Money is tight in Tallahassee as lawmakers look to cut budgets and programs. So why is Florida spending millions of dollars to create and test a new online farm calendar?
It's a calendar some say farmers don't need, don't want, and never even asked for.
"I have no idea what they are taking about. I've never heard of such a thing," said Carl Grooms, who owns Fancy Farms and grows strawberries in Plant City.
Dan Ebbecke, a blueberry farmer agrees. "I've never heard of it and I don't know anybody who has."
Ebbecke, who owns D&S Blueberries in Masaryktown, says the information is already online through the University of Florida.
"They do a great job at UF, I get everything I need," he continued.
That's what Rick Lusher, the director of the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) at the University of Florida, likes to hear.
"The farmers are telling us that we are doing everything right," said Lusher. "We collect weather data from 36 stations around the state every 15 minutes and the data comes in though cell phone or a local internet connection."
But the state plans to spend $4-million to build a new online calendar called PADLOC. The acronym stands for Precision Agriculture Daily Logistics Online Calendar.
The state will spend another $4-million to test soil sensors around the state. That's a total of $8-million for a calendar the commissioner of agriculture didn't want either.
"The Legislature has the power of the purse and, as per the constitution, we do what we're told," said Commissioner Adam Putnam. He was told by lawmakers to spend the money and find somebody who can build the new calendar.
"That's something that the Legislature decides and we're tasked with implementing and we're going to make sure that's done on a competitive basis. Anybody that feels like they have technology that works, they can bid on it".
So how did $8-million, which appears as line item 1335 in the 2011 budget, get approved? FOX 13 went looking for the answer.
We learned, in addition to the commissioner of agriculture, the governor also did not request it. So we followed the money trail to the Senate Budget Committee and it turns out not one of the 20 committee members asked for it either.
So we asked Senate Committee Chairman JD Alexander, but his office passed the buck and referred us to Senate President Mike Haridopolos. His press secretary, Lyndsey Cruley, sent us an email that said, "I followed up with committee staff on this issue, and after researching it they unfortunately don't have information relating to whether someone requested the funding for this project, whether it was added during conference, etc. I am sorry we cannot be of more help."
Dan Ebbecke thinks he's sniffed out the truth: "It smells like pork to me."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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