Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today said that the 2012 Iowa legislative session was a success for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and thanked the bipartisan support for restoring some funding to the Department after significant cuts in recent years.
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, $1.55 million for agriculture drainage well closure and $1 million for the Water Improvement Review Board (WIRB). Governor Branstad signed the appropriations bills last Friday evening.
“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 said. “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 understand 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 percent reduction. As a result, the Department lost a total of 70 employees over that time period and is at the lowest staffing levels in 25 years.
The $17.5 million general fund appropriation for the Department for fiscal 2013 will be used to backfill some of the losses in the Department’s Weights and Measures and Animal Industry Bureaus. Funds would 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 percent reduction.
The $550,000 increase for soil conservation administration will help the Department begin to address the twenty-one field offices are currently without a state secretary and fourteen technicians that have been lost in the last two years.
The additional funds for cost share, ag drainage well closure and WIRB will support program that provide assistance to farmers and landowners to install conservation practices and do other work to prevent soil erosion and improve water quality.
This session the legislature also passed and the Governor signed SF 2311, which was a technical bill that will modernize and update language in Iowa code to allow the 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.