ODA weighs seeking $10 million budget increase

The Oregon Board of Agriculture meets June 6 in Hood River. The Oregon Department of Agriculture, which is advised by the board, may ask for an increase of $10 million to its budget in the 2019-2021 biennium.

HOOD RIVER, Ore. — Oregon’s farm regulators are contemplating a request to increase their budget by approximately $10 million in the 2019-2021 budget cycle.

That amount would represent a roughly 8.5 percent boost over the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s current budget of $117 million in the 2017-2019 biennium.

The money would pay for 19 full-time equivalent positions in ODA’s natural resources, food safety and market access policy areas, as well as its administration.

The $10 million figure is tentative and will be refined over the summer, said Lauren Henderson, the ODA’s assistant director, during a June 6 meeting in Hood River of the Oregon Board of Agriculture, which advises the agency.

About $1.5 million would be invested in ODA’s information technology systems, including improvements to security, he said.

“We’re struggling to keep up with the threats we get every day,” Henderson said.

More than $1 million would go to replacing laboratory equipment in ODA’s food safety program, which “gets used a lot and wears out,” he said.

An unspecified amount of money for cannabis testing would be derived from the state’s cannabis tax funds, which are “oversubscribed,” he said.

Another major expenditure would be $1.7 million for three full-time positions in the “strategic implementation area” program for agricultural water quality, which seeks to reduce farm-related runoff and otherwise improve water quality in specific watersheds each year.

About $375,000 would be dedicated to establishing a position that would coordinate international marketing of Oregon farm goods.

In the short and medium terms, Japan will continue to be a major export destination, said Alexis Taylor, ODA’s director, who is soon heading a trade mission to that country.

However, Japan’s population is aging — likely corresponding with declining food demand — which means Oregon should seek new opportunities in China and Southeast Asia, she said.

Another $250,000 would go to promotion and branding activities beyond the “staff and rent” expenses that consume most of the ODA’s market access funds, Henderson said.

In the policy arena, ODA is considering asking for new tools that would help the agency recoup food safety inspection fees, said Lisa Hanson, the agency’s deputy director.

About 600 entities consistently fail to pay inspection fees, which translates into about $135,000 in missing food safety funds, she said.

The problem mostly pertains to retail outlets, such as small grocery and convenience stores, Hanson said.

The ODA continues to inspect these facilities to protect public safety but is currently limited to issuing civil penalties, which are often also ignored, Hanson said.

Exactly what new tools the agency may need will be discussed before next year’s legislative session, she said.

The agency is also contemplating “strategic fee increases” in its programs for food safety, confined animal feeding operations and weights and measures, she said.

“We’re still working on the numbers,” Hanson said, adding that specifics will depend on how much is available in the general fund budget. “It will be in flux throughout the process.”

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