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What does agriculture want from the 2013 legislative session?
Joe Saunders
To the rest of the world, we're Disney. And Miami. And the Everglades. And long, long stretches of beaches. (And, unfortunately, yes, elections, too.) But coastal residents who head an hour or two inland, or anyone who takes the long drive across Florida's midsection gets reminded that agriculture is a big part of Florida -- well beyond our iconic oranges,it's the second biggest engine of the Sunshine State's economy. This week, Florida Voices asked some of those who know the industry best – growers and field workers: What does agriculture want from the 2013 legislative session? It's not real sexy, and it generally doesn't make for good TV. But it is about food. And we all have an interest in eating.
Lisa Lochridge
Director of Public Affairs, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association

The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association is an advocacy group whose members are growers of fresh produce. FFVA members represent the vast majority of production of fresh fruits and vegetables in the state. Now in its 70th year, FFVA serves as a strong, unified voice for the state’s fresh produce industry, representing farmers on legislative and regulatory issues at the local, state and federal levels. Its mission is to enhance the business and competitive environment for producing and marketing fruits, vegetables and other crops. FFVA has offices in Maitland and Tallahassee.

Agriculture is working with some new dynamics in the Florida Legislature. Because of term limits and legislative redistricting, there was significant turnover in the 2012 election, with 59 newcomers to Tallahassee. Of 40 senators, 15 are new – including a gain of two seats for Democrats. The election marked the first time in 30 years the Democrats had a net gain in the Senate. Of the 120 House members, 44 are new. The Democrat picked up a gain of five seats, effectively ending the GOP’s veto-proof two-thirds majority.

Going into the 2013 Legislature, two key priorities for FFVA are immigration and water.

Immigration reform

The issue is expected to come up again this session, with some legislators indicating they will reintroduce an immigration bill (a bill requiring the mandatory use of the federal E-Verify system failed in the 2011 session). It remains to be seen whether Republican lawmakers have softened their hard-line stance as some of their counterparts in Congress have. However, several bills to allow children of undocumented workers to receive in-state college tuition already have been filed.

FFVA firmly believes the immigration issue belongs at the federal level and has worked for years on a bipartisan solution for agriculture. FFVA is part of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, a new national alliance representing all segments of agriculture to ensure that the industry speaks with a unified voice on immigration. Reform is imperative if American farmers are going to have a legal, stable supply of workers to produce food for the country.

The AWC has proposed a two-pronged approach to ensure a legal, reliable and long-term workforce for farmers. It includes a visa program that would allow agricultural employees the choice of working under a contract with a single employer or moving from employer to employer as the market dictates. The coalition’s framework also calls for an adjustment in legal status for experienced agricultural workers who are in the U.S. but not documented. More information can be found at agworkforcecoalition.org.

Water supply

FFVA is supporting an effort to create an agricultural water supply program in the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Every five years, Florida’s water management districts must update plans detailing how they will allocate water permits. They focus on the pressure points for supply and demand and consider where alternative supplies might need to be developed, such as desalination and reclaimed water. The new program being proposed in the Legislature would shift responsibility for estimating future agricultural water needs to the Department of Agriculture. The department then would provide the data to the water districts for long-term water-use projections. The plan would give agriculture an equitable seat at the table during the water supply planning process.

Other efforts

As always, FFVA also will work to prevent additional costs for farmers in the form of fees, taxes and regulations. We also will work to protect the budgets of the state Department of Agriculture and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences from deep or inequitable cuts.


Cindy Roe Littlejohn
Chairwoman, Florida Agriculture Coalition

Florida’s agriculture is not visible to 80 percent of Floridians. Many never leave our coastal areas; and when they do, they seldom venture beyond Florida’s freeways and airports.

This is not all bad, as mostly ag wants to be left alone to do what we are very good at doing – providing food and fiber for our nation. But it is not all good either, because most Floridians do not understand the system in which their food is produced.

Florida is seventh in the nation in ag production. We have a diversity of climates and soils and produce over 250 different crops and livestock.

We’re first in the nation in citrus; even after canker and greening, California isn’t close. There are approximately 80 million citrus trees in Florida. We’re also first in sweet corn, clams, squash, sugarcane, ornamental fish, and indoor foliage. We’re second in bell peppers, horses, floriculture, cucumbers, nursery stocks, snap beans, egg plants, and all specialty crops.

One Florida ranch owns the largest brood cow herd in North America, and we are also home to four of the nation’s largest cow-calf operations. We export to over 100 countries worldwide. Our economic impacts amount to over $76 billion.

So what are we asking of the Legislature in 2013?

First, please do no harm to IFAS

Research, technology development and education have transformed not only Florida but the entire nation from an agrarian society, where most resources were allocated to the production of food, to a society where only 2% of the population is needed to produce our entire food supply. And we do it for less than 10 cents on the dollar and with a very narrow profit margin.

England does it for 22 percent. Germany’s is 21 percent. Japan’s is 26 percent, and India’s is 51 percent. America’s food cost is the lowest of all nations. Land grant university programs, like IFAS are the reason. To Florida’s agricultural community, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, is our rock star!

IFAS constantly strives to keep one step ahead of the problems that we face. They help us by developing new plant varieties that yield more with reduced inputs, with constantly changing markets due to changes in consumer preferences, with competition, with globalization, and with improvements in technology.

One important example is irrigation technologies and plant varieties that require less water. Citrus and tomato crops use less water than they did 20 years ago, thanks to changes in the way we irrigate.

There was a time when Florida had no blueberry industry, a crop that required a certain amount of cold in order to produce. Because of IFAS work in genetics, they developed a blueberry that requires less cold. Now Florida has a significant blueberry industry that supplies this product when nowhere else in the world can supply it, taking advantage of a market window.

IFAS works every day to find a solution to citrus greening and tens of dozens of other pest and diseases that find their way here. Every industry has a success story to tell, and IFAS is often the star in these stories.

Second, please do no harm to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.

One example within DACS is the Office of Agricultural Water Policy, which develops our Best Management Practices, addressing both water quality and water quantity. This office works cooperatively with agricultural producers, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, IFAS, and the Water Management Districts to develop and implement BMP programs that are economically and technically feasible.

BMPs are used to reduce the amount of pesticides, fertilizers, animal wastes, and other inputs and outputs that may enter our water resources. They increase water-use efficiencies. They benefit water quality and water conservation while maintaining or even enhancing ag production.

Third, please provide a stable regulatory atmosphere for our businesses.

Because we are so few, because many of our governmental bodies are looking for ways to increase revenue, and because there are people in our society who would just rather we didn’t do business at all in Florida, agriculture is constantly faced with an onslaught of rules, ordinances, regulations and fees.

A good example was when a county required a permit and fee before repairing a downed fence. Little thought was given as to the safety problems of cattle on the highway, while the farmer was down at the courthouse. A city decided to impose stormwater fees on a commercial timber tract, when that timber owner was already engaged in BMPs for his water runoff. This resulted in a duplication of regulation and costs for this timber owner’s operations. We asked the Legislature to help in both of these examples.

Finally, we ask the Legislature to be very careful when dealing with Florida’s greenbelt laws.

Greenbelt is the backbone of Florida’s ag industry, and the property taxes that farmer’s pay. It is a land- use classification – not an exemption – and an assessment based on the land’s production value, rather than its market value.

Greenbelt provides a lower tax rate and recognizes that ag lands consume a fraction of the public services that homeowners do. Cows don’t need schools, nor do crops need the same level of fire protection. Government services to ag farm land amount to about 25 cents for every tax dollar paid.

This is compared to homeowners, who receive about $1.50 for their tax dollar. Preservation of the greenbelt classification is critical to the sustainability of Florida’s ag lands.

Regulations, taxes and fees cost money; and most costs are usually passed on to the consumer. In agriculture, though, there is a time lag where the farmer has to eat the costs.

Our products are sold at market as perishables, and most Florida products are perishables (specialty crops) that cannot be stored like the mid-western (commodity) crops. You can store most corn and wheat, but you cannot store fresh fruits and vegetables for long. When our crops come into harvest, we take what the market offers. We do not set our prices. We are price takers, not price makers.

Also for Florida agriculture, there are little if any subsidies. Again, we are a specialty crop state; and we are blessed with the climate and soils to grow high value crops. The commodity crops are low value

crops, and most are subsidized because of their value in storage. The kings in the Bible stored crops for droughts and to maintain civil order. Our commodity crops are America’s system for doing the same. When the masses are underfed, civil disorder quickly follows.

Agriculture in Florida manages over 25 million acres of ag land, including the vast forests of north Florida. There are over 45,000 farms, nurseries, ranches and forest operations, where 36 percent of the principal operators are women. The largest farms are in Central and South Florida in a belt that reaches from Hillsborough down across to Palm Beach County, the 15th biggest ag producing county in the nation.

This system of food production in America has freed millions of acres of land for other human enterprises. It has freed millions of people to produce items and services other than food. It has liberated millions of dollars to spend on activities and services other than food, such as travel (vacations), health care, clothing and our homes. It has freed time and land and dollars. Agriculture is the base on which our entire country’s economy stands.

Agriculture continues to grow in Florida, because our farmers continue to adapt. Because we only make up about 2 percent of the population, our changes go mostly unnoticed. Our plea to the Legislature is to realize that this industry is a complicated and industrial system.

Please do no harm. All of America depend on our products.

Michael W. Sparks
Senior Vice President, CEO, Florida Citrus Mutual

One of the highest priorities for Florida Citrus Mutual and the entire Florida citrus industry is pursuing state investments in citrus research to supplement the grower dollars being spent on finding solutions to HLB (Huanglongbing, or Citrus Greening Disease).

The entire industry should be applauded for working cooperatively on this effort. The Indian River Citrus League was instrumental in laying the groundwork with Gov. Rick Scott for what has become our 2013 research “ask.”

Consequently, the citrus industry is requesting that the state of Florida invest $9 million in 2013 to assist growers in their fight against HLB. Here’s how the request breaks down:

  • $8 million for short term research.

  • $500,000 to support Citrus Health Management Areas.

  • $500,000 for expansion of the state budwood facility in Chiefland.

The good news is, if approved, the money will be immediately available on July 1. This industry push for state research dollars has not been a slipshod process. Over the past six months, Florida Citrus Mutual, IRCL, the Florida Department of Citrus and the Citrus Research and Development Foundation have been in constant contact with elected officials to discuss the best way to get the request through the Legislature and signed by the governor.

In fact, Florida Citrus Mutual testified in front of the House and Senate agriculture committees on Jan. 16 in Tallahassee to detail the request as well as the disease challenges facing the Florida citrus grower.

I very much enjoyed directly communicating with members of the committees and outlining why the state must step up to assist our $9 billion industry and its 76,000 jobs. Several legislators I talked to after the presentation said they understood our issues and supported the industry. It’s nice to know decision-makers appreciate all that our industry does.

We will offer a full update to growers as this issue progresses. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Florida Citrus Mutual can be reached at [email protected] or 863-682-1111.


Jeannie Economos
Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator, Farmworker Association of Florida

(Note: This column has been modified from its previous posting to delete references to KidCare.)

The “invisible ones” – that is how many people refer to farmworkers. They perform some of the most

vital work in the country – growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables in fields and orchards across the land – yet most people do not even know they exist. Farm workers constitute our agricultural labor force.

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States today, and farm workers have some of the highest rates of injuries and of chemically related illnesses of any occupational group. A number of hurdles
further threaten farm worker communities, such as: language barriers, low wages, immigration status, lack of formal education, housing conditions, fear of employer retaliation, lack of health care and other benefits, workplace violations, and vulnerability to exploitation.

In 1983, farm workers in Central Florida came together in order to address the problems of the farmworker community and to organize themselves more effectively in their struggle for better

housing, wages, and working conditions. In 1986, they incorporated as the Farmworker Association of Florida (or Association), expanding into a statewide organization in 1992.

Today, FWAF is a grassroots, community-based organization of more than 8,000 member families who work primarily in the vegetable, citrus, mushroom, sod, fern, and foliage industries in 12 counties throughout Central and South Florida.

The members are approximately 94 percent Latino (predominantly Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran), 3 percent Haitian, and 3 percent African-American. Approximately 40 percent are

women. In total, FWAF’s organizing efforts impact at least 40,000 individuals in rural agricultural areas.

Here are the main issues the FWAF would ask Florida lawmakers to address this session:

In-state tuition

FWAF believes in-state college tuition rates should be available for Florida high school graduates regardless of their immigration status.

Prospective college students who lack documentation because they were brought to this country as children by parents without documentationcurrently do not qualify for in-state tuition rates. Also, FWAF opposes efforts to deny U.S.-born college students or prospective college students in-state tuition rates based on their parents' immigration status.

Many very talented and intelligent youth are looking at a future of dead-end jobs because of this barrier to their attaining a higher education. These young people and our state can only benefit by their access to a good college education.

Assistance for Lake Apopka workers

FWAF supports measures to assist former Lake Apopka farmworkers dealing with health issues related to decades of pesticide exposure. In 2011 and 2012, state Sen. Gary Siplin, D- Orlando, included a line item of $500,000 in the state budget to be allocated to the local community health center toward the health care needs of this community.

The measure passed in the Florida House and Senate in 2011 and 2012 but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott each year. The organization hopes to find an advocate in the state Legislature to introduce this again in 2013.

While this issue will directly affect a relatively small percentage of FWAF's constituency, the message it would send about Florida's responsibility for the health of its agricultural workers would be a powerful one.

Other Issues

The Association is also interested in state legislation that revises how the state calculates unemployment compensation, such that farmworkers doing seasonal work are not penalized by being denied eligibility according to an outdated UC calculation that has been revised by most other states in the country.

In addition, FWAF has advocated for improved health and safety protections for the state’s agricultural workers for decades. With only approximately 40 inspectors for more than 40,000 agricultural operations in the state, funding to hire more agricultural inspectors in the state is a priority for the organization.

Many reading this might wonder why they, or anyone not directly involved in the farm economy or its politics, should care about these issues. The answer is simple: Anyone who eats has a connection to farm workers, whether they know it or not.

In Florida, with a financial dependence on agriculture second only to tourism, that's especially true.

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