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Posts Tagged ‘county budget’

Mayor Gimenez backtracks on cuts to agriculture budget

Following an outpouring of support, agricultural services will not face the drastic reductions originally proposed in the county budget.

The Miami Herald, posted on Friday August 12,2011.

By Christina Veiga
cveiga@MiamiHerald.com

More than 100 people packed into the council chamber at town hall in Palmetto Bay for a meeting the discuss the Miami-Dade County budget, Tuesday, August 9, 2011. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez discussed his proposed county budget, answered questions, and took public comments.

South Miami-Dade’s agriculture community will not face the dire cuts originally proposed in Mayor Carolos Gimenez’s preliminary budget.

The announcement, made Tuesday by a mayoral aide at a budget town hall meeting in Palmetto Bay, was met with cheers from supporters who have recently flooded elected officials with calls, e-mails, letters and visits.

The county’s agricultural extension service and agricultural manager’s office will still face cuts, however. Ag extension is now poised to lose $140,000 instead of the $800,000 originally proposed. And the agricultural manager’s office is expected to lose its assistant, while the rest of the manager’s budget will be restored with a federal grant, county spokeswoman Vanessa Santana-Peñate said.

Still, compared to the drastic cuts initially proposed, the new plan is a “tremendous blessing,”said Theresa Smith, director of communications for the Dade County Farm Bureau.

To read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/08/10/2353728/mayor-gimenez-backtracks-on-cuts.html

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Today we received this welcome message from Teresal Olczyk, one of our Extension Agents with whom we’ve worked closely for many years.

Yes, we are back in business thanks to you and many other supporters.  We were restored  at about 84% thanks to the hard work of all community and many organizations.

The County Commission restored our county general revenue funding at about 84% ($887,000) of our adjusted submitted budget request.  As Extension general revenue funding was eliminated in the Mayor’s proposed budget, along with many other agencies and services we would have not been here as of October 1st otherwise.  We are back in business thanks to the hard work and determination of a team of 4-H leaders and members conducted during the past several weeks, the agriculture community spearheaded by Farm Bureau and the Council of Presidents of the Ag. organizations, Master Gardeners, various volunteers and advisory committee members, and individual clientele that were upset with the thought of our not being here to provide the services to the residents of this community.

Many people contacted commissioners personally, wrote letters, faxes, e-mails, included information on the Extension budget crisis on their websites and blogs and attended the budget meetings.

The realization of having a reduced budget means we still have impacts to our budget and operations.  We will lose three vacant agriculture agent positions, and sadly we are also having to eliminate one county funded agent position to meet our budgeted amount.

Teresa Olczyk
Extension Agent IV
Commercial Ag./Ornamentals
UF IFAS, Miami-Dade County Extension

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<nag> Have you written to your county commissioner about the proposed budget cut that would close the doors to the Miami-Dade Cooperative Extension Service? No? Still thinking about it? Maybe it’s just not that important or relevant? I mean, how could it possibly tie in with the tasty, fresh, local and organic veggies you’re going to eat from Redland Organics in a few months? Extension has a LOT to do with it! </nag>

Farmer Margie wouldn’t be where she is if it weren’t for the training that she got from Extension over the years. In her own words:

I started contacting Extension way back in the 70’s when I was in college. I got information on vegetable gardening for Florida, castrating & butchering a pig, raising and butchering chickens, canning, pickling and preserving information, how to take care of my fruit trees, and put it all to good use. In the early 80’s, I took the Master Gardener training, and received in-depth information about growing plants.

In the mid 90’s, when we started the farm, I looked to Extension to get advice on establishing my avocado grove. Later, when we expanded to vegetables, I consulted with them on variety selection, growing techniques, pest control, fertilizing. I’ve attended numerous workshops providing training on irrigation, growing, pests, diseases, etc etc etc.

Extension has been very responsive in helping develop training programs for folks interested in converting to organic productions. I always find good workshops and field days that I can bring my farm interns and apprentices to learn about growing in this tropical climate.

So… what are you waiting for? The list of commissioners is right here. Start writing!

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Did you go to the county commissioner budget meetings to state your case? No? You have several more chances. There are Budget Conference Committee (BCC) meetings on Aug 24, 25, 26 and 27 at commission chambers downtown.

The commission will hold final budget hearings on Thursday Sept 3rd at 5:01 pm and Thursday Sept. 17th at 5:01 pm . Currently the location of the hearings will be at the county commission chambers, but that might change as commissioners are expecting an overflow crowd. (The meeting location is not changing, but they are expecting a crowd. Marian, 8/21/09)

When you go, be sure to wear green. Green needs to be seen! And heard! Read and bring copies of these two documents Ivory Sheet and Green Sheet with you. They have facts and figures about the Extension program.

According to Cindy Dwyer, Master Gardener, “Remember that this is a game of numbers. If nobody shows up to protest, the result is a big zero. Organize a group of Master Gardeners and get your friends and neighbors who care about this issue to go to the meetings with you!”

If you can’t attend meetings, write letters to the commissioners. Find out how you can contact your commissioner here.

So why should CSA members and other locavores care? According to the Extension Ivory Sheet, “Miami-Dade County is considered as ground zero for new plant pests and diseases entering the United States. Many are first found in residential neighborhoods and quickly spread to agricultural areas. Cooperative Extension horticultural professionals are first responders for these invasive threats to agriculture, home horticulture, urban landscapes and the natural environment.”

Remember laurel wilt? It’s still here, and it’s not going away. Do you have an avocado tree in your yard? Cooperative Extension is the place to turn to if you want to learn how to keep your tree alive. If you’ve been enjoying Farmer Margie’s ginormous avocados this summer, and want to eat them again next summer, speak out in favor of Cooperative Extension at the commission meetings. Margie learned how to grow avocados and keep them healthy through training from Extension.

If the budget that Mayor Carlos Alvarez proposes is approved, the Extension office will close its doors forever on September 30. Everyone from the Master Gardener coordinator to the clerical staff will lose their jobs. Everyone from growers to locavores will feel the impact.

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Originally I didn’t plan on this blog being political, but it looks like I’ll have to dip a toe in those waters… By now you’ve already heard about the new proposed county budget that Mayor Carlos Alvarez presented to the county commissioners. There was much debate about what to cut, how much to cut, and what to save — and it’s not over yet.

One of the worst proposed cuts is to the county Extension Service. The new budget slashes almost all their funding. Extension staffers are in a tizzy working on their revised budget to present to the mayor in hopes of staying alive.

So what is this service and why should you care?

Extension helps homeowners, gardeners and growers with training and information they need to learn many things like water conservation, better landscaping techniques, raise better plants and animals, solve bug and disease problems, train Master Gardeners and so on. Their programs have value to the public way beyond their direct benefit, in a provider-to-provider kind of way. Without Extension, for example, Farmer Margie wouldn’t be a farmer — she’d still be in IT.

Right now, Extension is very involved with UF/IFAS in getting the word out about laurel wilt, the insect-borne disease that has been killing avocado trees in the state. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know they held a meeting not too long ago, alerting growers to the threat, and providing preliminary information on how to handle it. Without Extension and UF, there wouldn’t be much hope for saving a multi-million dollar industry by beating this disease.

Extension is a Cooperative program that’s funded both by the county and UF, which contributes matching funds to whatever is budgeted by the county. It’s double-the-value for the money. Extension has been around for decades helping generations of growers and gardeners. I remember my dad Carl, who raised tomatoes and other vegetables in the 40’s and 50’s, said Extension taught him what grew best here when moved from Wisconsin.

So what can you do to help?

Speak up! Let the county commissioners know there’s an active community of gardeners and locavores who care about what happens to Extension and the support it gives local growers. Love Farmer Margie’s giant Donnie avocados? Tell the commissioners about them, and how she hopes to still grow them next year.

Write to the commissioners. You can start with your district, but why stop at one? Write letters to all of them! Call their offices and leave messages, and send emails. Set up a meeting with a commissioner and/or their aides. Bring your friends to the meeting.

Attend a community budget meeting. Here’s the link to the dates and locations. There are many scheduled all over the county from August 11 through 20. Go and speak up on behalf of Extension. It was suggested that if you go, wear green in a show of support.

Commissioners are also holding their own meetings in August to get the public’s input.

Go to a commission meeting and ask to speak. The first budget hearing is on Sept 3rd, and the next is on the 15th. You still have a couple of weeks to persuade your commissioner.

By helping your local farmers and growers, you help yourself and other locavores. Go for it!

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Florida avocados

Florida avocados

Take a good look at this season’s avocados, and savor the flavor. This season might be the last time you’ll see and taste Florida avocados, if the laurel wilt disease gets out of control in Miami-Dade County. It’s caused by the tiny redbay ambrosia beetle that carries a fungus which kills avocado trees fairly quickly. In Brevard County, where there are mostly neighborhood avocado trees, UF/IFAS researchers spotted the disease in October 2008, and by May 2009 the same trees were dead.

Last week the rumors were flying among growers that laurel wilt was spotted in a Miami-Dade grove. This Wednesday night it was confirmed by UF/IFAS scientists at an emergency meeting held at the Miami-Dade County Extension Service office. Over 120 concerned avocado growers packed into the meeting room to hear the grim news. This tiny beetle presents an enormous threat to their livelihood.

One tree suspected of laurel wilt came back positive for the disease using DNA testing, and four additional samples had been taken from three other groves for testing. This is the first time the fungus has been spotted in a commercial grove in Miami-Dade County, and it could severely harm a $12.7 million industry.

There are 892 growers and 6773 acres of avocado groves in the county, according to the USDA’s 2007 survey. If the disease cuts Florida’s commercial avocado crop in half, which could happen, it could cost the state $27 million in total economic impact and enough lost worker hours to equal 275 full-time jobs, according to UF/IFAS.

Plant inspectors and insect trappers from the Florida Dept. of Agriculture are surveying the ag production area from Goulds south — 140 commercial groves numbering 7000 acres, according to their calculations. They’re also setting sentinel traps to track the beetle, similar to what’s being done with fruit flies. Their survey should be 70-80 percent complete by this Friday Aug. 7. At the time of the meeting, they have not yet found signs of the beetle or laurel wilt.

If you’re a homeowner and you have an avocado tree in your yard, check it often for signs of beetle infestation or laurel wilt. If you see anything suspicious, call the Division of Plant Industry at 305-252-4360 or 888-397-1517 and an inspector will come take a sample for DNA testing. If the sample comes back positive, you’ll be instructed on how to treat or properly dispose of your tree. Do NOT cut it down and throw it on the street for pickup, because that could help spread the beetle and its fungal infection to other trees in the neighborhood.

State representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart were instrumental in pushing the USDA to give UF a $1.9 million grant to find a way to mitigate and manage laurel wilt. Other local politicians who are actively involved are County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and County Commissioner Katy Sorensen.

On the other hand, Mayor Carlos Alvarez recently drafted a new county budget that slashed Extension office funding to almost zero. The office also relies on matching funds from UF/IFAS to educate and support growers and homeowners about plant diseases and various agricultural issues. This drastic cut couldn’t come at a worse time. County commissioners are meeting on Sept. 3 and 17 (after their August vacation) to vote on the new budget. Please take the time to call or email your county commissioner and tell them not to cut funds for Extension and local growers! For locavores, doing that’s a no-brainer, right??

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez http://www.miamidade.gov/mayor/
Miami-Dade County Commissioners http://www.miamidade.gov/commiss/
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen http://ros-lehtinen.house.gov/
Representative Mario Diaz-Balart http://mariodiazbalart.house.gov/index.html

More info on redbay ambrosia beetle
http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/enpp/ento/x.glabratus.html

More info on laurel wilt
http://trec.ifas.ufl.edu/RAB-LW/
http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/enpp/pathology/laurel_wilt_disease.html

Miami-Dade County Extension Service http://miami-dade.ifas.ufl.edu
Miami-Dade DERM http://www.miamidade.gov/derm/
UF/IFAS Tropical Research & Education Center http://trec.ifas.ufl.edu/
Fla. Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services http://www.doacs.state.fl.us

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