Last week, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) announced their Legislative Budget Request (LBR) for Fiscal Year 2021-2022.
The FDACS Legislative Budget Request focuses on key Department priorities while taking the looming $5.5 billion revenue shortfall projection caused by the COVID-19 pandemic into account.
“Our budget priorities of supporting Florida farmers, protecting consumers, improving water quality and energy efficiency, strengthening the hemp program, and more, are solutions-oriented and crucial not only to our Department’s success, but to our state’s,” said Fried. “Our proposal reflects our continued commitment to a common-sense, fiscally responsible budget that meets the needs of our state’s agriculture community, consumers, and families. As we face a combined $5.5 billion projected revenue shortfall due to COVID-19, we all must strive to serve as good stewards of taxpayer resources — our 4,300 employees do this daily as we continue to implement our vision to keep Florida growing.”
The FDACS LBR totals about $140 million and consists of approximately $70 million in General Revenue funds and $70 million in State Trust Funds, including $10 million in Federal Grants funding. Stressing the need for fiscal prudence to combat the projected shortfall caused by COVID-19, the request represents a significant overall reduction — a 46 percent decrease in comparison to last year’s request of $259 million.
Some highlights of the FDACS LBR include:
Florida Forest Service: Equipment Issues:
$6.6 million in Trust Fund authority and $5.6 million in General Revenue authority for firefighting equipment including one replacement helicopter and one fixed-wing aircraft used in wildfire response. Replacing Vietnam-era surplus helicopters and similarly conditioned fixed wing aircraft is critical to the protection of life, land, and property. This funding would also help ensure that our firefighters have the equipment needed to complete their jobs safely and efficiently.
Florida Forest Service: Land Management and Conservation Issues:
$15 million in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. This program is administered by the Florida Forest Service and focuses on maintaining and conserving the agricultural land base in Florida through the acquisition of permanent agricultural land conservation easements. These conservation partnerships with private landowners preserve agricultural lands by precluding development while protecting natural resources and wildlife habitats.
$7 million in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for maintenance and repair of state forest facilities, roads, and bridges.
$1.5 million in the Federal Grants Trust Fund to perform timber assessments under the USDA Block Grant for Hurricane Michael. This federal award provides much-needed assistance to eligible producers that suffered financial losses resulting from Hurricane Michael.
Agricultural Water Policy:
$10 million in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to address agricultural nutrient reduction and water retention projects outside of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed, including critical spring sheds statewide.
$5 million in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to address agricultural nutrient reduction and water retention projects at the basin, sub-basin and farm levels in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed, including cost share programs for precision agriculture such as technology-based fertilizer applications, applicable cover crop rotations, and land management tools.
$1.5 million in General Revenue funding to continue the Agricultural Water Supply Planning and Conservation Program. This program provides agricultural water use data to the water management districts for inclusion in regional water supply plans. This program also funds mobile irrigation labs statewide.
$5 million in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to provide funding for cost-share projects focused on priority activities in areas covered by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Basin Management Action Plans.
Agricultural Products Marketing:
$5 million in General Revenue funding for the Florida Agricultural Promotional Campaign (FAPC). Florida’s agriculture industry has been a pillar of the state economy, but faces serious challenges from heightened tariffs, trade wars, and trade disadvantages, such as Mexico’s dumping of illegally subsidized agricultural products even under the newly-signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), and now from the impacts of COVID-19.
Without the Fresh From Florida program, producers would face a significant disadvantage in competitively promoting their products. Given the $22 return on investment for every $1 invested, this highly-efficient, common-sense funding is a sound investment that must continue without interruption through the coming years to maintain consumer awareness and loyalty to Florida-grown products. (The FAPC program’s budget for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 totals $5 million. An estimated $850,000 was vetoed in FY 2020-2021.)
State Hemp Program:
$3.4 million in General Revenue for the Division of Food Safety, per passage of HB 921, to inspect establishments selling and manufacturing vaping materials, as well as conduct laboratory testing of products consisting of or containing vaping materials, for compliance and ensuring no unsafe contaminants or additives are present. $1.2 million of this request is to purchase critical laboratory instrumentation to conduct analyses of hemp and vaping products.
$400,000 in General Inspection Trust Fund for the Division of Agriculture Environmental Service to purchase critical laboratory instrumentation to support confirmatory testing of pre-harvest industrial hemp samples and for testing cannabinoids and screening for other contaminants in animal feed matrices containing hemp.
$800,000 in the Agricultural Emergency Eradication Trust Fund for fixed capital outlay appropriation for critical renovations needed to reorganize sample preparation for industrial hemp and heavy metals analysis.
FDACS Office of Energy:
$1.25 million in the Federal Grants Trust Fund to provide authority needed to secure U.S. Department of Energy and other federally-funded energy initiatives. The Office of Energy has developed, and is working to further develop, new programs to address energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative fuels, and alternative vehicle technologies. The office is exploring innovative awards, including a grant related to solar technologies in agriculture, which could have significant impacts within the industry, energy and the environment.
$8 million for citrus greening research, funded by General Revenue funds ($4 million) and the Agricultural Emergency Eradication Trust Fund ($4 million). Funding will be passed through to the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, which operates as a Direct Support Organization of the University of Florida.
$43.9 million in General Revenue to make payment for the Orange County judgment and compensate plaintiffs whose citrus trees were removed under a citrus canker eradication program.
$6.3 million in Federal Grants Trust Fund and $2.3 million in the Agricultural Emergency Eradication Trust Fund for Citrus Health Response and Giant African Land Snails pest management and eradication programs.