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.

Congress only passes a farm bill every five years. Florida leaders say that means urgency in getting things right on legislation impacting a top state industry.

“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, a Gainesville Republican.

She and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, will be the only Florida voices on the House Agriculture Committee as the bill comes together. But at a meeting of the Florida congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., members of the state’s 28-member contingent promised to work in concert to ensure the Sunshine State gets its share of support.

“This is a coalition bill, and it has always had a tough road ahead to pass,” Soto 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.”

The legislative package will cover a number of policy arenas from research and regulations to funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Lawmakers from across the state voice different priorities when it comes to the Farm Bill. U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican, voiced concern for supporting the Panhandle’s timber industry, while U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, an Orlando Democrat, wants universities researching urban farming techniques for small tracts like those in his metropolitan district.

The territorial disputes also play out amid an evolving conversation about food production as a national security issue. U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican, noted China has purchased $2 billion in agricultural lands in the U.S., granting greater power over America’s domestic crop production. And U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, a Rockledge Republican, in June filed legislation drawing attention to China’s control of the farm pig population globally and the impact that has on pharmaceutical products like heparin.

Mike Risola, federal affairs director for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, said Congress needs to treat the health of farms as a security issue and suggested more needs to be done to utilize Florida growers and livestock producers as a source of goods.

The state also continues to recover from Hurricane Ian, which destroyed an estimated $1 billion in citrus crops. Most of those were in Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin’s Heartland district, and he’s pushing for reforming the federal government’s relief grant process to streamline federal dollars in the wake of natural disasters.

R.J. Layher, Director of Government Affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, stressed the need for solid farm insurance backing, another matter primarily addressed by the farm bill twice a decade. Layher 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.

Experts in Florida agriculture showed up in Washington discussing Florida’s contribution to agriculture nationwide.

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.

Much of the fight over the farm bill likely will extend into SNAP provisions. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, said she’s concerned the GOP majority on the House Appropriations Committee already proposed $185 million in cuts to Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) funding.

Susan King, CEO of Feeding Northeast Florida, stressed the need to preserve SNAP benefits, and said any cuts there will have cascading impacts on Florida’s nonprofit entities. She said 1 in 9 Floridians and 1 in 7 Florida children live under the poverty line today. But cuts will also impact many members of the working poor who often just need a short-term bridge of assistance through economic hardship.

However, in the upper chamber of Congress, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott said he wants to see reforms that ensure SNAP funds go only to those who need them. “You shouldn’t be able to be on food stamps if you’re not willing to work,” he said. “If you are able-bodied, you’ve got to get to work unless you have young children or elderly parents who you are responsible for.”

But an issue where there’s bipartisanship agreement in Florida is in the need to provide better protections for the state’s specialty crop growers. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle point to shortcomings in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that allow for dumping of cheap crops from Mexico, where farmers enjoy lower labor costs and less regulation.

“Things like the seasonal perishable provisions that were excluded out of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and then from the USMCA, those have tremendously harmed our producers,” Cammack said. “When you think about our tomato growers, for example, they’re operating under a tomato suspension agreement that hasn’t been enforced, so it’s being more harmful than helpful.”

Lawmakers anticipate the first drafts of the farm bill will be published in September. The prior farm bill, passed in 2018, expires on Sept. 30.

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].

One comment

  • Suze

    August 3, 2023 at 7:04 am

    wouldn’t that be something socialized from those horrible snowflakes??? OMG Don’t give that MAGA state $1 from my tax dollars. They want their MAGA values, let Kat go get Putin to send Florida Farmers money.

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