Kat Cammack said Florida has the most to lose in farm bill fight

Congress also passes the agriculture package once every 5 years.

With a fight over the farm bill looming, U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack worries Florida goes into the battle at a disadvantage.

The Gainesville Republican serves on the House Agriculture Committee, a spot she held this year only after asking for special dispensation to serve on three panels.

She’s the only Florida lawmaker in the majority caucus with a voice in the room as the House crafts a bill that only comes up for consideration every five years. U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, is the only other Floridian on the committee. But Cammack feels the weight of the state’s top industries on her shoulders.

“We’ve never had one Republican and one Democrat representing the entire state’s agricultural economy and operation that I remember,” Cammack said. “We’ve always had at least four members, you know, two Republicans, two Democrats, or some variation of that.”

The Florida congressional delegation last week held a meeting in Washington with top experts in Florida agriculture. There, Cammack told colleagues from both sides of the aisle that “in Florida, we have the most to lose as a delegation if we don’t get this right.”

Cammack spoke with Florida Politics in her Washington office and again stressed the stakes of the legislation. And there’s little time as she expects drafts of the bill to be released as soon as September.

“Not to sound too dramatic, but I feel like Florida really is either the top or one of the top three states that has the most at stake in this farm bill,” she said.

The fight over funding for farm research, subsidies, insurance and distribution will likely turn at times into a regional battle rather than a partisan one. And there are plenty of regional priorities Cammack wants addressed.

“We as a state produce over 300 specialty crops,” she said. But those crops are vulnerable to natural disasters during growing season. Add to that fears of citrus greening reducing yields on Florida’s most famous crop and there’s a greater demand for protections than farmers in most states need.

Trade deals in recent decades also put many of those crop growers in competition with Mexico, which has lower labor costs and, by many Florida lawmakers’ assessment, has illegally dumped poor crops into the U.S. market year after year.

“Things like the seasonal perishable provisions that were excluded out of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and then from the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), 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.”

Cammack worries more farmers will abandon the craft and shift land use to more profitable enterprises like development. But that shift could bring consequences not just in terms of a viable Florida industry but in food security for the country and the import-export balance of food goods.

The farm bill also deals with funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Cammack sees good reason those conversations are legislatively tied. Her office also wrote a Farmers Feeding America bill encouraging federal programs to source more domestic crops.

“We wanted to make a play to say listen, there’s a way to support producers now and for the next generation, and it’s through ensuring that the products that Americans are consuming are actually American products,” she said.

Congress right now directs $124 billion toward SNAP, but only $26 billion of that is required to be used on U.S.-produced foods. She sees a way to find bipartisan agreement on requiring those businesses accepting food stamps to require more American products. In the process, that could create better supply lines into food deserts and incentivize farm-to-table operations.

“It’s really concerning when you have folks that are growing healthy food right in your backyard, and yet we’re trucking it up from Central and South America through Mexico, adding food miles,” Cammack said. “And to my environmental friends, I ask them, have you calculated those food miles?”

There’s still plenty of reason for optimism on Florida’s farming future, she said. The Representative for the University of Florida’s main campus, she points to research being done there on how artificial intelligence can lead to better and cheaper crop practices.

Plenty of battles for Florida’s farms boast bipartisan support, including funding block grants for citrus farms devastated by Hurricane Ian.

But the storm damage, which destroyed an estimated $1 billion worth of Florida citrus crops, adds urgency to providing relief.

“The loss of the citrus industry in Florida would be devastating,” she said. “You can’t think of Florida without thinking of beaches, palm trees, Disney and oranges.”

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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