The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is asking for $150 million in the upcoming budget, including nearly $6 million to fund pay raises for the department’s first responders.
The agency released its funding request Monday as the first week of legislative committee hearings began. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is also mounting a campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, leads the department.
“Despite the challenges of operating through a continuing pandemic, our core mission remains the same: to safeguard the public and support Florida agriculture,” Fried said. “Our budget priorities are solutions-oriented and critical not only to our department’s success, but also to our state.”
A release from the Agriculture Department says the agency is asking for $119 million from state trust funds — including $11 million in federal grants — and another $31 million from general revenue.
Fried’s agency wants to pull $2.9 million from general revenue to raise the base pay for members of the department’s Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement. Under the proposal, base pay would be bumped to nearly $42,000.
The request also seeks just shy of $3 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to finance a $2,500 pay increase for Florida Forest Service firefighters.
“Over the last three years, Florida Forest Service personnel responded to an average of 4,672 fires that burned a total of 147,169 acres,” the release said. “Florida’s Wildland Firefighters and Fire support staff respond 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in harsh conditions to protect Florida’s citizens from wildfires.”
The Agriculture Department is also asking for substantial funding for water policy issues and climate change mitigation. The budget request includes nearly $28 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for water projects and another $2 million for the Sequestering Carbon and Protecting Florida Land Program. That latter program will help plant trees to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The agency is asking for $10 million to retain water and reduce harmful nutrients outside the Lake Okeechobee Watershed.
Another $5 million would go to similar efforts “at the basin, sub-basin and farm levels in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed, including cost share programs for precision agriculture such as technology-based fertilizer applications, applicable cover crop rotations and land management tools.” An additional $5 million would fund cost-share projects in areas covered by basin management action plans, such as the Indian River Lagoon Basin and the St. Lucie River and Estuary.
A handful of smaller water projects would also receive funding under the plan.
“Funding these common-sense and fiscally-responsible priorities will save lives and property by supporting our wildland firefighters and agricultural law enforcement officers; protecting and improving our water sources; ensuring Florida’s agriculture industry remains globally competitive in the face of both ongoing and new challenges, and fostering the burgeoning hemp and hemp extract inhalation industries capable of creating billions in economic potential,” Fried added.
On the hemp issue, the department asks for $1.9 million from the General Inspection Trust Fund to fund inspections for retailers selling hemp products. Another $1.3 million in general revenue funds would cover inspections at establishments selling vaping products. That latter pot of cash would also help study whether vapes are in compliance with rules governing unsafe contaminants and additives.
Other large budget items include $20 million in Land Acquisition Trust Fund resources for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. That program helps maintain Florida’s agricultural land by acquiring permanent conservation easements.
More than $8.7 million of general revenue funds would go to the Florida Agricultural Promotional Campaign to help promote Florida’s farmers. Another $8 million from the Agricultural Emergency Eradication Trust Fund would go to citrus greening research.
With lawmakers gathered in Tallahassee this week to prepare for the 2022 Legislative Session, funding requests will be flying in. The Legislature will work through those requests in the weeks and months ahead. The 60-day Session begins in January.