Farmers market closures part of GDA budget proposal
By Jay Stone, Georgia Farm Bureau
Five of the state’s nine farmers markets could close under a Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) proposal to meet state budget requirements.
All state agencies have been ordered to trim budgets by 14% in response to sharply declining tax revenue caused by a statewide shelter-in-place order aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
To meet the spending requirements, the GDA will have to cut $5.68 million from the budget for its three core divisions (marketing and promotion, consumer protection and administrative). The proposed closures of the five state farmers markets accounts for part of $2.54 million in cuts from the department’s marketing and promotion division. The proposal calls for $501,240 in cuts from the GDA administrative budget and $2.64 million from its consumer protection programs. The action would eliminate 25 positions and trim about $400,000 in Georgia Grown contracts for advertising and promotion.
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black testified in a May 26 Senate Ag Appropriations Committee hearing that closing the farmers markets in Cordele, Thomasville, Savannah, Macon and Augusta is part of the department’s proposed budget cuts.
“This may be one of the big shockers and certainly it’s one of the less comfortable things to even begin to talk about, given our history and the importance of our marketing division,” Black said.
Black said the GDA would not participate in the 2020 Georgia National Fair or Sunbelt Ag Expo under the proposed budget cuts.
The proposed cuts are subject to approval by the Georgia legislature when it reconvenes.