by George Looby, DVM
To say the state of Connecticut is in a very difficult financial bind might be something of an understatement. The legislature has been unable to come up with a budget which is agreeable to both parties and the Governor is scrambling to bring both groups together so the business of the state may move forward. This problem in the state is neither new nor unique. It has been going on for years. The causes are many and varied and finger pointing occurs on both sides of the political aisle. Generous funding to several favorite programs and causes contributed greatly to this dilemma without ensuring the money to fund them would be available when needed. Too many knew how easy it was to tap into secured funds without setting up a guaranteed means of repaying money borrowed. Eventually the well ran dry.
This sort of economic morose gets everyone’s attention and almost everyone has their own solution as to how to achieve a quick fix. Raise taxes, cut programs, lay off employees, delay payments — you name it, everyone has an answer or at least it seems like everyone. As might be expected one of the targets of the cost cutters was the Department of Agriculture. Merge it with another department and money would be saved some said. Eliminate it entirely as it serves only a tiny fraction of the total population said others. Once the word was out the response from the farm community and its advocates was strong and vocal. The Department of Agriculture was not to be compromised in any way. The duties and responsibilities of the department were too specialized to be handed off to staff in another department whose training fell far short of those already in the position.
Agriculture in Connecticut has enjoyed a resurgence in years much of which is due to the efforts and support of the department. Much of this change might not be viewed as traditional agriculture but it is agriculture in every sense of the word. Often this change is initiated by young farmers who operate in a somewhat different manner than their predecessors. On June 8, a rally organized by Rep. Pat Boyd, D-Pomfret and Rep. Doug Dubtsky R-Chaplin was held on the lawn of the State Capitol to show the level of support among the state’s farmers for the Department of Agriculture. To pull farmers away from their own activities at one of the busiest times of the year takes some doing but they did show up and made their concerns and support known. Governor Dannel P. Malloy has long been committed to the development and support of agriculture in the state and his appearance at the rally did much to buoy the enthusiasm of the attendees. He restated his firm commitment to the department and to everyone engaged in farming.
In something of a lighter moment the Governor was invited to climb up onto one of the tractors parked on the lawn, an invitation he quickly declined recalling the photo of Gov. Mike Dukakis riding in an army tank during the 1988 presidential campaign, a picture that helped define his ill fated run for the presidency. Although the Governor has already announced that he will not run for the office again the paths that politicians travel can take some strange twists and turns.
Henry Talmadge, Executive Director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau, stated that the savings which would be realized by such a move would be minimal and the risks huge if such a merger were to take place. He further stated there are 6,000 farms in the state supporting a 3.5 billion industry. Talmadge went on to say it is essential we nurture the next wave of agriculture. It is a powerful economic engine for our state. It is growing and it is incredibly important that we have a strong, stand alone, cabinet level Department of Agriculture.
Paul Miller of Woodstock has one of the largest dairy operations in the state milking 1,200 cows with 2,800 total head. Paul said it is critical we maintain agriculture in the state. It is his strong feeling that many legislators recognize the importance of the department to the farmers of the state even those from urban areas who have come to recognize the importance of agriculture while serving in Hartford.
Another Woodstock farmer and a former recipient of the Outstanding Young Farmer Award, Matt Peckham expressed his strong feelings about the department. “It is the people who I can call up when I have a question about something. From our milk inspectors to the commissioner everyone makes themselves available. It is a service department working for the farmer. I can’t imagine that we would not have a stand-alone department of agriculture there to support a state that has a growth of new farms faster than other state in New England.”
As of this writing it appears the future of the department is secure for the moment although given the present concerns of the state, nothing is certain.