Budget Shortfall Has Farmers Worried

August 27, 2008 10:02:35 PM PDT
Fresno County's six-million dollar budget shortfall has farmers worried. The Ag Department's already lost seven positions in the last two years and must now cut 76-thousand more dollars.Drastic cutbacks have forced the Fresno County Ag Department to pay less attention to invasive pests which can devastate valley crops.

Jerry Prieto, Fresno Co. Ag Commissioner: "It's a huge concern, huge concern, that's probably how the peach fruit fly infestation occurred."

But Prieto has no choice. During harvest fruit inspection is the county's priority. Layer by layer the fruit must be cut. These valley-grown peaches bound for Mexico are being sliced up by Fresno County inspectors. Any produce exported to other countries must be carefully scanned so inspectors are shifted from outlying areas like Kerman and Sanger to fill the need.

"Obviously if you need us there to inspect fruit and we're not there that means you're gonna lose a sale, we're gonna work as hard as we can to get there."

Crop pests wind up in the office of Fresno County Entomologist Dr. Norm Smith. This is larvae of the oriental fruit moth, which they are trying to keep out of Mexico.

Prieto worries the grape pest known as the glassy-winged sharpshooter may re-establish itself in the valley.

"One of the other things we aren't doing much right now is nursery inspections of retail nurseries."

Pesticide enforcement is another area which has been cut.

"If we have someone gets ill we'll investigate that instead of our normal surveillance and inspection."

One other way Ag Commissioner Jerry Prieto is trying to save his department money he's working just three days a week.

He retired two months ago but is back on an interim basis.

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