Budget includes much of Gregoire's original plan —

Budget includes much of Gregoire's original plan

By Cookson Beecher; April 27, 2007 © Capital Press

Washington state lawmakers passed a $33.4 billion, two-year operating budget that includes some good news for agriculture.

Ag department

For the state's Agriculture Department, the final operating budget for 2007-09 includes elements of the House and Senate budgets, as well as most of the items recommended by Gov. Chris Gregoire in her original spending plan.

The total amount in the operating budget slated for the department comes to $121 million and includes additional funding for these five ongoing activities:

• Animal health enforcement and response - $1.12 million and 4.2 full-time-equivalent employees for enhanced surveillance and investigation activity to improve compliance with the state's animal health law as well as for continued development of a Reserve Veterinary Corps to enhance the department's ability to respond in the event of an animal health incident.

• Biofuels quality assurance - $1.5 million to monitor biofuels quality throughout the distribution system through field inspection and testing and laboratory testing ($1 million in the transportation budget and $500,000 in the operating budget).

• Noxious Weed Control - $500,000 for distribution to counties with weed boards to control invasive weeds, $300,000 of which is designated for controlling Japanese knotweed.

• Puget Sound Partnership - $150,000 and 0.5 full-time-equivalent employee to implement the Puget Sound Partnership by working with the partnership to support, gauge and foster collaboration among agricultural communities in developing and implementing the Partnership's Action Agenda to clean up and restore the environmental health of Puget Sound by the year 2020.

• Administrative and operational capacity - $950,000 and seven full-time-equivalent employees to address the department's administrative and operational needs. This is $400,000 less than the amount recommended by the governor.

The operating budget also includes these industry-request special projects and other provisions recommended by the governor.

• Future of Farming Evaluation - $450,000 to develop a long-term strategy to keep Washington's farms profitable and productive and its food and agriculture industry competitive.

• Pesticide Notification Project - $150,000 to investigate whether a voluntary notification program would be significant in reducing the risks of pesticide exposure.

• Requested adjustments in appropriation levels for the Livestock Nutrient Management program and for the department's self-insurance premium.

• Continued authority to increase fees adopted in rule in excess of the fiscal growth factor.

The operating budget also includes funding for the department for these one-time projects, grant programs and special projects requested by the agricultural industry:

• Pesticide technical assistance - $550,000 for the Tree Fruit Research Commission to develop and implement a pest management transition program to reduce the use by the tree fruit industry of certain organophosphate insecticides.

• Agricultural worker training - $500,000 for Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), a nonprofit organization based in Yakima, to provide necessary skills training to agricultural workers.

• Sugar beet as biofuel - $125,000 for a study to evaluate the use of sugar beets for producing biofuels.

• National Association of State Departments of Agriculture Conference - $25,000 for department costs associated with hosting the organization's conference in Seattle Sept. 21-26, 2007.

The budget passed by the Legislature does not include the governor's recommended funding to expand the "From the Heart of Washington" campaign or one-time moneys to convert archived Animal Health and Livestock Identification records from paper to an electronic format.

The capital budget passed by the Legislature adjusts funding of the Energy Freedom Loan program and includes funding for these projects that the state's Agriculture Department will administer:

• Asparagus mechanization - $840,000 to expand the asparagus automation and mechanization program.

• Hops Initiative - $1 million to continue the hops mechanization and research initiative.

• Fairground improvement grants - $1.4 million, including $1 million for renovations and repairs to the historic pavilion at the Walla Walla fairgrounds.

• Energy Freedom - Overall funding for the loan program is reduced from $17 million to $14.5 million, and the amount of funding from some targeted projects is adjusted. The budget also contains language that transfers responsibility for the Energy Freedom Loan program from the state's Agriculture Department to the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development, provided that the governor signs the necessary legislation.

In other budget news, the capital budget for 2007-09 included the first legislative funding for a farmland preservation program. As part of this appropriation, the Inter-Agency Committee, the state committee that evaluates and prioritizes Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program projects, will have an additional $4.3 million to grant farmers next year.

The 2007 grants will go to 10 farms across the state.

Ag research

The compromise budget provides more funding for Washington State University's Unified Agriculture Initiative than was proposed in the Senate and governor's budgets.

Of the $10.8 million requested by WSU for the initiative, the legislators came up with $5.3 million.

The allocation includes partial funding for two competitive grant pools, one of them in organic or "biologically intensive" agriculture.

It also provides for money to hire new researchers in areas ranging from winemaking to livestock management.

Although the compromise is better news for agriculture than the governor's and Senate's original proposals, it does not provide for core support at research stations that had been provided by the governor and requested as part of the package.

Jim Hazen, executive director of the Washington State Horticultural Association, said that's disappointing because the research and extension stations at Prosser and Wenatchee - both of which are important to the tree fruit industry - need additional funding to bring them into the 21st century.

On the west side, the compromise budget does include $734,000 for maintenance and operation at the renovated WSU research station near Mount Vernon.

Neither the House or the Senate budgets had provided funding for that center.

In other research news, lawmakers also provided $4 million for the comprehensive research program to generate fuels made from plants grown and processed in the state.

Part of that request will provide five state researchers to complete a 10-person team at WSU Tri-Cities.

In addition, $800,000 will go to WSU to evaluate options for market incentives to encourage biofuels production.

This is part of a "Cleaner Energy" bill supported by an environmental coalition in the Legislature as SHB1303, which passed the Legislature April 19 and was sent to the governor's desk.

Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. Her e-mail address is cooksonb@sos.net.

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