During their annual picnic Sunday at Larnard-Hornbrook County Park in Sheshequin Township, members of the Bradford-Sullivan Farm Bureau received updates on agriculture-related topics from state Rep. Tina Pickett and Bradford County commissioner Daryl Miller.

Agricultural causes received attention again this year in the recently passed state budget, Pickett told farm bureau members Sunday. Animal and food quality research at Penn State University and county fairs were among the items supported by the spending plan, she said.

The fairs, Pickett said, "have been going backward in state funding" in recent years, but funds diverted from the state Horse Breeders' Association were used to help replenish the county fair line item, she said.

"The fairs are very important to all of us," she said, particularly for youth. "The children learn so much there, too."

Road and bridge conditions, particularly in the rural areas where bureau members live and work, continue to be a concern, Pickett said Sunday.

With natural gas companies making repairs to many rural roads, Bradford County is more fortunate than other areas in the state, she said. However, with a recent transportation bill not making it through the state House of Representatives in the most recent session, roads and bridges have yet to receive a boost in funding.

Pickett said legislators, instead of taking a "blanket" approach to the problem, plan to push for a need-based prioritization of bridge projects. The repairs are needed in rural areas because travelers have less alternative routes if a bridge fails, she said.

"You can ride on bad roads, but not on bad bridges," Pickett remarked.

In a brief address, Miller updated attendees on recent leadership changes at the Bradford County Conservation District. Cathy Yeakel was recently hired to take over for district manager Mike Lovegreen, who is retiring after 33 years with the district.

Yeakel, who started last week, "is a very good fit" for the position, Miller said.

Both Miller and Pickett spoke Sunday about the natural gas industry, which in the area has moved into what Pickett referred to as a "landowners' phase." As leaseholders are beginning to receive royalty checks, Pickett said she's begun to focus on helping them to understand their royalties - and the post-production deductions natural gas companies take from some checks.

The House passed a bill at the end of the most recent session that would standardize the checks and require gas companies to list all deductions, Pickett said. The bill, which next goes to the state Senate, would increase transparency for mineral rights owners, she said.

Bradford County officials recently offered testimony on that very issue to members of the state Senate's Environmental Resources and Energy committee. According to Miller, the county lost $10 million to post-production costs in the second half of 2012.

"You've got to get vocal about it," Miller told attendees. "We've got to get some attention."

Pickett also stressed the importance of the formation of a landowners' rights group in addition to legislative efforts, whether it be organized by the state Farm Bureau or another group. The current phase is a "generations-long" process, she said.

"Landowners need a powerful voice that's going to speak for them," Pickett said.

Sullivan County Dairy Princess Seriana Nitcznski and Bradford County Dairy Princess Lu-Anne Antisdel also spoke at Sunday's picnic.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.