Florida congressional delegation hones in on statewide agricultural issues

by | Jul 28, 2023

  • Florida’s bipartisan congressional delegation held a meeting to address the needs of the state’s agricultural industry, focusing on issues such as hurricanes, citrus greening, and illegal dumping of specialty crops.
  • The forthcoming Farm Bill, the centerpiece of the meeting, is crucial for Florida’s agriculture sector, providing disaster relief programs to mitigate the impact of natural disasters on crops and farmland.
  • Hurricanes caused significant losses to citrus farms, with an estimated $1.5 billion overall state agriculture loss in Florida due to the hurricanes.
  • The 2023 Farm Bill aims to fund specialty crop research, including the use of artificial intelligence applications to increase production efficiency. It also has implications for international trade policies affecting Florida’s agricultural exports and access to global markets.

Florida’s bipartisan congressional delegation convened this week to discuss the needs of the state’s agricultural industry following hurricanes, citrus greening, and the illegal dumping of specialty crops.

Placing an emphasis on the quinquennial Farm Bill, the wide-ranging legislation holds significant importance for Florida’s agriculture sector, which heavily relies on its provisions to remedy financial difficulties. Florida representatives are turning to the measure for its disaster relief programs to mitigate the impact of natural disasters like hurricanes on crops and farmland in the state.

In a presentation given to the state Senate in February, the Florida Department of Citrus told lawmakers that more than 375,000 acres of commercial citrus farms faced production losses due to hurricane or tropical storm-force winds, resulting in $146.9 million to $304.3 million in lost revenue. Agency representatives also stated that between 8 and 11 percent of the state’s citrus trees were damaged or destroyed during hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

A cost analysis estimate conducted by the University of Florida posited that overall state agriculture loss in Florida due to the hurricanes amounted to at least $1.5 billion.

Moreover, the 2023 Farm Bill looks to fund specialty crop research, including the use of artificial intelligence applications within the sector to increase production efficiency.

“This is a critical industry to Florida that supports an estimated 2.1 million jobs,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan. “As Congress considers the Farm Bill in the coming weeks, I’m confident our state’s delegation will secure necessary wins for Florida’s farmers and ranchers.”

The bill’s influence on international trade policies also directly affects the state’s agricultural exports and access to global markets. During the meeting, lawmakers pressed industry representatives about China purchasing large swaths of Floridian farmland, as well as federal tax dollars being spent on foreign-produced commodities.

However, legislation was adopted by state lawmakers earlier this year to address foreign ownership concerns. SB 264, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May, limits the acquisition of agricultural land within the state by foreign principals, business entities, governments, government officials, or political parties associated with “foreign countries of concern,” specifically named in the bill as North Korea, Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela’s Maduro administration.

“Commissioner Simpson has recently passed a requirement ensuring fresh food from Florida farmers are in state programs,” said Mike Risola, Director of Federal Affairs for the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Florida lawmakers in Congress coalesced to introduce the Restore Agricultural Investment, Stability, and Expansion (RAISE) Act of 2023 to Congress this month, which seeks to amend the Agricultural Act of 2014 to authorize emergency assistance for high-value crop losses.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Scott FranklinDebbie Wasserman SchultzDarren Soto, and Kat Cammack, intends to provide emergency assistance to producers of high-value crops — including citrus — that have suffered losses in revenue, quality, or production due to various natural disasters and extreme weather conditions including drought, wildfire, hurricanes, and floods.

The measure further proposes that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture establish a program to make payments to producers of high-value crops through block grants to individual states, meaning that the funds and responsibility for distributing assistance can be delegated to local governments.

“When extreme weather threatens our crops, as is often the case in the Sunshine State, we must be prepared to help our farmers recover and continue the important work of feeding our nation,” said Cammack.

The introduced legislation builds upon a piece of U.S. House-passed legislation known as the “Block Grant Assistance Act,” which aims to enhance the allocation of disaster relief funding for agricultural producers affected by natural calamities.

Sponsored by all 28 delegates of Florida, the bill similarly amends the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to distribute assistance for agricultural losses from Hurricane Ian through block grants, replacing the direct disbursement of funds to individual producers.

“I’m pleased that earlier this month the House unanimously passed our bill to give the USDA block grant authority to expedite disaster relief for agricultural producers still recovering from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole,” said Franklin, who led the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act’s passage.

Industry analysts predict that Florida processors will need to depend on imports and domestic receipts to meet the current market demand. According to leaders, Florida Citrus has been on a downward trend for two decades due to issues like residential and commercial development, foreign imports, and an incurable bacterial disease known as citrus greening.

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