Packed Political Agenda On Tap For Florida Farmers

Lisa Lochridge_featured

Lisa Lochridge

The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s board of directors greeted the new year with a winter meeting that focused on a number of key issues that will be front-burner in 2015. The group was updated on the upcoming state legislative session, the 114th Congress, Farm Bill implementation, and budget priorities for UF/IFAS.

Butch Calhoun, FFVA’s director of government relations, recapped the 2014 state legislative session, which he called a “mixed bag” for agriculture. Several key bills that FFVA supported passed, including citrus funding as well as the UF/IFAS budget. Others will be on tap again this year.

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The 2014 election gave new senate president Andy Gardiner a majority, but with 26 Republicans elected, the party is one seat short of a controlling two-thirds majority. In addition, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s agriculture background will be helpful for the industry. Committee chair appointments in both houses include a strong roster of ag supporters, Calhoun reported.

Another attempt will be made this session to pass a bill to exempt from state sales tax irrigation equipment, farm trailers, farm equipment replacement parts and repairs, and tomato stakes. Sponsors are in place, and “hopefully we can move this through and it’ll become a reality,” Calhoun said.

Also on the horizon is a bill that would expand the exemption from civil liability for farmers who allow others onto their property to glean crops left in the field.

Water Watch

On water issues, the focus will be on improving the existing regulatory structure instead of creating a new program, Calhoun said, along with an attempt to resolve issues that help relieve “pressure points” on agriculture.

Packed Political Agenda On Tap For Florida FarmersAs the legislature looks at funding for Amendment 1 (the Florida Forever program), FFVA will work to have funds directed to areas other than land acquisition, including initiatives that grow the water “pie,” BMPs, and Rural and Family Lands Program protection, Calhoun said. Other issues that may surface include agritourism, the state fire code, transportation issues, and GMO labeling.

In its budget, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is asking for nearly $30 million for water restoration and conservation projects involving springs and the Everglades, as well as funding for agriculture water supply planning and partnership agreements with water management districts. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also is seeking $18 million for citrus greening research, prevention of the spread of the disease, and for replanting of trees.

Federal Update

Kam Quarles, legislative director of McDermott Will & Emery, provided an outlook of the 114th Congress. The GOP gained 14 seats, which is helpful for the leadership in moving its agenda. That pick-up will help House Speaker John Boehner in controlling his caucus, Quarles said.

He discussed new leadership in key committees affecting agriculture. Rep. Mike Conaway will take over leadership of the House Ag Committee and will be a steady hand, he said.

Quarles pointed out that the balance of power in the Senate has flipped, with 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats in the new Congress. The challenge going forward for Republicans will be how to reach across the aisle to Democrats to get the 60 votes needed to pass legislation, Quarles said. The gap may be tough to close because moderate Senate Democrats lost big in the 2014 election. What’s more, major pressure will come from the White House and 2016 candidates not to give any victories to the Republicans, he said.

UF/IFAS Budget Request

Dr. Jack Payne outlined UF/IFAS’ budget needs and asked for the group’s support in the upcoming legislative session.
“We absolutely have to have a good year in the legislature this year. We need to continue to grow along with the demands of our stakeholders” to continue research into nutritious food, better crop protection, and improved varieties, he said.

UF/IFAS is requesting $5.5 million to replace lost research and other staff positions. “FFVA carries a big stick in Tallahassee, and a lot of people respect who you are. I’m asking you to support the $5.5 million,” Payne said. In addition to funding additional faculty, the money is needed to fix or replace aging UF/IFAS laboratories, he said. The board voted to support the request.