Proposal would help Pa. farmers fund conservation plans

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, sponsor of Senate Bill 465, speaks during a press conference at Flinchbaugh's Orchard & Farm Market in Hellam Township Monday, April 26, 2021. He was supporting passage of the bill which would create an Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program to help improve water quality for Pennsylvania farmers. Bill Kalina photo

Andy Flinchbaugh hopes to leave his farm to his children in better condition than when he inherited it.

In order to achieve that, however, costly conservation plans are encouraged not only to better his 2,200 acres of farmland, but for animals, the environment and the York County community.

Enter Senate Bill 465, introduced by state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, to create the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program and equip farmers with funding and technical support for conservation practices. 

"Long-term sustainability can't be achieved without having good, sound conservation practices on the ground," Flinchbaugh said. "When you talk to (farmers), they will say it's a great idea but they can't afford to do that."

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert
speaks in support of Senate Bill 465 during a press conference at Flinchbaugh's Orchard & Farm Market in Hellam Township Monday, April 26, 2021. He was supporting passage of the bill which would create an Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program to help improve water quality for Pennsylvania farmers. State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, sponsor of Senate Bill 465, also spoke during the event. Bill Kalina photo

In the last eight years, Flinchbaugh's Orchard & Farm Market, in Hellam Township, has implemented 39 new and updated conservation plans, including crop rotations, integrated pest management, no-till planting, cover crop planting, and soil and plant tissue sampling.

Those plans don't come free to the farmers, however.

Cover crop planting, for example, is used by farmers to serve as a placeholder after the primary crop is harvested. A cover crop keeps the roots growing close to 365 days in the year to hold the soil in place and prevent runoff.

Cover crops typically run farms like Flinchbaugh's about $30 to $40 per acre.

Senate Bill 465 would provide farmers with the support to achieve those costly conservation goals, Flinchbaugh said.

"Getting a much higher percent of acres covered year-round would be hugely beneficial for our county," he added.

The proposed bill would streamline funding to each county conservation district — which would partner with local farmers and landowners to distribute financial support.

Senate Bill 465 would allow funding from multiple sources, including federal and state dollars and private investment. The cost of the proposal has not yet been calculated.

During a news conference on Monday at Flinchbaugh's farm, Yaw said the proposed program would provide farmers with the financial support to achieve conservation goals.

“Agriculture is looked to for significant reductions to meet pollution reduction goals,” Yaw said. “Nevertheless, almost one-third of our commonwealth’s streams do not meet standards for drinking, fishing or recreation — and agriculture remains one of the largest sources of impairment."

Senate Bill 465 now sits in the state Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee for consideration.

"It's our hope that the bill is not only looked at for funding for farmers, but it's hopefully looked at as a win for the environment and water quality — and water quality is good for the whole community," Flinchbaugh said.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at  @tina_locurto.