agriculture, Environment

Analysis: In Senate budget large farms win, small farms and the environment lose

Own a large farm? You’re in high cotton. Small farm? Not so much. (Photo: Creative Commons)

T he Senate could not be clearer about its policy priorities for the state’s agriculture barons. While lawmakers continue to prop up industrialized farm operations through, for example, the passage of the hog nuisance lawsuit measure, HB 467, the Senate budget eliminates all $237,000 in state funds for the small farm program. This service provides outreach and education to  limited-resource and minority farmers.

With the Senate pulling the financial rug from under this program, that leaves just $46,000 in revenue, all generated by fees and receipts. Three people will lose their full-time jobs.

In another win for big ag and a loss for the environment, the Senate robs Peter (NC Department of Environmental Quality) to pay Paul (the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services).

As revenge for NC DEQ’s withdrawing from a federal lawsuit against the EPA over the Waters of the US rule, the Senate stripped $2 million from DEQ’s budget through 2019. That money is transferred to the agriculture department, which could then use it to hire outside counsel to fight the rule. (The department also could use it for any purpose, aka, a slush fund.)

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, a Republican, has long criticized WOTUS, as its known, alleging it’s an example of “federal overreach.” What the rule actually does is compensate for lax local and state rules by defining which rivers, streams, lakes and marshes fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Opponents are worried that these federal rules will prevent their livestock and fertilizers from fouling the state’s waters with impunity.

Last month, Gov. Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein and DEQ Secretary Michael Regan all agreed to withdraw from the list of 27 states suing over WOTUS. The motivation was not just philosophical but fiscal: Because President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have indicated they’re killing the WOTUS rule, to fight it is moot.

Otherwise, the Senate’s appropriations for the Agriculture Department are slightly higher than the governor’s proposal. The exception is the Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. Cooper proposed a one-time injection of $1.35 million, with a $400,000 appropriation this year and next. Total: $2.1 million.

The Senate version provides less than half that amount — $1 million.

The Senate is proposing a one-time $200,000 appropriation to increase the availability of fresh produce and meat in food deserts across the state. About 1.5 million North Carolinians live in a food desert, defined as a place where at least one-third of residents live in poverty and a mile or more from a grocery store. In 2014, a House committee determined there were 349 food deserts in 80 of the state’s 100 counties.

Below are charts compiled by NCPW, comparing the main points of the governor’s and Senate’s budgets for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Ag Budgetcomparison by LisaSorg on Scribd

Ag Positions by LisaSorg on Scribd

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