ROCK SPRINGS — Joanna Dickert of Cambria County is getting ready to open a restaurant and bar, featuring beef and pork from her small farm, and she’s concerned about farm regulations.
She asked Chuck Conner, a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and member of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign, how the Republican challenger to President Obama would relate to small farmers. Conner and other political representatives and politicians from all levels descended on Centre County on Wednesday for Government and Industry Day at Ag Progress Days.The Penn State-sponsored outdoor agricultural exhibition continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.
“We all see Romney, unfortunately, as big business,” said Dickert, a longtime Democrat who recently switched her party affiliation to Republican. Despite the switch, she said she doesn’t want to automatically vote for Romney without gathering more information.
“I don’t want to waste my vote,” she said.
Conner agreed with Dickert’s regulation concerns, noting one policy that requires a permit every time a farmer applies pesticides.
“Who gets totally whacked by that policy — it’s the small farmers,” he said. “It’s driving them out of business. Talk to them about our regulatory reform agenda.”
Another policy Dickert says causes more headaches is one that requires documentation each time she gives a truckload of manure to a friend. Such policies are part of the Environmental Protection Agency standards to protect the nation’s waters — particularly the Chesapeake Bay — from nutrients in runoff from agriculture and other activities. Dickert said she was satisfied with Conner’s answer.
“His answer was very fair,” she said, adding that those issues are of high concern. “Very few of us are fully employed by the farm.”
Under the T&A Seeds tent next to a small corn field, Conner answered a few other questions about Romney’s positions and plans on issues such as immigration and energy.
“Immediately he would clear a pathway forward for the Keystone (XL) pipeline,” Conner said of the project to carry oil from Canada to the Gulf that the Obama administration delayed earlier this year for more time to review potential environmental impacts.
On immigration, Conner said Romney recognizes that agricultural work requires labor from non-U.S. residents.
“It’s a big issue for American agriculture,” he said, adding that addressing the “fundamental problem” of border control will help facilitate legal immigration.
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at (814) 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.