Dennis C. Wolff

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture

Biographical Sketch
Dennis C. Wolff is a dairy farmer from Millville, Columbia County, Pennsylvania. He owns Pen-Col Farms, which is a 600-acre, 400-head operation. He was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and confirmed in May, 2003. Wolff serves as a member of the Agriculture Technical Committee of the World Trade Organization, a member of the Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees and a member of the Pennsylvania Dairy Stakeholders. He is president of the Nicholas Wolff Foundation and Camp Victory, a non-profit summer camp for handicapped and chronically ill children.

Presentation Summary
Pennsylvania agriculture continues to change and adapt — a hallmark of our industry. Our history teaches us that we need to be cognizant of the realities that farmers face today. While many people hold a romanticized view of farms based on what they want farms to be or remember them as, they are first and foremost a business. Many of the families engaged in those businesses are leveraging their human and capital investments to utilize the latest technology and, increasingly, to meet the supply and preference needs of the food retailing industry.

The tension over the definition of farms is at the heart of the debates about agriculture, with labels like family farm, large farm, small farm, sustainable farm and corporate farm commonplace. But these are labels and agriculture has always defied them. A true picture of Pennsylvania agriculture can be drawn using these figures from the 2002 Census of Agriculture:

  • The state had 58,209 farms.
  • There were about 7,738,000 acres being farmed in the state.
  • More than 79 percent of farms had less than 179 acres.
  • More than 83 percent sold $100,000 or less in products.
  • More than 91 percent were owned by individuals or families.
  • Some 6 percent were family partnerships.
  • Only 2 percent were owned by family corporations.
  • Less than 1 percent was owned by non-family corporations.
  • To be sure, this picture has changed some since the last census, but the overall picture is one of a state agricultural industry with diversity, complexity, size and adaptability. Many farmers have altered their operations to ensure the farms are around in the future. Family members working off the farm is now a key to sustainability for many farms. Others have formed alliances to ensure access to markets and still others are going direct to consumers.

Farms of all sizes are incorporating environmentally sound practices and high-density animal operations are developing nutrient management plans to protect water quality. To date, more than 2,000 farms have developed such plans and another 460 have voluntarily taken our livestock environmental literacy course. Partnerships with town supervisors, county commissioners and the conservation community have enabled the agriculture industry in Pennsylvania to meet environmental goals.

Farms contribute to both the economy and quality of life in Pennsylvania. Agriculture generates about $4.3 billion for the state economy. As commercial development and urban sprawl becomemore critical concerns, farms play a key role in maintaining open space. In 2004, Governor Ed Rendell marked the addition of the 2,500 th farm to Pennsylvania’s Farmland Preservation Program.

In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.