This is the first installment of four special features honoring the 2018 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Congressman Tom Rooney of Okeechobee. Special thanks to Arysta LifeScience for sponsoring the Citrus Achievement Award.
How important was the last Farm Bill when it comes to the fight against citrus greening?
Rooney: You look at the 2014 Farm Bill, and the idea we were trying to communicate was that greening was real and needed to be addressed. Before, Florida had sort of been alone on an island dealing with the disease. But by the time the 2014 Farm Bill rolled around, Texas and California started seeing the psyllid and disease popping up. They started raising concerns as well.
So, when we were in front of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), it was not just me there. I was joined by Representatives Kevin McCarthy from California and Mike Conway from Texas, saying we need to have some kind of remedy for people growing oranges and grapefruit in this Farm Bill. And, we had grower support from those states communicating the need for federal help to fund research to fight the disease. We were able to get $125 million committed toward greening. I count that as one of my first big victories in Congress.
In doing the work to carve out $340 million specifically for citrus in the hurricane relief package, how important was it to have growers on hand to communicate about the damage they received and the help needed?
Rooney: It was vitally important. I can go by myself to see the House Majority Leader to communicate this need or I can bring 10 of my growers along. They come in there and get right to the point, telling these leaders what their problems are and how this storm affected them.
Our citrus growers came to Washington, D.C., on a mission. You could see it in their eyes, because this package was really a means to keep them in business. They were there in the hearings with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and his Undersecretary when we were fighting for the money. It was a lot harder to say no with these growers in the room when the leaders heard their stories.