Following several years of significant budget cuts that has left the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship funded at the same level it was in the 1990's, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey on December 20, 2011 laid out the ag department's fiscal year 2013 funding request in a public meeting with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.
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 58 employees since 2008 and is at the lowest staffing levels in 25 years.
In his recent request, Northey asked that $1.69 million of department's $3.09 million cut over the past four years be restored. If this entire request is funded the department's fiscal year 2013 general fund budget would be $18,189,893 which is still 14.5% below 2009 levels.
Northey unveils 2013 budget request in meeting with governor Branstad
Northey explained how the restored funds would be used to backfill some of the losses that have occurred in the department's Weights and Measures Bureau, Pesticide Bureau and Animal Industry Bureau. Funds would also be used to meet mandatory increased costs facing the department due to union agreements, IPERS and increased health costs.
"We believe now is the time for the governor and state legislature to consider starting to restore part of the funding to these key priorities," says Northey. "The state ag department has great employees that have worked very hard to get the work done and meet our code responsibilities, but continued attrition would be a concern. That's why we've come forward with this proposal and look forward to continuing to discuss it with the governor and legislators."
In the meeting Northey also laid out number of water quality priorities for the state ag department with proposed funding from the Environment First fund, which receives a standing appropriation from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund. The ag 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 department's total Environment First funding request for fiscal year 2013 is $19.2 million, an increase of $6.8 million.
Funds would also be used to beef up the state's soil and water programs
These funds would be used for the department's urban soil and water conservation program, ag drainage well closure, water shed protection fund, additional cost share to support farmers installing conservation practices and the Conservation Reserve Program. Northey also requested funding that would allow for the reinstatement of 9 state soil secretary positions and 6 state soil technician positions. Twenty-one field offices are currently without a state secretary and 14 technicians have been lost in the last two years.
"I understand state funding remains very tight and that's unlikely to change in the upcoming fiscal year, but the dramatic budget cuts experienced by our state ag department have had an impact and we think the time is right to make our case to restore some of those cuts," he says. "The work of the department is important to all Iowans and these funds would help make sure we are able to continue to serve the people of Iowa and meet our code mandated responsibilities."