Some farmers are having trouble budgeting money from a new state grant

Kristin Shaffer, 12, of Port Trevorton, Pa., cleans her brown Swiss dairy cow during the 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. ( Matt Rourke / AP)

Kristin Shaffer, 12, of Port Trevorton, Pa., cleans her brown Swiss dairy cow during the 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. ( Matt Rourke / AP)

Every year, the Pennsylvania Farm Show gives farmers more than just a chance to show off their goods and livestock. They also have an ideal platform to air their concerns and grievances to the state lawmakers who visit in droves from the nearby state Capitol.

This year, at least a handful of dairy farmers and producers are having issues budgeting newly-available state grants.

Rynn Caputo is one of them.

She and her family run Caputo Brothers’ Creamery in York County. They make artisanal cheese, and Caputo says in the last few years, the business has grown a lot.

They partnered with Troegs Brewery on a beer cheese and are selling it in Giant supermarkets. And last year, they got a Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program grant they’re using to partner with more farms.

But she said they ran into a problem while retrofitting farms to produce their cheese: the prevailing wage, which sets rates for contracted workers in projects that use state money.

“Our dairy farmers aren’t making minimum wage,” Caputo said. “But yet we’re expecting them use these state funds to turn around and pay two to three times for the same service that they would pay a lot less for were they not using the state funds.”

She voiced her concerns to several state officials and Senate Republicans at a meeting the caucus held at the Farm Show, aimed at talking through the successes and shortcomings of last year’s bipartisan package of bills designed to bolster farmers.

Republican Senator David Argall, of Berks County, was one of the politicians presiding over the meeting.

He said the legislature can’t get rid of the prevailing wage — Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, he predicted, would veto it “in about two seconds flat.”

However, Argall said he may introduce a bill that would carve farmers out of the rule.

“We have to be strategic here,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding dislikes the idea.

He said he has talked to several grant recipients who had similar complaints to Caputo’s. But he noted, this is the first time many of them have dealt with state money.

“When they put together estimates for projects, they weren’t necessarily thinking about the prevailing wage,” he said, adding that he thinks there has to be “awareness on the front side that if you’re going to apply for these grants, then prevailing wage is expected, it’s required.”

He says the grant program may need adjusting, but he doesn’t think prevailing wage carve-outs are the answer.

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