Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to drop in on the 90th annual statewide conference of the Tennessee Farm Bureau today in Cool Springs.
The governor’s thinking on the state Department of Agriculture‘s budget and policy priorities will likely be on the minds of many in attendance.
Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson and others in his department outlined the agency’s proposed $87.5 million spending proposal for the coming fiscal year during a hearing before the governor on Nov. 22.
In keeping with Haslam’s call for agencies to offer up at least 5 percent in proposed cuts to their spending, Johnson said the Department of Agriculture is prepared to offset about $1.9 million in spending through “reduced operating expenses” and “delayed equipment purchases.” Of the total department budget, about $38.2 million is discretionary, Johnson said.
Johnson also said the department plans to bump up revenues for the agency by approving more intensive timber-harvesting on state-owned forests. “Our plan is in keeping with the sound environmental standards for maintaining the health of our state-owned forests,” Johnson said.
Of that total state ag department’s proposed budget, about $11.11 million is federal money, a reduction of $7.3 million from the current year, said Johnson.
The Haslam administration has in the past been supportive of the state’s farm subsidy program, funded this year to the tune of $21 million. The governor has said he understands “how important it is.”
According to the department, “The Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program is a cost share initiative administered by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to help farmers make long-term, strategic investments to increase profitability.”
Under the program, farmers can qualify for the state to pay them for up to 50 percent of the costs of certain crop and livestock production.
“For every dollar the state invests, studies show a return of nearly four dollars in additional economic activity in the community,” Johnson said.
“The idea behind the ag enhancement program was to reinvest some of the tobacco revenues the state receives back into our rural communities, which have suffered from a major decline in tobacco production over the past decade,” Johnson said. “Back in 1999, when the state started receiving its share of the Master Settlement Agreement, farm income from tobacco was nearly $240 million. Last year farm receipts from tobacco were $97 million — a tremendous loss of economic activity in our rural communities that has been compounded over a 12-year period.”