Governor's budget calls for more ag research funding
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Gov. Butch Otter's proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 includes an additional $1 million for agricultural research and extension services and a small increase in general fund dollars for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
The budget outline was released Jan. 7 at the same time the governor delivered his state of the state address, which included a pledge to continue to fight Endangered Species Act edicts that harm Idahoans.
The governor also set aside $400,000 in seed money to create more volunteer fire protection associations patterned after one formed by Mountain Home area ranchers last year.
The governor's request for $1 million more in ag research and extension funding for the University of Idaho came as welcome news to many farm groups. The university's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has sustained a $5.7 million cut to its research and extension budget since 2009.
"I see that as a big win for industry because the wheat research we're doing has been dwindled down to almost nothing the last couple of years," said Dar Olberding, a lobbyist for the Idaho Grain Producers Association.
The additional money will be used for basic operating expenses but the university is happy to see its research budget going in a positive rather than negative direction, said Rich Garber, director of government relations for CALS.
"We are really grateful for the governor's commitment to help restore some of our lost funding and to help bring our research infrastructure up to the condition it needs to be," he said.
Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said the governor, a rancher and former president of Simplot International, a potato and livestock operation, understands how important ag research is and was heavily involved in helping save three UI research stations slated for possible closure in 2009.
"Butch Otter is an agriculture guy (and) he's painfully aware of the importance of those kinds of research facilities," Hanian said.
In his state of the state address, which kicked off the 2013 Idaho Legislature, Otter said the state would continue to fight unwarranted ESA listings that could harm agriculture and other Idahoans.
The threat of federal edicts on sage grouse, slickspot peppergrass, woodland caribou and other species could have a profound impact "on how our farmers, ranchers and others can pursue their livelihoods," he said. "We are working proactively to avoid worst-case scenarios and to assert our rights as a state."
Otter's proposed budget includes a .83 percent increase in general fund support for ISDA, which would bring the department's general fund budget to $7.57 million. That extra money is all related to the cost of employee benefits, said ISDA Financial Officer Kelly Nielsen.