Florida’s delegation wants farm bill to protect growers, benefits
Florida Delegation co-chairs Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Vern Buchanan. Photo by Jacob Ogles.

Wasserman Schultz Buchanan
Disaster recovery and specialty crops were all topics on the agenda.

Florida lawmakers convened for a meeting on Capitol Hill ahead of farm bill negotiations.

The farm bill is legislation Congress passes only twice a decade. As the August recess nears, lawmakers said they are braced for a battle to help Florida’s farmers and poor families who rely on federal benefits.

“I believe that in Florida, we have the most to lose as a delegation if we don’t get this right,” said U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack.

The Gainesville Republican is one of two Florida lawmakers sitting on the House Agriculture Committee, and the only member of the majority caucus. She expects to see draft legislation for the farm bill as soon as September.

In the meantime, Cammack said voices in Florida’s agriculture community need to reach out and make their own policy and funding needs clear.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic Co-Chair of the delegation, characterized the farm bill as a regional struggle, and one where lawmakers will need to work in concert across the aisle. The meeting, attended at points by 15 of Florida’s 28 House members, showed the delegation plans to stand shoulder to shoulder.

“The Florida delegation steps up and is very unified around the issues that are the most important to our state,” she said. “Those are the times when we put partisanship aside, whether it’s agriculture or protecting the Everglades or fighting drilling off the coast of Florida.”

She felt especially satisfied that lawmakers and experts split time equally between two major aspects of the farm bill — the needs of the agriculture industry and food programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, Republican Co-Chair of the delegation, noted that agriculture remains Florida’s second biggest industry behind only tourism, so it’s critical the state gets fair treatment.

“It’s a good opportunity to make a difference,” he said.

Also, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair, Buchanan noted health care is a $4.3 trillion industry, and costs rise every year. He believes more local sourcing of fruits and vegetables for programs like SNAP would improve the health of the nation and the economy of Florida.

Of note, Florida has the third-largest House delegation in the country and the second-largest Republican delegation. But only one Democrat and one Republican represent the state on the House Agriculture Committee.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat on that panel, said Florida has a number of special concerns from citrus greening to hurricane recovery. He said the delegation meeting, more than anything, showed Florida members not serving on the Agriculture Committee the areas that most critically would impact the state.

“This is a coalition bill, and it has always had a tough road ahead to pass,” he said, “but it’s passed every five years or so with bipartisan support. We desperately need all our Ag Committee and all our Florida delegation members to vote for the final product.”

Of course, there were a few moments of partisan discussion. Wasserman Schultz did criticize House GOP Appropriations leaders for proposing $185 million in cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). She voiced a hope Republicans in the delegation would push back on that.

Experts spoke to the panel on a variety of changes to Florida farming and food benefits.

Dr. Scott Angle, Senior Vice President of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said his institution is continuing research on how artificial intelligence will reduce the cost of farming. “We’ve long had mechanical harvesters but up to now these machines did not know how to harvest the strawberry,” he said as one example.

Meanwhile, Susan King, CEO of Feeding Northeast Florida, stressed the need to preserve SNAP benefits. She said lawmakers should keep in mind not only the one in nine Floridians and one in seven Florida children who live under the poverty line but also the working poor and those who often just need a bridge of assistance through economic hardships.

Mike Risola attended the hearing on behalf of Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson. He said Congress needs to treat the health of farms as a national security issue, and suggested more needs to be done to utilize Florida growers and livestock producers as a source of goods.

Officials also stressed the need for Congress to provide better protections to Florida’s specialty crop growers, who have suffered for years from what lawmakers on both sides of the aisle see as unfair trade practices by Mexico.

If the farm bill doesn’t adequately protect Florida farmers, Risola suggested “there’s not going to be a next generation of farmers.”

And R.J. Layher, Director of Government Affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, stressed the need for solid insurance backing. He said more needs to be done to educate farmers on the benefits of crop insurance, especially in a disaster-prone state like Florida. He also wants better updates to the hurricane risk index at the federal level, something demonstrated when Hurricane Ian tore through the citrus-rich Florida Heartland last year.

Image via Jacob Ogles.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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    July 27, 2023 at 12:11 pm

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  • Dont Say FLA

    July 27, 2023 at 12:36 pm

    Protect the farmers! But murder their workers with floating razor wire balls in the Rio Grande. Then maybe the lazy Maggas can find jobs. …And this is why we, the GOP, do not raise the legal minimum wage to anything close to a living wage. If the Maggas ever go back to work, we want to pay them what their job is worth, not some minimum amount that allows for them to pay their bills and eat or maybe even get ahead in life because then we would have no voters left at all.

  • Real Thomas Kaspar

    July 27, 2023 at 1:15 pm

    Why are these lazy farmers asking for more handouts?
    This is SOCIALISM.

    Pull yourself up by your bootstraps you commies.

    • Dont Say FLA

      July 27, 2023 at 9:21 pm

      Well obviously RTK, these farmers are a bunch of lazy shiftless good for nothin’ Maggas.

Comments are closed.


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