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Agriculture programs among those facing cuts in state budget proposal
The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) would see its funding drop by just under 9 percent in a two-year state budget proposed by Gov. John Kasich.
“We are going to have some changes. We’re going to make sure that state resources are being allocated in a very responsible way here at ODA,” said Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Jim Zehringer, noting that Ohio needs to fill a projected budget hole of more than $8 billion, or about 17 percent of total state spending.
Acknowledging that cuts could have been much worse for his agency, Zehringer said “we’re obviously pleased, but we know all of us have to do our part."
Zehringer said ODA is going to stay focused on its core mission of food safety and plant and animal health.ODA plans to eliminate its international program that sought to find new markets for Ohio agricultural products. The agency now will work with the Ohio Department of Development to carry out similar efforts.
ODA is also proposing new fees for operators of large scales and large meters, such as those used to weigh trucks or measure fuel. It is considering a fee of $75 per device that would go into the department’s weights and measures program, which ODA officials described as understaffed and woefully underfunded.
“We will be looking to bring our weights and measures program back to where it needs to be so we can run a statutory program there with integrity,” said ODA Deputy Director Fred Shimp.
ODA also said it will maintain the Ohio Proud program, which promotes products that were grown or processed in Ohio, but said budget constraints will limit the program’s marketing efforts. ODA did not anticipate that the cuts would have a major impact on the Ohio Livestock Environmental Permitting Program or the work of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. While the budget proposes a 63 percent spending cut on farmland preservation, that program will receive money from the Clean Ohio Fund, which would keep its funding in line with previous years.
Zehringer said the department also plans to reduce its staff, but didn’t yet know the number of employees that could be affected.
Also under Kasich’s proposal, Ohio State Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) would see a 10 percent budget cut in fiscal year 2012, but no cuts the following year. That means Extension funding would fall from just under $22.5 million to about $20.2 million. OARDC funding would drop from $34 million to $30.6 million.