A contingent of FFVA members hit the hallways of the Florida Capitol in late March to talk with lawmakers about issues of importance to agriculture during this year’s legislative session.
Eight of the association’s directors plus the 11 members of this year’s Emerging Leader Development Program talked with representatives and senators about key topics for agriculture, including a bill that would exempt certain agricultural items from sales tax, and funding for the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center.
The meeting gave members of FFVA’s leadership class the chance for an up-close look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the legislative process. For some, it was their first visit — but certainly not their last — to Tallahassee.
For FFVA’s board members, the time is spent educating legislators about how various bills will affect their ability to produce fresh fruits and vegetables. Over the course of two days, the group met with 11 legislators and various state officials, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The group kicked off its visit by meeting with Senate President Don Gaetz, who pointed out that the state’s budget picture is much improved over last year, with a billion dollars of additional tax revenue projected to flow into state coffers. However, he quickly put it in perspective: Funding requests for this year’s budget outnumber available dollars 38 to one.
Over lunch, Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) outlined highlights of SB 536/HB 601, which he sponsored along with Rep. Lake Ray (R-Jacksonville). The measure would require the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Environmental Protection, and water management districts to study the expansion of the beneficial use of reclaimed water.
A key effort for FFVA this session is passage of SB 312/HB 575, filed by Simpson and Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula) respectively. The measure would exempt from sales tax the purchase of irrigation equipment, farm equipment repairs, plant stakes, and replacement parts for equipment and trailers. The exemptions represent about $15 million a year in sales tax savings for growers.
FFVA joined other ag groups seeking funding to breathe new life into the
UF/IFAS research center in Immokalee that serves multiple counties and supports research for citrus and vegetables. At the time of the FFVA’s visit, the House version of the budget contained no funding at all for the center, and the Senate budget included only $10,000 in “placeholder” funding. UF/IFAS has asked for $4.9 million to build the center back up.
Growing The Next Generation
A few of the legislators imparted words of wisdom to members of the leadership class on how they can make a difference for Florida agriculture. “You have to go out and be seen and lead by example. Don’t be afraid,” advised nursery grower Rep. Halsey Beshears, a first-term representative from District 7 in the Panhandle. Several lawmakers stressed the importance of face-to-face meetings with elected officials instead of simply sending eMails to their offices. “Coming up here to talk to your elected leaders is the most effective way to make sure we’re hearing from you about what’s important to you,” said Rep. Jake Raburn of District 57.
Rep, Jim Boyd, whose Southwest Florida District 71 takes in prime tomato production areas near Bradenton, is a co-sponsor of the sales tax exemption bill. “Overall, I think things are going very well this session,” he said. He gave kudos to FFVA and its members on their efforts in Tallahassee. “You have a tremendous team up here with your association. You’re well-represented,” he said. “We appreciate what you bring to our state. We’re all able to eat and enjoy life because of what you do.”