By Senator Elder Vogel, Jr
Chairman, Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee
Last week the state Department of Agriculture made a surprising announcement that shocked and disappointed farming families across the state when it announced plans to shut down the Pennsylvania Farm Show for 2021.
Instead of hosting a live event, one that brings together hundreds of Pennsylvania farmers and draws thousands of spectators and patrons, the 2021 edition is now set to be held virtually. I know that as a farmer I might be a bit biased, but there is a huge difference between looking at pictures of cattle and the sensory experience of walking through the livestock barns at the Farm Show.
In a press release, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said: “There are times in the life of a farmer when the risks are too great or uncertain, requiring farmers to make the tough decision to leave a field fallow. To protect our assets – both our people and our resources – from incalculable losses, we have made the tough decision to take a year to lie in fallow.”
He’s right, farmers do have to make tough decisions and they face tough situations like droughts, blizzards, animal and crop diseases and so much more. It’s a good bet that if given the chance they could make a smart decision on whether they would feel safe at the Farm Show Complex – especially if attendance was strictly limited and proper COVID-19 precautions were in place.
One other vitally important aspect of the Farm Show is the role it plays in the lives of the hundreds of young farmers who have spent the previous year, or perhaps multiple years, preparing to show – and sell — their steer, hog, lamb or goat at the event.
Currently, the Department of Agriculture’s position is that there will be no in-person events or competitions at the 2021 Farm Show in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. No doubt the pandemic is serious, but I would suggest that the danger is not in the shows, but rather would be in the large number of visitors that normally attend the Farm Show.
I can understand the need to close the event to participants only, but I strongly believe our young farmers must be given the opportunity to show their livestock. Pennsylvania has taken major steps to restore a sense of normalcy to the lives of our youth, especially in the areas of education and scholastic sports. There is no reason why we cannot extend those same efforts to support our young farmers.
These young people have spent countless hours working with their animals. They must do so even as they attend school and participate in other activities. Caring for farm livestock goes well beyond the demands of those required for a domestic pet, such as a dog and a cat. It requires intense dedication and commitment.
The Farm Show is the one opportunity they have to compete against their peers and receive the recognition they deserve for their hard work. And, just as important, it provides an opportunity for them to sell these animals. In 2019, sales from the Junior Market Livestock Show topped more than $307,000. An additional $3,500 was given out in Pennsylvania Farm Show Scholarships. The scholarships and the proceeds from livestock sales at the Farm Show are essential for these young men and women, especially those saving for tuition to attend one of our great universities or colleges.
Recognizing the importance of the show for these farmers, I am preparing a proposal for Junior Market Livestock Show that I am planning to release and send to the Department of Agriculture for consideration soon.
Under my plan, the events and sales would be held over several days, limited to steers, hogs, goats and lambs, and would capitalize on the many open spaces available at the Farm Show Complex. These steps would provide protection from COVID-19 spread, while giving our young farmers the opportunity to display and sell their livestock.
From a young age, farmers understand that they can never give up. They know the work is hard and challenging. The Department of Agriculture must show that same resiliency and dedication. We can’t give up on the 2021 Pennsylvania Farm Show (in August!) It is too important to the lives and futures of Pennsylvania’s next generation of farmers.
CONTACT: Matt Parido firstname.lastname@example.org