Agriculture is the state's most important industry, producing more than $4.8 billion in cash receipts annually and employing about one in six Pennsylvanians. The agriculture industry plays a vital role in the local economies of many communities in the 29th Senatorial District all of Schuylkill and parts of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe and Northampton counties.
According to the latest United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, over 4,000 men and women in this six county Senate District are involved in the production, processing and distribution of our daily nutrition. Surprisingly, only two percent of the population is involved in the actual production of commodities such as: milk, eggs, meat, fruit and produce. More than half of the farms in Pennsylvania are small family farms where the owner, spouse, and relatives produce the labor. The equipment and trucks that are necessary to support food production are operated by owners and relatives. This same equipment is mainly operated close to home and only seasonally to aid the harvest of crops.
In light of that, while some state and federal regulations do provide important protections for our food supply, other regulations are hurting the prospects for future job growth in this sector without a clear public purpose.
Most recently, a new federal regulation restricted the movement of farm equipment on Pennsylvania roads. This restriction poses a serious concern for many farmers who depend on the ability to move their products and equipment.
With this in mind, I have introduced Senate Bill 1016 to exempt most farm equipment from this new federal regulation when traveling between farms or on highways between parts of the same farm during daylight hours. Smaller equipment could be transported after sunset with proper safety precautions. Vehicles, trailers and equipment would be required to display a valid certificate of inspection, and liability insurance would still be required. Senate Bill 1016 would also ensure that farmers take the proper safety steps to protect other motorists, including the use of reflectors, hazard lamps and escort vehicles for larger equipment.
Under my legislation, farmers would still be required to meet minimum safety requirements to ensure that the transportation of farm equipment or products does not pose a danger to other motorists. However, the regulations that create the greatest hardships for farmers without improving public safety would be eliminated.
Farming is already a difficult way of life, and we should not allow restrictive regulations to make agriculture activities even more difficult. We need to protect and promote these jobs and the many hardworking men and women who are employed in this sector. Together, these are the people who have long made Pennsylvania a worldwide leader in agriculture and provide healthy food for our tables every day.