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KDA finds solutions to market reporting issue

The Kansas Department of Agriculture announced June 29 that it is nearing a solution to the issue of budget cuts that would have halted state-funded reporting of livestock markets in Salina and Pratt, Kan., as of July 1.

In a letter to High Plains Journal, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Adrian Polansky announced contracts will be extended for one month for the part-time reporters of the Pratt and Salina sales. "This will give us time to train a current Kansas Department of Agriculture employee to report on the Pratt market and for discussions to continue regarding alternate funding for the Salina report," he said.

According to the KDA, the current reporter of the twice-weekly Kansas hay market report, who is based in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Market News Service office in Dodge City, Kan., will train to report the Pratt livestock market and reduce his hay market reporting to once a week.

As for the Salina sale, it is hoped by industry representatives that USDA can help with funding the reporter of that sale, in a compromise to split the financial burden of unbiased reporting of livestock sales in the state.

On June 16, High Plains Journal learned the state-funded reporter positions would be eliminated as of July 1. Calls to the Kansas Ag Statistics Service confirmed that the cuts were final and due to budget constrains. Talks among industry insiders and KDA officials began in earnest shortly thereafter. As of press time last week on June 24, no final solutions had been found, but talks continued among KLA lobbyists, KDA, and other interested parties to find a way to save the market reporting from Pratt and Salina.

On June 30, KDA met with industry stakeholders to discuss the funding of the Kansas Ag Statistics Service and the funding of livestock reports in the state. As of press time July 1, no formal public announcement of a final decision had been released by the KDA.

KDA Public Information Officer Lisa Taylor said everyone understands the predicament KDA faces in regards to budget cuts. The challenge, she explained, is offering services KDA is required to by law, as well as those services that aren't required by law but are beneficial to Kansas agribusiness, and being able to pay for them with ever-decreasing funds.

KDA has been pouring through its budget needs to find where it can trim the fat. State general funds account for half of the agency's funding. The state general fund portion of KDA's budget was cut by 15 percent since 2008. On top of that, the Kansas Legislature did not appropriate money to fund "additional personnel-related expenses," according to Sec. Polansky. KDA, therefore, was tasked to find ways of internally funding those expenses.

"Since half of our budget comes from the state general fund, and 83 percent of our state general fund appropriation is used to pay salaries, it has been necessary to reduce our workforce," Polansky said. "Between layoffs and attrition, our current vacancy rate is 21 percent."

Polansky's letter explained KDA, as well as all state agencies, was asked by the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit to give a list of programs and functions in tiers of necessity that could be cut. The 2009 Legislature was attempting to impose a 10 percent budget cut on all agencies. The items on KDA's list included the two livestock auction reporter positions for Pratt and Salina, but Polansky added, KDA emphasized those were vital to the state. Meanwhile, the items were approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee March 12.

Taylor explained the department is limited in that it cannot take fees or allocations from one program and cover up the shortfall somewhere else in the department. So, if a service is covered by state general funds, and those funds are cut, the service is not paid for by other programs. KDA continues to look into other funding methods to ensure it continues to provide vital services to Kansas agribusiness, including the possibility of changing fee structures for certain programs or services, or charging for other services. However, those fees are unlikely to be passed by the state legislature. "They tend to look at that as a tax, even though it's a fee and one we think would be useful in support of our programs," Taylor said.

KDA will find out July 2 its budget allotments for 2010 from Gov. Parkinson's office, Taylor added. With declining state revenues, the department could be in store for more cuts to services. However, KDA officials have stated they are resolved to find solutions to budget issues so that Kansas farmers and ranchers continue to be served.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.



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