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COLUMBUS Farming group battles cuts



Published: Fri, November 30, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Before the governor's budget cuts, the agriculture department's budget was $22.87 million.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- With state lawmakers trying to reconcile different plans to close a projected $1.5 billion hole in the state's budget, Ohio's largest farm group says it wants to minimize cuts to state agriculture efforts.

"We want to make sure it remains strong," Ohio Farm Bureau Federation President Terry W. McClure said Thursday.

McClure and other farm bureau officials joined more than 1,000 delegates and representatives this week at the farm bureau's annual meeting. The meeting, which ends today, features seminars and speakers on agricultural issues.

New importance: Minimizing cuts to the agriculture department is especially important now in the war on terrorism, given the department's oversight of food safety, McClure said.

For example, the state agriculture department runs the state's milk-testing program and also inspects slaughter facilities in the state.

"We think it's important," McClure said.

Also important to the farm bureau is minimizing cuts to the state's agricultural research facility, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, McClure said.

McClure, a corn, soybean and wheat farmer from Paulding County, said farm bureau officials are monitoring an Ohio House and Senate conference committee trying to close the projected shortfall in the state's two-year $45 billion spending plan.

Executive order: Gov. Bob Taft issued an executive order cutting most state departments spending 6 percent, including the Department of Agriculture.

Before the governor's cuts, the Ohio Department of Agriculture's budget was $22.87 million in the budget's first year that began in July. The governor's cuts shaved $1.37 million and has forced the department to delay filling positions and buying equipment, said Mark Anthony, a spokesman for the department.

Additional cuts would be tough, possibly including layoffs, Anthony said.

"We are at the bone right now with the 6 percent," Anthony said.

Provision: Scott Williams, the farm bureau's director of state legislative affairs, said farm bureau officials are also watching a provision inserted in the Senate-passed proposal to provide for $8 million to be split by the state departments of agriculture and health for such things as lab testing and testing against animal disease.

& quot;I'd like to see that stay in, & quot; Williams said.

The conference committee is expected to wrap-up consideration of the plan by Monday with House and Senate consideration coming shortly after that.




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