Pennsylvania officials have relaunched the Agriculture Linked Investment Program to offer the state’s farmers low-interest loans to implement best management practices.

The program, commonly known as Agri-Link, is open to farmers in all of the state’s 67 counties for loans up to $250,000 with maximum terms of 12 years.

“Giving our farmers access to these affordable loans once again will help sustain agriculture operations in every corner of the commonwealth,” Pennsylvania State Treasurer Stacy Garrity said. “Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of our state’s economy, and this support will allow farmers to implement new and innovative best practices.”

The Pennsylvania agriculture industry directly employs more than 300,000 residents, the Wolf administration said, while nearly 300,000 other jobs depend on the industry, which has a total economic impact of $132.5 billion statewide.

“Recognizing the important role that Pennsylvania’s farming community – as the commonwealth’s top industry – plays in our state and local economies, we came together in a bipartisan manner to pass the Pennsylvania Farm Bill (Act 39 of 2019),” said state Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver, chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. “The Agri-Link Program provides targeted financial support for efforts to improve or expand best management practices on farms across the state. These low-interest loans provide a short-term boost to these farms that hopefully will result in long-term benefits for agriculture in Pennsylvania and our state’s economic future.”

A previous version of the Agri-Link program was discontinued more than a decade ago, but the program was reactivated by Act 39 of 2019. The act allows the Department of Agriculture’s State Conservation Commission (SCC) to subsidize qualifying loans with an annual appropriation from the General Assembly, which totaled $500,000 for this year.

“Treasury will pay the lending institution the full value of the qualifying Agri-Link loan. The borrower’s interest rate is reduced by a subsidy provided by the SCC,” according to a Treasury news release. “Borrowers pay back principal and interest to their lenders, and Treasury is paid principal and interest every six months over the life of the loan by the depository institution.”

“Our farmers work hard to feed our nation, and they do so while navigating many complex regulations and mandates,” said state Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon, author of the legislation to relaunch Agri-Link. "I am happy to see Agri-Link relaunched to help provide financial assistance to those farmers who want to follow established best management practices but lack the funds for implementation.”

Farmers interested in the program can apply through local lenders or a Farm Credit Service institution. County conservation districts and the SCC review applications to determine eligibility. Qualifying projects must include best management practices in an approved nutrient management, manure management agricultural erosion and sedimentation, or other SCC-approved federal or state conservation plan. Best management practices include things like crop rotation, barnyard and feedlot runoff abatement, and soil or manure testing.

“Programs that help farmers finance conservation improvements enable us to do even more to protect the land, local waterways and other natural resources,” Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert said. “Farmers are leaders in environmental stewardship and want to build upon our efforts. But few farms have the resources available to pay for these initiatives on their own.

“Public investments in farm conservation play a crucial role in helping farmers make improvements that benefit both our farms and our communities,” he said.