Ag Progress Days sessions to cover workforce and economic development, avian flu

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Government officials, industry representatives and university experts will gather in two public forums Aug. 19 at Penn State's Ag Progress Days to exchange ideas and discuss solutions for two critical issues facing Pennsylvania agriculture: workforce and economic development, and highly pathogenic avian influenza. Both sessions are open to the public.

--At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 19, in the Ag Progress Days Special Events Building, Rick Roush, dean of Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, will lead a panel discussion on agricultural workforce needs and economic development opportunities. Joining Roush on the panel will be Dennis Davin, Kathy Manderino and Russell Redding, Pennsylvania secretaries of community and economic development, labor and industry, and agriculture, respectively.

With more than 58,000 family farms and more than $7.5 billion in annual cash receipts, agriculture is among Pennsylvania's leading economic enterprises. But changing demographics and technology are expected to lead to shortages of skills and labor, which in turn can become an economic development issue for local areas. In many cases, as productivity falls, companies may move production to other areas of the country that can supply a pipeline of skilled workers.

To remain competitive in the global marketplace, officials say, the agriculture and food industries in Pennsylvania must resolve the problem of an aging workforce. Titled "The Future of the Agriculture Industry: Economic Development, Education, and Training," the panel discussion will address efforts currently underway to ensure that agriculture continues to have the human and financial resources it needs to grow and thrive.

--At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 19, in the College Exhibits Building theatre, the Pennsylvania House and Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees will hold a joint session to learn more about efforts to prepare for a potential outbreak of avian influenza in the state. Tentative speakers will include College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Rick Roush, Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding and other experts from academia and industry.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of Aug. 12, more than 48 million birds nationwide — mostly on commercial egg and turkey farms in the Midwest — have been lost during the current outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N2 avian flu. Although the outbreak has not yet reached Pennsylvania, officials believe the probability is high that the disease will be brought into the state by migratory birds flying south for the winter.

A statewide task force, which is led by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and includes Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences researchers and extension specialists, is making preparations aimed at preventing, diagnosing and responding to any potential outbreak. At stake are the state's $1.4 billion poultry industry and the eggs and meat it provides to consumers, who already have seen higher retail poultry prices due to bird-flu-related shortages of eggs and turkeys.

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Last Updated August 18, 2015