Commissioner Lynda Bell Responds to Proposed Budget Cuts to Local Agriculture Industry
Commissioner Lynda Bell issued today the following memorandum to Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez in response to the Administration's proposed budgetary cuts to Miami-Dade County's agriculture industry. We hope to work closely with Mayor Gimenez and the members of his Administration to restore these valuable resources to the agriculture community.
"The residents of Miami-Dade County are in serious risk of losing over $2.7 billion a year in direct economic impact to our community in exchange for a $718,000 savings to the 2011-2012 County Budget. Your current proposed budget reflects the elimination of resources to our local agriculture industry in order to achieve a leaner County government. I certainly understand the need for a reduction in the overall size and scope of government at all levels - local, state and federal. Government must be made to live within its means and adopt policies that are reflective of the new economic realities we all face. However, to systematically eliminate the resources that our local farmers and growers rely on to drive the second largest economic engine in Miami-Dade County is simply dangerous.
In Miami-Dade County, the agriculture industry employs 20,000 people. That number dramatically increases to over 176,000 if you factor in additional industries that rely on a successful local harvest: the trucking industry, international shipping, grocers and supermarket chains, home improvement stores, plant nurseries, fruit and produce stands, etc. The fact of the matter is that our agricultural industry in southern Miami-Dade County supplies a significant portion of Florida's produce year-round and 80% of fresh vegetables to the nation during the cold winter months.
Vegetables alone, grown on 33,871 acres of land, account for $103 million in gross annual sales. Nurseries in the South Dade region cultivate 12,556 acres of land and account for $659 million in gross sales. Miami-Dade is the number one snapbean and summer squash producer in the country, as well as a leading producer of Asian vegetables, beans, eggplant, peppers, herbs, okra, sweet corn and tomatoes.
Also at risk of being cut are the Miami-Dade Cooperative Extension Service and the Agriculture Manager position. Through a partnership formed by UF/IFAS and USDA, the Extension provides services ranging from licensing, understanding environmental needs and requirements, managing invasive species, provide training and conducting disaster relief coordination, among others. They offer invaluable technical assistance to commercial agricultural growers, marine industries, backyard gardeners and homeowners alike. They even provide leadership training to teens through the renowned 4-H Youth Development Organization. The Miami-Dade County budget provides $718,000 for the operating costs of the Extension, in addition to a $1.2 million matching grant from the state and federal governments. All of this funding is slated to be cut.
The programs and services that the Extension provides are a critical resource for our community with monetary benefit to the people of Miami-Dade County of over $47 million a year.
All these operations and programs fall under the auspices of the County's Agriculture Manager, who acts as a liaison to Miami-Dade County's agricultural industry through trade organizations and grower meetings, assisting the public with concerns and issues related to County Code and policies, as well as State and Federal regulations. The Ag Manager also proposes changes to policy and County Code to improve the viability of the agricultural industry. The Agricultural Manager's efforts bring in about $1 million in grants and funding to our local community. Despite this, the position being cut would leave that office closed completely.
The agriculture industry in South Miami-Dade generates billions of dollars every year, and without tangible agricultural resources, we should all be concerned. After having met with many of my constituents and members of the farming community, I am re-affirming my commitment to save the agricultural resources that the County currently provides. By working with my colleagues on the Miami-Dade County Commission, I will seek to identify other savings in the budget so that these much-needed resources can continue to aid this economic engine that is critical to our local economy, job creation, and a path to improving our quality of life. I hope that you can work with the Board of County Commissioners to ensure that this vital engine remains a priority."