By Sherry Bunting, republished from FARMSHINE NEWSPAPER, April 8, 2022
NEW HOLLAND, Pa. — Dairy farmers, agribusiness leaders, current and former legislators and friends came out to Yoder’s Restaurant here Monday (April 4) to support Pennsylvania State Representative John Lawrence of Chester County. He was lauded by his peers as a respected and knowledgeable leader on ag and dairy issues, someone who understands what farmers and other small businesses face, someone who continually brings good ideas to the table.
The fundraising gala was attended by around 50 people and raised more than $30,000 for Friends of John Lawrence, according to retired agribusinessman and dairy advocate Bernie Morrissey. He and Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman, known for his painted round bales that launched the whole milk movement, along with other members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, helped raise some of these funds from individuals in the community.
Efforts to end the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools was very much front-and-center in the luncheon discussion with enthusiasm shared by state and federal lawmakers on the progress of Rep. Lawrence’s bill seeking to deal with the issue at the state level – a powerful model for getting action at the federal level.
“We are all here because of how much we love John Lawrence,” said Kerry Golden, who took a personal day from her work with the House Ag Committee to support a leader she and others respect as much for his knowledge and hard work as for his humility.
Lawrence, himself, could not attend his own gala as he was recovering in the hospital from a medical issue. His father led the group in prayer for John, and local agribusiness leader Don Hoover led the group in prayer for elected leaders at local, state, and national levels.
Rep. Lawrence is the author of three important dairy bills that passed out of the House Ag Committee last week (March 30) — the most popular being the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, H.B. 2397.
“John told me he got the idea for the bill while he was riding on his tractor,” said State House Ag Committee Chairman Dan Moul. Lawrence has said he does some of his best thinking while mowing.
“He sits down with us and goes over his ideas, before putting them into words… he brought us these bills a couple months ago, and last week, we had what I call ‘Dairy Day’ in Pennsylvania and passed them out of our committee with bipartisan support to the House floor,” said Chairman Moul.
In addition to the whole milk bill (H.B. 2397), the other two bills include H.B. 223, which provides for Keystone Dairy Opportunity Zones, where new and existing processors can receive tax credits for processing expansion, and H.B. 224, which provides the Pa. Milk Marketing Board with additional authority to collect and distribute the state-mandated over-order premium.
“Too many times, that premium does not find its way back to farmers,” said Moul. “We are losing way too many dairy farms in Pennsylvania. We have a great industry here, and we need to save it.”
When Moul got to the whole milk bill, specifically, the room erupted in applause.
“While John was on his tractor, he came up with this idea. He finally figured it out. We’ve been wanting to do something on this ever since whole milk was taken out of schools under the Obama administration,” he said.
Congressman G.T. Thompson lauded the PA-Preferred framework of the bill in his remarks as well.
Bottomline, if the entire transaction from farm to school is intra-state, then the federal jurisdiction does not apply because the U.S. Constitution is silent on education and agriculture except where interstate commerce (sales between states) are concerned. That’s the basis of the bill, reported in detail in previous editions of Farmshine.
“When he shared his idea, we knew he was on to something,” said Moul. “The federal government can’t withhold funding from schools if this (whole milk) is intra-state. I give John the credit. He really thought it through. There is a time and place for government… but when it comes to nurturing, raising and what we feed our children, that’s no business of the federal government.”
State House Speaker Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County thanked the event attendees for supporting John, and he described John’s “servant’s heart.”
He said John is someone who wants to get the job done rather than concerning himself with who gets the credit for it.
“Sometimes government is what gets in the way,” said Cutler, noting the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools as a prime example of getting in the way of parents and schools with “their definition” of what’s healthy.
“John is someone who consistently rises to that challenge. I hope you are all as proud of him as I am,” said Speaker Cutler.
“We’re blessed in Pennsylvania,” said Congressman Thompson. “We are coming up on a challenging year, an election year. We need a strong State House and Senate.”
At the federal level, the stakes are equally high. In fact, if Republicans take back the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives this fall, Congressman Thompson, representing the largest geographic district in Pennsylvania and serving as Ranking Member of the House Ag Committee, could make history as the first Ag Committee Chairman from the Keystone State since 1859.
Thompson shared a bit of his vision for the Ag Committee, noting how important agriculture is, everywhere, representing one in every seven jobs in Pennsylvania, for example.
“We have to make sure we are doing the right policies to restore robust rural economies, to create the conditions to rebuild, repopulate, and regrow our rural communities,” said Thompson. “Agriculture is really a bipartisan issue. With inflation at 42-year highs, we are seeing high prices for commodities, but things are not so peachy. It’s the margin that makes the difference.”
He expressed concern about EPA regulations, the return of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), and other areas of impact to agriculture where politicians make decisions that don’t often make sense and cost farmers plenty.
“The world needs American farmers to increase yields when we look at what is happening in Ukraine,” said Thompson. “We’ve got to love these people standing up for freedom. They are the breadbasket of Europe with 40 million people but growing food for 400 million. We are hearing the grim news that by fall, we may see massive hunger and famine, starting in the Middle East.”
Thompson reflected on the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011, when food scarcity played a large role in a series of anti-government protests in the Middle East after international food prices shot up, unemployment rose, and frustration with political systems peaked.
He cited predictions right now that people will flee these countries facing famine and arrive at the U.S. southern border. He said farm productivity in the U.S. will be essential.
“Food security is national security,” said Thompson, thanking ‘the Pennsylvania farm team’ of legislators and agriculturalists. “Everything we rely on is provided by our hard-working farmers, who deserve to earn a good living.”
As prime sponsor of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 1861) in the United States Congress, Thompson also lifted up what Rep. Lawrence has done at the state level in Pennsylvania with H.B. 2397.
“It’s brilliant,” said Thompson. “It’s a formula for PA-Preferred. Now we need to see New York, Ohio, California — all the dairy states — lead and model what Rep. Lawrence has started.”
He explained that if other key dairy states would put forward similar legislation for whole milk in schools, it would be powerful in getting Congress to act on his legislation at the federal level and for the federal government to “undo the insult” it dealt to children when removing flavor and health from school milk options over a decade ago.
“Everyone blames Michelle Obama, but it was really the Congress under Speaker Pelosi who demonized milkfat. That 3 to 3.5% milkfat is what their bodies need. We’re standing with the children,” he said.
Thompson sees this as becoming a truly bipartisan issue, including bipartisan support for his bill at the federal level and the bipartisan action on it in the Ag Committees of the State House and State Senate. He said Lawrence’s bill “sets a great precedent and a model to help us go forward.”
As of April 6, 2022, Congressman Thompson’s Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 1861) at the federal level has 93 cosponsors from 32 states but has not yet been taken up by the House Education and Labor Committee.
In the Pennsylvania State Assembly, Rep. Lawrence’s Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act (H.B. 2397) was passed unanimously out of the House Ag Committee on March 30th and is expected to be voted on by the full House after April 11 when they return to session.
Meanwhile, the State Senate Ag Committee unanimously passed S.B. 1181 on April 5th. This bill was put forward rapidly by Sen. Michele Brooks, representing Northwest Pennsylvania counties, and it precisely mirrors Lawrence’s House Bill. It could be voted on by the full Senate as early as this week.
(Author’s Note: Stay tuned on these whole milk bills and join me in prayers of gratefulness for the efforts of leaders like Rep. John Lawrence and for his healing and continued strength for the important work ahead.)