Jim Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, reported that his department would take an 8.8% hit in the state budget released today March 15 by Gov. John Kasich. Zehringer emphasized that the department would be continue to make the consumers of Ohio their No. 1 priority.
"I can't stress enough that the Ohio Department of Agriculture is about food, animal and plant safety," Zehringer told the farm press during a conference call. "We do not want any company that supplies food to have a recall or for anyone to get sick from unsafe food. With this budget I fell confident we can do this."
The ODA general revenue budget for fiscal 2011 was $15,405,814. The governor proposes a budget of $14,054, 229 in general revenue funding for FY 2012, which begins July1, 2012. Including money from federal funding and rotary funds, the department will have a total budget of $47,973,228.
Zehringer said the department would likely be laying off some personnel, but would wait until later to determine how to do so. ODA employs 379 full time workers currently. He also said ODA was eliminating its International Marketing Program. The program was created 11 years ago to expand markets for Ohio food products. It's cost over last biennium was $968,000. In the future the department will plan to work with the state Department of Development on traveling the world to find those markets, Zehringer said.
In addition the department will reduce exposure of the Ohio Proud program which brands the state's food products. The program will continue to certify state products, but not market itself with a traveling kitchen and other events like it did last year.
Funding for the department's Division of Weights and Measures will actually get a boost from General Revenue Funds as well as an increase in user fees. The department sets the standard for scales and measurements through out the state. Funding cuts from the previous budget had slowed the certification process for weights and measures. As a result the waiting time to get scales and other measurement tools standardized increased from the normal few weeks to up to nine months. This was a concern for large companies who needed their measures certified as well as state troopers who weigh trucks along the highway. The change will add fees for livestock and grain scales as well as others.
The state's Farmland Preservation Program will face a cut, but that cut will be made up by an increase from the Clean Ohio Funds, according to Zehringer. As a result the program will actually have about $40,000 more than it did last year, he said.
"The Governor has made it very clear we are going to be assuring the consumers of Ohio we are going to continue to have a safe food supply and consumer safety will stay our no 1 priority," Zehringer said. "We will make sure state resources allocated in a responsible way and focus on our core mission."