Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried sent a letter Wednesday to President Donald Trump, requesting the administration continue processing seasonal work visas.
“I write to you today as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture on behalf of our state’s forest industry to request you continue to recognize the importance of maintaining H-2B visa processing that provides the nonimmigrant labor this essential industry needs to remain productive,” Fried wrote.
Fried added that the temporary worker visas are critical to U.S. agriculture, timber and forestry, particularly in Florida, where 47,000 farms account for two million jobs and have an economic impact of $137 billion.
The industry has faced several economic impacts in recent years including COVID-19 and retaliatory tariffs from China.
“Our proud forest landowners are resilient,” Fried wrote. “They are still producing and contributing greatly to our state’s and nation’s economy during these unprecedented times, with forestry having been recognized as an essential business during COVID-19 in guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”
Florida is experiencing a 66% decline in key timber exports to China since the Trump administration announced tariffs.
“H-2B seasonal guestworkers are critical for these operations to continue undisrupted, with the forest industry the second largest user of this visa program, and the State of Florida second in the nation for H-2B hiring.”
Florida’s timber industry is still reeling from 2018 when a Category Five hurricane struck the panhandle, the state’s leading timber industry.
More than 19 months later, the industry is still awaiting promised relief from the United States Department of Agriculture to clean up the 72 million tons of trees that fell in the region. In total, roughly 550 million trees were damaged or destroyed.
The price of clearing downed timber can cost upwards of $2,000 per acre, further adding to the economic impact.
Florida’s timber industry suffered $1.3 billion in economic losses from Hurricane Michael.