Iowa Legislature Restores Some Ag Funding

Iowa Legislature Restores Some Ag Funding

Dollars are still tight, but there is some good news for farmers in the agriculture budget approved for next year by state lawmakers.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says the recently completed 2012 Iowa legislative session was a success for the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship. He thanked the bipartisan support that was given for restoring some funding to the state ag department after significant cuts in the department's budget in recent years.

Iowa Legislature Restores Some Ag Funding

Why is the Legislature suddenly being a little more generous toward ag than it has been the past few years? Northey says he thinks the 2012 Legislature recognized that agriculture has contributed to a great degree to the recent strength of the Iowa economy. He says the department's budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012, which was approved by the Legislature, restores some funding that was cut the previous fiscal year. This will allow more cost-sharing funds for some types of soil and water conservation work to go to farmers. The increase is the budget also may allow the department to hire a few more people to replace those who have left or retired and not been replaced in recent years.

Five years ago, the department had 390 employees. Ten years ago it was significantly higher than that. Now it has 320 employees. Northey is hopeful he can keep the number at the 320 level for the next year and perhaps even hire a few people.

Lawmakers added more dollars for cost-sharing for conservation programs

The department received a $584,000 increase in the general fund appropriation and a $550,000 increase to administer soil conservation programs through the Environment First fund. The department also received an additional $350,000 for conservation cost share, which is matched by landowners to build conservation practices. And it received $1.55 million for agriculture drainage well closure and $1 million for the Water Improvement Review Board, or WIRB. Gov. Branstad signed the appropriations bills on May 25.

"The department has dealt with significant cuts in the last few years and I greatly appreciate the support of the Legislature and the governor to restore some funding to the department," Northey says.  "We still have work to do to stretch each of these dollars as we work to deal with increased costs and other challenges, but I know it was an extremely tight budget year and I understand and appreciate the hard work by legislators to provide these funds."

The department's general fund appropriation has been cut from $21.2 million in fiscal year 2009 to $16.5 million in the current fiscal year, or a 22% reduction.  As a result, the department lost a total of 70 employees over that time period and is currently at the lowest staffing levels in 25 years.


New funds will help address some serious shortfalls in ag program delivery

The $17.5 million general fund appropriation for the state ag department for fiscal 2013 will be used to backfill some of the losses in the department's Weights and Measures Bureau and its Animal Industry Bureau. Funds will also be used to meet mandatory salary and health insurance costs facing the department.

The department's Environment First funding has been cut from $15.8 million in fiscal year 2009 to $12.4 million in fiscal year 2012, which is a 21.5% reduction.

The $550,000 increase for soil conservation administration will help the department begin to address the 21 field offices that are currently without a state secretary and the 14 state soil conservation technicians that have been lost in the last two years.

There are many landowners on waiting list for conservation cost-share funds

The additional funds for cost share, ag drainage well closure and WIRB will support programs that provide assistance to farmers and landowners to install soil and water conservation practices and do other work to prevent soil erosion and improve water quality in Iowa. "We've probably got $10 million of soil and water conservation projects waiting for funding in Iowa. There are a lot of farmers and landowners in Iowa who are on the waiting list for cost-share funding," says Northey. "It will be no problem using that money to help landowners."

This recently completed session of the Legislature also passed and Gov. Terry Branstad signed SF 2311, which was a technical bill that will modernize and update language in Iowa code to allow the ag department to become more efficient and eliminate unneeded requirements and outdated practices. The bill also included an additional objective of the department to encourage, promote and advance biofuels.

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