Chester County officials adopt first Ag Economic Development Strategic Plan – Daily Local News

WEST CHESTER — The Chester County Commissioners voted this week to adopt the county’s first agriculture economic development strategic plan, created to guide the future growth of Chester County’s important agricultural economy.
The vote, which took place at the commissioners’ public meeting, coincided with the presentation of a proclamation for National Agriculture Day, which celebrates the county’s commitment to farming.
Commenting on the adoption of this ag strategic plan, commissioners’ Chairwoman Marian Moskowitz said, “Agriculture is such a significant part of our county’s heritage, culture and landscape, and in the face of increasing competition for use of land, we are working hard to ensure Chester County farming remains vibrant and strong.
“This strategic plan addresses the many challenges currently impacting the ag industry and provides a road map for all opportunities to spur growth and innovation.”
At more than $712 million in annual sales, Chester County’s agricultural industry ranks second among all 67 counties in Pennsylvania.  Mushroom, field crops and dairy production remain the county’s top sectors, with additional operations that include nursery and greenhouse, equine, vegetable, fruits and tree nuts, Christmas trees, livestock, and egg and poultry.
Commissioner Josh Maxwell noted, “Farmers across all industry sectors have been facing challenges for some time, including difficult regulatory practices, shortage of a ready workforce, the high cost of doing business, and even a lack of understanding from the public.
“This strategic plan is the result of months of research around the needs of our farmers, local industry sectors and residents, and one action item is to consider creating an independent entity that will provide greater industry support than any single organization has been able to do on its own.”
The Chester County Ag Economic Development Strategic Plan was developed through collaboration between major agricultural, business and tourism organizations, spearheaded by the Chester County Ag Council. Supporting partners include the Chester County Economic Development Council, Western Chester County Chamber of Commerce, Penn State Extension, American Mushroom Institute, University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, and the Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau.
The Plan focuses on six strategic areas:  Agricultural Markets; Business & Financing; Education & Outreach; Labor & Workforce; Land Access; and Zoning & Land Use. The recommendations within each strategic area encompass a holistic and integrated approach that reflects what matters to farmers and agribusinesses.
“Together Chester County agriculture is stronger than anyone individual farm business or farmer,” said Chester County Ag Council Chairman Gary Westlake. “Our unique Piedmont plateau climate, world-class non-irrigated soils and community of farm entrepreneurs puts us in a unique position to feed and beautify our county, the Mid Atlantic region and areas well beyond those borders.
“Chester County agriculture is a polished gem and a production powerhouse,” added Westlake.
ACDS, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in economic development based in Maryland, guided the planning process through interviews, market research, surveys, and insights from county officials.  The initiative was funded through a combination of county and partner support.
Commissioner Michelle Kichline noted, “Although the plan’s strategies are largely a road map for ag industry partners and farm businesses to continue to succeed and grow, we all benefit from a stronger, more resilient agriculture industry.”
“When farm businesses thrive, there is less competition for other more intensive land development. Successful farms also bring increased employment, a vibrant local food community, venues for family fun, environmental benefits, and the overall sense of place enjoyed by so many in the county.”
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