Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Cheryl Cook spreads the message about the importance of agriculture to Pennsylvania’s economy and to rural communities.

Cook was the featured speaker at Kutztown Rotary Club’s recent 81st Annual Farmers’ Night, an event that celebrated the contributions of the agricultural community.

Agriculture as a business is facing some challenging times, she said.

“There is a lot of risk associated with agriculture in everything from the weather to international trade and marketing opportunities. We have farmers who are struggling with retaliatory measures being taken with response to steel tariffs and aluminum tariffs. We have farmers particularly in dairy experiencing now for four or five years in a row of really lousy market prices,” said Cook during an interview with Berks-Mont Newspapers.

“What we’re seeing really applies to more than just farms. Agriculture businesses in general are concerned about family succession planning,” said Cook. “Everything from feed dealers to seed dealers to equipment dealers, these are all family run businesses. Everywhere we look everybody’s looking for the next generation … so succession planning is something we see across the board and we’re working on that.”

Cook said the Pa Department of Ag is also trying to improve the regulatory environment at the state level so that it is easier for small businesses to operate, including farms but looking at all agriculture related businesses.

She also hopes to share a message of hope.

“We’ve been through some challenging times in agriculture between the lousy weather we had last year and the lousy market prices in dairy and some other commodities but there’s still a lot of things to be excited and optimistic about so I try to bring optimism with me everywhere I go, too. We have some really great examples of creativity.”

For example, the new Pennsylvania Pursue Your Scoops Ice Cream Trail created by visitPa and the Pa Department of Agriculture offered a farm to scoop experience at 12 regional farm creameries this past year.

“It just went gang busters. We’re going to start going state-wide with that program this year,” said Cook.

This was Cook’s first time coming to Farmers’ Night and she was happy to attend.

Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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