Brown’s budget includes boosts for CDFA, ag education

From left, farm manager B.J. Macfarlane puts a castration band on a goat held by student Colton DeBerry as student Hunter Allen stands ready with an inoculation Jan. 9 at Shasta College in Redding, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget includes a $23.6 million boost for community colleges statewide.

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown’s $122.5 billion initial state spending plan for 2017-18 calls for a slight boost for its main agriculture agency to fund efforts to regulate marijuana, fight plant pests and manage antibiotics in livestock.

Brown would provide $284.4 million to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, up from its $253.9 million in the current budget, and add nearly 300 new positions for a total of 1,752.1 full-time-equivalent employees, according to his Jan. 10 proposal.

The CDFA’s overall budget would be $411.5 million, down slightly from the $414.5 million allocated to the agency in the 2016-17 ledger. Federal funds and fee programs also contribute to the CDFA’s finances.

The governor’s proposal would include nearly $22.4 million in new spending to regulate cannabis production, which voters legalized for non-medical uses in November, and about $2 million apiece to implement the Produce Safety Rule and new antibiotics controls.

One key expenditure would be $4.4 million for a pest and disease prevention program, which would devote about 190 employees to such tasks as combating the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing, the deadly tree disease it can carry.

The budget devotes an additional $1.75 million and 20 positions to an emergency exotic pest response unit. Some currently seasonal employees would be switched to full-time to address the citrus issue, CDFA secretary Karen Ross said.

“Not only have we seen the spread of the agent itself (the psyllid), but now we’re seeing the disease,” which has been found in 30 trees in Southern California, Ross told reporters in a conference call. “We need to continue the program to beef up our quarantine and work with the citrus industry ... It’s more crucial now than ever.”

The citrus industry has been trying for the past two years to get state money for the psyllid and HLB, for which the industry has devoted $15 million toward research and education and received $11 milliion from the federal government.

California is strengthening its quarantine for the psyllid, which now covers roughly one-third of the state’s total land mass.

The cannabis funding is part of $57.2 million shared by five agencies to license and regulate the drug, which would be funded by cultivation taxes and license fees. The CDFA’s role would include issuing the licenses and developing a program to track the movement of medical marijuana through the distribution chain, according to a budget summary.

Among the other elements of Brown’s spending plan that could affect agriculture:

• The governor proposes increases of $146.7 million for the University of California, $76.3 million for the California State University and $23.6 million for community colleges statewide.

Some of the UC’s new money would likely go to the Agriculture and Natural Resources division, which runs Cooperative Extension. The division plans to add 26 new positions to the extension, which now has 173 advisers and 115 specialists, said Lucas Frerichs, the UCANR’s government and community affairs manager.

“This new ... release continues our commitment for hiring to exceed projected turnover, thus achieving our goal of academic growth,” Frerichs said in an email.

• The budget includes another $178.7 million in one-time funding for drought response, including $91 million for enhanced fire protection, $52.7 million for disaster assistance, $5.3 million for water rights management and $5 million for local assistance for small communities.

“We’re in the middle of heavy rainstorms, but this budget continues some of the drought actions of the last five years,” Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird told reporters in a conference call. “We always wait until the end of the season to see what the season fully provides.”

The governor typically issues a revised spending plan in May. The budget must be approved by simple majorities in the Legislature.

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