State budget cuts will adversely affect agriculture

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, October 16, 2008

RICHMOND—The full effect of recent state budget cuts on agriculture is not yet known, but it’s certain Virginia’s $79 billion agriculture and forestry industries will be affected.

“We are still evaluating the full implications of the cuts on the agriculture and forestry industry,” said Wayne F. Pryor, president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

“I recently met with the governor, and our message was that core services in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Forestry, Virginia Cooperative Extension, agriculture research centers and Ag BMP cost-share programs under the Department of Conservation and Recreation need to be maintained to continue to support the ag and forestry industries.”

Despite Farm Bureau’s pleas to maintain current programs, Extension, VDACS and the DOF took a combined $7.9 million hit in Gov. Tim Kaine’s budget proposal and face a total of six layoffs.

Many of the cuts are consolidations or already-vacant positions that will not be filled. For example, the DOF will save $50,000 in its budget by sharing a hydrologist with Virginia Tech.

Additionally, DOF regional offices will be reduced from six to three to save more than $200,000. According to the governor’s plan, those actions “will not have an impact on services provided by the agency.”

Farm Bureau maintains that without proper funding and staffing the affected state agencies will not be able to perform intended functions.

“For example, if a disease outbreak occurs in Virginia, we need to make sure we have trained personnel in the state veterinarian’s office within VDACS to be able to handle such an event, such as the outbreak of avian influenza,” explained Martha Moore, VFBF’s director of governmental relations.

The three Extension layoffs at Virginia Tech could have a damaging outcome, she said.

“Extension programs touch every aspect of our lives, from production agriculture and forestry, community viability and conservation, to family health and finances, and food safety and youth development,” Moore said. “These programs certainly will not be able to continue to operate as they have in the past with such cuts.”

Under Kaine’s proposal, grants for specialty crop research under VDACS will be eliminated, which means farmers involved in niche markets will not receive cutting-edge information they might need. However, VDACS anticipates that federal funding from the 2008 Farm Bill might be able to replace the loss of state dollars for specialty crops.