Agriculture: Pennsylvania’s #1 Industry (in Lobbying)

The lobbyist group Triad Strategies has a new blog focusing on Pennsylvania policy and politics, which features a recent post by George Wolff that calls for taxpayers to continue to subsidize agriculture.

Wolff repeats the oft-state myth – it may even be required by law for all public officials to say – that agriculture is our #1 industry. Wolff writes, “Farming and farm-related enterprises constitute the largest sector of Pennsylvania’s economy.”

This is not true, or even close to being true. Rather, agriculture is Pennsylvania’s 22nd largest industry (out of 22) in terms of jobs, and 19th (out of 19) in its contribution to state GDP.

To even approach the largest industry, one would have to include not only manufacturing of farm machinery, material related to farming, but also every restaurant and grocery store in Pennsylvania. Thus, Wolff’s justification that our “largest industry” relies on a few million dollars in state subsidies (including things like fairs and the Farm Show) follow this logic.

  1. Without subsidies, Pennsylvania farmers will stop farming.
  2. Once agriculture disappears from Pennsylvania, residents will stop eating at restaurants and buying groceries, and those industries will disappear as well.

Of course, this is ridiculous logic. Let me repeat what I wrote in a previous post on farm subsidies

Most economists agree that agriculture subsidies are not good for the economy, or even for farmers, and Cato gives the top ten reasons to cut farm subsidies. …

The fact is that the average farmer receives little support from agricultural subsidies, most of these go to large corporate farmers and land-holders. …

In contrast, take the case of New Zealand, which ended all agricultural subsidies in 1984. Not only did their farm industry not collapse, it thrived like never before