Column by EDC President Lisa Riggs featured on LancasterOnline.

Two recent statewide analyses highlight the significant impact farming has on our economy.

These reports, coming out of Team Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Center for Dairy Excellence, focus on the entire commonwealth, but given Lancaster County’s agricultural dominance within the context of the state, this information is particularly pertinent.

The Team Pennsylvania report, “Pennsylvania Agriculture: A Look at the Economic Impact and Future Trends,” makes the case that 18 percent of Pennsylvania’s gross state product is attributable to agriculture and directly related industries.

The report also offers a set of strategic recommendations that includes a focus on expanding Pennsylvania’s agricultural infrastructure, such as processing and manufacturing capacity.

This strategy aligns with findings from the report commissioned by the Center for Dairy Excellence that evaluates the economic impact of additional dairy processing investment in the commonwealth that could result from the development of two new cheese-processing plants.

While the report notes the significant capital investment and job creation the construction of two plants would generate, as importantly, it highlights the benefit for dairy farmers through supply chain cost savings.

These reports are contributing to an important dialogue that is happening locally and at the state level, knitting agricultural and economic development closer together.

In Lancaster County, perhaps more so than in many communities, there is strong awareness that agriculture has a major local economic impact well beyond the bucolic vistas, iconic images and rural landscapes.

The economic impact of agriculture spans a spectrum from on-farm production to equipment repair, veterinarians, law firms, bankers and accountants, all the way to food processing.

In its 2016 report, the Lancaster County Agriculture Council highlighted the nearly $1.5 billion in total market value of Lancaster County agricultural products sold, along with its top rankings in the United States in layers, pullets and corn silage.

The strength of agriculture ripples throughout the entire region.

Key questions are now being explored to understand the major variables supporting agricultural growth and risks.

 These two reports, amid other discussions, highlight traditional economic development issues (often tied more directly to manufacturing concerns) such as foreign trade, workforce development and permitting that present real challenges to farming operations and farming profitability.

The prioritization of infrastructure in the form of processing capability is a great example of a specific strategy directly connecting agricultural productivity with needed economic development expertise.

Communities across the country are recognizing the competitive advantage natural assets have as contributors to a high quality of life. In Lancaster County, and in the commonwealth as a whole, one of our strongest natural assets is farmland.

The important dialogue that is now occurring is the fuller understanding and deeper appreciation of the economic development strategies needed to keep these lands productively farmed.