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Celebrating Pennsylvania Agriculture

We recently interviewed Russell Redding, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture. The Pennsylvania Farm Show is an annual celebration of the agriculture industry in the commonwealth. Secretary Redding shared highlights of this year’s virtual event along with other perspectives on the industry. Listen to the full podcast episode with Secretary Redding here.

It’s probably hard to recreate the PA Farm Show exactly as we know it with the excitement and smells that come from stepping into the Farm Show building every January. However, there is a diverse agenda planned for the virtual Farm Show. Could you share with our listeners some of the highlights of the planned virtual event?

You speak as though you know what it is. When you talk about excitement and smells, yes, all of that. And this is an important moment for Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania agriculture. It's such an iconic event. It's 105 years in the making, through the pandemics of earlier years of 1918 and world wars, good times and bad, and now a pandemic. We're really reminded of agriculture's sustainability and perseverance.

It’s important to host the Farm Show to celebrate agriculture. If there's a year to celebrate ag, it's this one, right? It's really looking back. It's been just an extraordinary time for all of us. We're anxious to host it, to put on a good show. Admittedly, you can't take a million square feet and 12,000 competitive exhibits of 52 animals and put them all into this virtual show.

That said, we have packed in a full week of good content. I'm excited about it. Our theme is Cultivating Tomorrow, both fitting for what we do in the industry, but certainly the year that we're coming off of and heading into. It’s important to look forward and what we have to do to cultivate that so we remain both relevant and successful.

We are doing many things this year that we haven't done before. That’s part of the silver lining to the virtual Farm Show. We’re partnering with many others in the agriculture industry on Instagram to have them tell the farm stories. We’re going to see beef cattle in Bedford County, mushrooms in Chester County and sheep in Clearfield.

The show has lots of things to see. Two hundred different virtual exhibits. Discussions on Farm Show history. Culinary highlights. We're also true to the pillars of Farm Show: education, entertainment and business. There’s a lot packed in the week.

Many of our podcast listeners are either farmers or those in the agriculture industry. While much of the programming is geared towards consumers, are there specific activities for the farm community to get involved?

Absolutely, and just as they would if they were in the building. There is opportunity for those in the farm community to participate in the virtual exhibits, and take a look at what's there including topics of conservation, business transition and the Farm Bill. We have some great panel discussions focused on contemporary issues that might affect them, looking at conservation components or food security issues. We're going to partner with our Centers of Excellence, dairy, beef, poultry, livestock. All of those centers are great sources of information. Our partners at the University of Pennsylvania vet school and Penn State University College of Ag Sciences are all part of the Farm Show as well.

All of this has great relevance to farmers and the agribusinesses across the state, to listen, learn, to pick up ideas, and also feel like you're connected to what's going on in the industry.

One of the challenges we've all had is to stay engaged and connected, and I think the Farm Show gives the agricultural community a chance to do that.

For me, I always think of Farm Show as the start of a new year. We’ve had plenty of challenges in 2020, and there are many things to look forward to in 2021. What excites you the most about the year ahead?

It's been a year where we're all marked by the losses, by the changes, by the interruptions to the basic routines, but also the more complicated and important relationship stuff. I think that excites me. 2020 has been a year of less, with the exception of politics and Zoom.

For 2021, I'm looking forward to more. More freedom to go places, more kindness and civility, more handshakes and hugs, but I'm also excited about the confidence that we carry out of 2020. As difficult as it's been, I think one of the silver linings to this pandemic has been the creative problem solving and that's both at the farm level as it's been through the rest of our communities and government.

It’s also been a chance to get connected to consumers. I'm excited about that. I think there's this rediscovery of what is produced in the communities and who's feeding us. That is something we certainly want to harness as we go into the new year.

In addition, I think of things like a new legislature and with all that's stacked up to be dealt with from COVID-19 issues, but also things in the ag community that we just because of COVID were interrupted in a significant way. For the farm community and what I'm watching very closely is what happens to trade and the market opportunities, particularly with what happens internationally. We need to get some predictability, some stability on a market side.

A final excitement I have is on broadband discussions. There's not a person in PA who hasn't been frustrated by their ability to connect online. I look forward to advancements in this area in 2021.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the pandemic. As we begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel with vaccine distribution, what would you share with our farmers, essential workers, and our rural communities?

First of all, a note of thanks to them for staying true to their mission in the last year during this pandemic. I think it's most important to know that we value what they've done, we continue to acknowledge that, and are humbled in so many ways by what the agricultural community has done just to live true to the designation of life sustaining.

In addition to that, I would just say to the communities, we're in the recovery phase and there is light in this long tunnel now that we've got a vaccine. I would also say don't let your guard down. This is not something that we can predict by a date certain and turn of a switch. It's going to be a long process. Most important, just keep your guard up and practice all of the COVID mitigation. Be mindful that there are a lot of folks in our community who are still food insecure and they're going to need us more in the next year. What we do to provide that food and fiber in that capacity to supply our food banks and tradable system is important.

Finally, I'd say to the ag community that in the state's vaccination plan, we have identified food and ag and critical workers as a priority. There's a phase one, two, and three. The ag and food is part of phase 1B, so it's the second tier within the priority group. Agriculture is critical and life sustaining, and that’s been addressed in terms of our own planning for the vaccine distribution.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners today?

I'll end where I began with a thank you certainly for the work that the farm community is doing. Let's keep working hard to build that consumer relationship that has been rediscovered in the last year. Let's make sure that those in the community who are food insecure are part of our planning, part of our thinking. If we have surplus products, let's make sure we're connected to the food banks.

Lastly, join us for the virtual Farm Show to be part of the celebration of agriculture and part of the discussion. Happy New Year to you and the Farm Credit team, but also to the farm community in Pennsylvania. Thank you.

AgChoice News
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