For a few days in August thousands of farmers from across the state turn off their tractors and head over to the Penn State ag research center near State College to learn about the latest agriculture innovations - the newest "liquid containment systems" (otherwise known as manure pits), the latest in cow cooling technology and GPS systems for planting.
On at least one of those days farmers are trailed by political candidates who flock to Ag Progress Days in search of votes.On Wednesday Gov. Corbett and his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf both had their chance to make farm friendly pitches to rural voters at the annual government and industry day luncheon.
It was like getting glimpse of what Iowa will look like about this same time next year in the presidential race..
Corbett, in shirtsleeves, talked about the need to protect Pennsylvania's "single largest industry" responsible for one in seven jobs and $6.8 billion in revenue. "But it's more than that," Corbett told the crowd of about 500. "It's a way of life."
Bills he signed during his first term, he said, included ending the inheritance tax and helping farm equipment move more easily on roads and then proceeded to make his case for pension reform, linking increased public pension costs to rising property taxes.
The York County-born Democrat who hopes to take Corbett's job next year launched with a wobbly joke about working the tables beforehand. "I was looking for weapons." Wolf said, before going on to tout his farm cred from his stint in the Peace Corps.
He said he had plowed a field with oxen and a wood-bottom plow while working as an ag extension agent in India. He said he thought he was probably the only one in the room who had used that primitive form of plowing. (Turned out a few other hands went up when he asked.)
Wolf stressed the need for private sector development to boost agriculture, quality education and infrastructure improvement, linking the food producers with food consumers in Philadelphia and other urban areas. He used the example of the oft-criticized RCAP grants helping bring fresh produce to food deserts in inner cities.
"We have to draw the connection between the grant for the farm market in Philadelphia and farmers," he said.
Even as the TV ads grew more negative, the farming crowd gave both cadidates a warm welcome.
But only here would the real star of the show be a plant pathologist.
Barbara Christ, the outgoing interim dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, got a rousing shout out from incoming PSU President Eric Barron and a standing ovation from the crowd - including the gubernatorial candidates - at the program's finale.
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