Nevada agriculture threatened

The program responsible for certifying everything from Nevada’s organics program and farmers markets to noxious weeds and seed certification could be facing the budgetary chopping block.

Shutting down the Plant Industry division within the Department of Agriculture was one cost-cutting proposal that turned up on a list from the state Senate to governor Jim Gibbons on Feb. 11.

In a Feb. 12 email sent to a wide range of people who depend on the program—organic farmers, coffee roasters, candy makers, beer brewers and others—Steve Marty of the NDOA wrote, “Be assured that the Plant Industry division of NDOA is in a very dire situation and is most certainly in danger of being eliminated, for better or worse.”

NDOA director Tony Lesperance said Plant Industry represents about $650,000 of the agency’s $13 million budget, and only about 5 percent of the Plant Industry budget comes from general funds. Most is drawn from registration fees and grants.

“To have this cut out and have the rest fall around it is ludicrous, to put it bluntly,” said Lesperance last week.

NDOA is mandated by state and federal law to certify the industries that fall under the Plant Division. “The greenhouse nursery industry, pesticide applications—all of these things have to be licensed and regulated under the department, and they all come under Plant Industry,” said Lesperance.

If Plant Industry is eliminated, those who depend on it for certification would likely have to get commercial certification out of state, such as from Washington, California or Utah. “So your certification might cost two to three times or more,” said Lesperance, who says he realized the senators face a hard task with trimming the budget. “The bottom line is the state’s in a horrible position,” he said. “I don’t think most people realize how bad it is.”

In anticipation of this week’s special legislative session, which occurred as RN&R went to press, concerned farmers and others wrote state leaders and representatives, Gov. Gibbons’ office and NDOA voicing support for Plant Industry. One such letter from Ray and Virginia Johnson of Custom Gardens Organic Farm in Silver Springs asked that NDOA be given the time to evaluate all the roles of Plant Industry and come up with creative solutions—to “look at those categories and services that would be better off in another state or federal agency, altogether,” rather than scrap the whole division.

NDOA is familiar with streamlining its processes. It had to do just that when the job of Marty, Nevada’s sole organic certifier, was on the line roughly a year ago. (“Stunted growth,” Green, Feb. 5, 2009.) Rather than eliminate his position, duties and assignments were reshuffled within the department.

“If we survive special session, we’ll make whatever changes we have to make internally to survive,” said Lesperance.

The Johnsons concluded their letter: “We urge that an immediate knee-jerk response to budgetary concerns will not lead to ‘pitching plant industry into the compost heap,’ where we will all stand to lose precious time and gains made while the overall system is breaking down.”