Agricultural research and outreach budgets across the state will be slashed as the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faces the largest budget cut in years.
The institute, which funds research and agriculture extension services across Florida, will have to cut $9.5-million from its 2008-09 budget. It's expected to lose 96 staff positions, and 14 faculty positions will be eliminated through attrition.
"The state of Florida faces extreme shortfalls in revenue, and the cut to (the institute) is huge. This will have significant impact on our delivery of programs," institute director Jimmy Cheek said in a prepared statement.
The cuts come on top of $7.2-million that was taken out of the fall 2007 budget, which eliminated 45 faculty and 53 staff positions. Cheek said the institute will "struggle to maintain" its teaching, research and extension programs throughout Florida.
Hillsborough County's portion of the cuts have not yet been decided. Hillsborough County has the second-largest Institute of Food and Agricultural Science presence in the state. That includes the extension services, 4-H club and Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma.
Hillsborough County extension services director Joe Pergola said Tuesday that he didn't know how much money his program would lose.
Cheek promised that no extension office or research and education center would be closed. Instead, there are plans to reorganize departments and programs, sometimes downsizing them.
Although the institute's cuts are large — 6 percent of its state funding — they aren't disproportionate compared to other UF programs. That's a relief to local farmers.
"That's all we have been asking for," said Roy Davis, owner of Tampa Wholesale Nursery.
Farmers had feared the institute would bear the brunt of UF's budget woes after statements about agriculture's unimportance were attributed to UF president Bernie Machen in February. Hillsborough County commissioners even sent a letter to Machen, pleading that the same percentage cuts be applied to the institute.
The institute's plan for reductions will be presented to UF's trustees on Monday.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.