Kat Cammack, Darren Soto advocate for Florida as farm bill forms
Darren Soto and Kat Cammack at Ag n The Mall. Images via X.

Cammack Soto
The House expects to hold a markup on the twice-a-decade bill this month.

John Deere tractors and other farm equipment dotted the National Mall as contractors held a Celebration of Modern Ag on the National Mall event. Associations from the International Fresh Produce Association to the American Soybean Association lobbied lawmakers directly as Congress prepares an overdue farm bill.

Both U.S. Reps. Kat Cammack and Darren Soto, the lone Florida lawmakers on the House Agriculture Committee, could be spotted touring the heavy machinery parked near their Washington offices.

“It was great to see the emerging technologies that support our farmers, ranchers, and producers across the country,” read a post from Cammack’s official account. The Gainesville Republican also shared photos of herself as a “Celebration of Modern Agriculture” hearing about sustainability practices.

Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, showed a picture of himself biting into a fresh pepper, as well as discussions with equipment manufacturers about the future of farming. “As a member of the Ag Committee, I will continue to advance technology in the #FarmBill to improve yields, lower costs, and help feed America,” Soto posted.

The lawmakers also spoke with Florida Politics in recent weeks about the protracted drafting of the farm bill, with each suggesting the summer as a critical month in preparing legislation taken up by Congress just twice a decade.

Each said Florida has a tremendous amount at stake in the bill, especially as the industry continues to recover from Hurricane Ian, which in 2022 devastated the industry with a 40% crop loss and touched thousands of acres of farmland.

Cammack, a Gainesville Republican, hopes to see a markup held on the farm bill by Memorial Day. She’s confident Florida’s needs will be addressed in the bill, despite the Sunshine state having just two representatives on the 54-member House Agriculture Committee.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work over the last couple of years and making sure that, despite us not having a lot of members representing Florida interests on the committee, we have very vocal members on the committee,” she said. “At the end of the day, I think that is what matters.”

Rep. G.T. Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican chairing the House Agriculture Committee, has such a hearing scheduled for May 23. He already released a basic framework for the bill on May 1.

“This bill is a product of an extensive and transparent process, which included soliciting feedback from Members of both political parties, stakeholder input from across the nation, and some tough conversations,” Thompson said in a statement.

“Each title of this farm bill reflects a commitment to the American farmer and viable pathways to funding those commitments, and is equally responsive to the politics of the 118th Congress. The Committee on Agriculture will markup this bill on May 23, and I hope for unanimous support in this endeavor to bring stability to producers, protect our nation’s food security, and revitalize rural America.”

Cammack said Florida may have more to lose than any other state, with a list of concerns ranging from specialty crop insurance to international trade practices. She noted many Florida farmers felt mistreated under the North American Free Trade Agreement, in place from 1994 until 2018, which allowed cheaper produce to be imported from Mexico and South America. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement sought to address inequities in trade, but Florida farmers say it still allows for imported crops with lower safety standards.

“We continually found ourselves in a position where our producers were at a disadvantage,” she said. “And that was because of trade deals.”

Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, said Florida agriculture has plenty at stake right now, especially in a hurricane-prone area. He has worked with U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, a Lakeland Republican, on legislation that would streamline disaster block grants by giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture standing authority to issue grants to farmers and growers in the wake of natural disasters.

“We’ve been blessed with many years of having healthy cattle herds and great success among our ranchers,” Soto said, “but they could face, at any time, a threat.”

He noted endangered Key deer in South Florida have seen cases of screwworm in recent years, which could ultimately become a problem if Florida livestock populations become infected as well. He’d like to see investment in a federal vaccine bank for animals to ensure resources are available to Florida agriculture to control any spread of disease.

He feels confident there’s broad support for improving the vaccine bank, and said there’s understanding in Washington about the threat of citrus greening on Florida’s identity-making orange industry.

“There have been major breakthroughs with pesticide injections into trees,” he said. “There need to be research dollars to follow up on that. It’s just a matter of fully funding it.”

Cammack said work can also be done in the Farm Bill to cut down on how far food products travel from the farm to reach consumers’ tables.

“Certainly we see on both sides of the aisle a strong desire to reduce these food miles,” she said. “Whether it’s from an environmental standpoint, whether it’s from a food desert standpoint, whether it is from a producer or consumer side, people have always been very supportive of this concept. This is our opportunity to actually make good on it.”

There are areas where committee members from both sides of the aisle have publicly disagreed.

Soto has kept an eye both on the needs of farmers and on food programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which are also part of the legislation.

“We should help feed Americans, and every Floridian should have access to quality, lower-cost foods,” Soto said. “There are just as many red-state folks on SNAP as blue states.”

Cammack said she expects a Republican majority in the Senate to seek out some entitlement reform with whatever product it produces.

“We have been tasked, certainly, in this majority, with advancing a farm bill that delivers real reforms on the nutritional and snap side, as well as supporting our farmers and ranchers,” she said. “I’m confidence that we’ll get a product that will do that.”

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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