TDA fee increases in effect this year By Julie Tomascik Publications Editor Farming and ranching just be-came a little more expensive this year. Texas Department of Agricul-ture Commissioner Sid Miller in-stituted increases on more than 100 fees for licenses, renewals, in-spections and other services start-ing Jan. 1. He said the increases are needed to recover costs of regulatory pro-grams, according to a letter an-nouncing the fee increases in Octo-ber of last year. The increases come after Miller asked for an extra $50 million dur-ing the last legislative session to help restore cuts made to TDA’s budget in 2011. And when the Leg-islature refused, Miller said the fee structure must change in an effort to meet cost recovery expectations. But lawmakers and agricultural groups, including Texas Farm Bu-reau (TFB), question the need for the increases, concerned that the added costs would ripple through rural economies. “We wrote a letter last fall ask-ing Commissioner Miller to demon-strate the need for these increases and asked if they will result in an increase in services provided,” TFB President Russell Boening said. “An increase in fees without an increase in services or beneﬁts is difﬁcult to justify, and justiﬁca-tion hasn’t been provided up to this point.” Boening also testiﬁed during the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs hearing last December. He stressed that the fee increases are another cost on the growing list of requirements expected to generate nearly $22 million over the next two years. “We were not anticipating fees to generate revenue well above what the Legislature authorized,” Boen-ing said during the hearing, noting the justiﬁcation for the increases 14 J ANUARY 15, 2016 for Texas farmers and ranchers to grow food and ﬁber. And their impact will be felt by many. Although the changes to TDA’s fees were only anticipated to imple-ment the $5.1 million in additional cost recovery authorized, they are include items that are normally in core agency funding. Items, he said, such as new uniforms for inspec-tors and capital costs for equip-ment, software and vehicles. And the additional revenue of fees from cost recovery could be swept into the general revenue for the state, meaning those increases may not beneﬁt agriculture, Boen-ing said. With farmers and ranchers bear-ing the brunt of the fees, a possible excess is unacceptable. Especially when some of the increases are more than doubling. “We are concerned about the cu-mulative effect of increases in di-rect and indirect fees that will be passed on to farmers and ranchers by other agricultural businesses, such as grain elevators,” Boening testiﬁed. Those facilities will see increas-es for annual inspections and li-cense applications and renewals. To renew a grain warehouse license, the cost more than doubled from $235 under the previous structure to $500. Other fees, such as agricultural weights and measures, also saw sig-niﬁcant increases. Livestock scales, 5,000 lbs. or greater, increased by $178 to $350, and truck scales rose from $228 to $400. Consumers could notice the in-creases, too, because the agency has a wide range of duties, including ensuring metal scales properly dis-play weights, checking gas pumps for accuracy and verifying that gro-cery store scanners work properly. They’re increases that farmers, ranchers and consumers will be faced with for years to come. “When commodity prices are down for farmers and ranchers and margins are thin, this is just one more pressure affecting our bottom line,” Boening said.