder of Briarpatch organic farms. 

He then continued with an acknowledgment of the economic influences upon pollution, stating, "The reality is, it was always cheaper to send food waste, organic materials, to the landfill -- instead of sending them to a processing facility where they could be composted and reused." 

All speakers, political leaders and farmers alike, spoke to the importance of a localized effort. Upon recognition that local streams impact greater water systems, Yaw said, "I'm focusing on what we do with our own water here in Pennsylvania."

Redding presented a theme of "stewardship," or a collaborative effort to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous emissions.

"Stewardship" developed into a theme of accountability amongst the group, with politicians and farmers stressing the many scales that agriculture impacts, including communities, individuals, and ecological life.

This article originally ran on northcentralpa.com.

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