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BUDGET BALANCING BILL CUTS AGRICULTURE BY $7M

By NBF NEWS
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The bill cut AURI funding by three per cent, 47 per cent less than Governor Tim Pawlenty had proposed in his budget balancing strategy, Agric News reported on Thursday.

'That's probably better than we could have imagined,' said Spaeth, Executive Director of the Agricultural Utilisation Research Institute.

It was stressful to be faced with a 50 per cent cut with no time to plan, she said, and a relief when the governor signed the bill on April 1.

'We do have to make some cuts somewhere,' Spaeth said. They will leave two positions vacant and cut back to three statewide renewable energy roundtables per year.

Overall, the agriculture and veteran's department took a $7m cut over two years, said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, who chairs the House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Finance Division. Veterans funding actually increased $200,000.

'Overall, we were asked to do our part,' Juhnke said. 'I think we took more than our fair share.'

Agriculture funding was cut 7.9 per cent, he said. Ethanol producer payments took a one-time reduction of 18 percent and the department of agriculture took a 3 percent to 3.5 per cent cut. The ethanol payments will continue, but at a reduced rate, Juhnke said.

The plant pest survey will cease and technology upgrades for meat and food inspectors will be delayed, said Mr. Joe Martin, Assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

The department has to make a $129,000 reduction in the agricultural marketing service division and the agriculture development and financial assistance division and has to find savings of $262,000 in administration.

Martin said it will be hard to avoid staff reductions, but they are still sorting out the implications of the funding cuts. Staff reductions should be limited, he said.

Likewise, the Minnesota Dairy Initiative is sorting out what the cuts mean to them. The budget bill cuts funding for dairy development by $72,000.

Dairy profitability and enhancement teams won't be able to help as many farmers as in the past, said Jim Salfer, chairman of the Minnesota Dairy Initiative.

It's frustrating that in this time when dairy farmers need more help because of low milk prices that the program is cut, he said.

AURI similarly has more demand for services than they can meet, Spaeth said. It seems like everyone is trying to find a use for co-products and waste products and is drawing upon the expertise of AURI.