Package of bills co-sponsored by Sen. Judy Schwank aims to help farmers markets

      Posted On: March 8, 2019

Democratic leaders have three ideas to increase sales of local farm produce.

Senate Democrats are sponsoring a three-bill legislative package designed to provide additional tax credits to farmers, encourage the use of locally sourced food and expand farmers markets.

The prime sponsors of the package are state Sen. Judy Schwank of Ruscombmanor Township, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee; Sen. Vincent J. Hughes of Philadelphia, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee; and Sen. Art Haywood of Philadelphia, the top Democrat on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Under Schwank’s legislation, the requirement for using the lowest bidder on a state contract for the purchase of food would not apply to locally sourced products, provided the deviation in price was not more than 10 percent above that of the lowest bidder.

“It is important that local markets be better developed, and one way to achieve this goal is through a pricing incentive that encourages the use of food produced in state,” Schwank said in a press release. “Our farms are able to deliver high-quality foods to local markets at reasonable prices.”

Hughes’ legislation would raise the rural jobs and investment tax credit from its current capped amount of $1 million per year to $20 million over four years.

“A comprehensive economic plan requires investments in a broad array of industries, including agriculture,” Hughes said in the press release. “There is strong justification to raise the tax credit cap and allow farmers to retain and reinvest because agriculture is a key feature of our economy.”

Hughes noted that 48 of 67 counties in Pennsylvania are classified as rural and that more than a quarter of the state’s population lives in rural counties.

Pennsylvania has more than 58,000 farms and an estimated 7.7 million acres are involved in agricultural production. According to survey data, 93 percent of Pennsylvanians prefer locally produced food.

Haywood said rising demand has opened an opportunity to expand the Farmers Market Development Program to serve more communities. His legislation would enable grants through the program to be used for agritourism initiatives, renovations and establishment of new satellite locations. The bill also would increase grants per market from $10,000 to $100,000.

The bills were initially introduced last session but never received a vote.

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