IA state capital with money

DES MOINES — For once, Mike Naig is able to smile when he talks about the budget the legislature approved for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Naig, the state secretary of agriculture, has faced the same dilemma as many other state department managers in recent years, when tight budgets meant trying to decide how many jobs to eliminate or what programs to put on life support. This year that budget is a bit better, at least for agriculture.

“This was a very good budget year for us,” Naig said. “We got everything we asked for, plus a slight increase in the general fund dollars.”

That doesn’t mean he is swimming in cash. Naig, like most managers in state government, has been frugal in his legislative requests. But it does mean that a few key programs are funded for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 and ends on June 30, 2020.

One item on Naig’s wish list this year was money to hire another expert to help the state combat foreign animal disease outbreaks. That push began a couple of years ago, when Naig requested $500,000 for foreign animals disease work. The legislature approved $100,000 of that total two years ago. Last year they upped it to $250,000. This year they added another $250,000, meaning over three years lawmakers met Naig’s request.

That effort was bipartisan, Naig said. And it probably didn’t hurt this year that there are serious concerns about African swine fever. Those concerns even led to the cancellation of World Pork Expo next month in Des Moines.

Lawmakers also approved funding for what Naig hopes is the final push to close the last of the state’s agricultural drainage wells. The appropriation of $1.875 million should be enough to finish the task over the next several years, Naig said.

No major new water quality legislation was passed this year, but lawmakers did pass a bill in 2018 that provided $2 million in this fiscal year. That total goes to $5 million for fiscal 2020 and to $15 million in 2021. The legislature also approved $10.575 million for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative, a figure similar to last year.

Other legislation will impact the department, as well. It will eventually be asked to implement the state’s industrial hemp legislation, for example.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.