By Ben Albritton
Florida’s farmers depend on healthy soil and clean water to produce crops. It’s how my family has grown citrus, strawberries and cattle for more than four generations. The quality of our natural resources has a direct impact on our crops and livelihood.
I am a fifth-generation Floridian who was raised by a line of farmers, ranchers and businesspeople. All of them worked to make an honest living off the land to provide for their families. We take great care to protect and preserve the lands and water we rely on to help raise bountiful and healthy crops so that Americans have food.
And we have faced a great deal of challenges in the citrus industry. From freezes to hurricanes to pests and disease, Florida’s citrus growers are consistently battling the odds. But we prove to be strong and resilient, time and time again.
With the ongoing fight to survive the devastation of citrus greening, we can’t let inflexible laws to stand in the way of surviving the challenge. That is why I filed Senate Bill (SB) 1000; a “one-size-fits-all” approach just won’t work.
Research shows that a more efficient approach is necessary for citrus trees that are ravaged from citrus greening. Best management practices (BMPs) currently restrict the site-specific application of nutrients necessary at this time based on the individual farm’s characteristics.
The current recommended application rates for fertilizer are based on the presumption of healthy, regular citrus tree development in Florida. However, we do not live in a perfect world anymore. Nature is inherently imperfect — enter citrus greening disease!
I developed SB 1000 based on sound science and with input from numerous experts. SB 1000 will modernize the laws that govern BMPs to allow citrus producers to tailor their recommended nutrient application rates to help them survive.
The use of site-specific nutrient plans will help growers have better results on each individual grove. It is a methodical and safe approach to ensure each citrus grove gets the correct level of nutrients when, where and how it needs it.
I’ve heard the claims of environmental activists eager to lay false blame on citrus growers. They wrongfully claim this legislation will lead to increased pollution.
Because accountability matters, to be eligible for this proposed program, a citrus grower must be enrolled in BMPs and specific pollution reduction practices with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The bill also requires that application of nutrients must be documented and kept for up to five years. This is to help determine what rates would be most appropriate for the specific crop in a given year.
What’s more, citrus growers implementing this practice do so with the clear understanding that a wasteful nutrient program doesn’t benefit them or the environment.
The citrus industry is an important part of Florida agriculture. Our oranges, grapefruit and tangerines are internationally recognized as the symbol of Florida. We cannot afford to let activists with unfounded claims take away the voice of Florida citrus. Florida is already experiencing one of the worst citrus harvest forecasts since World War II; the catastrophe is upon us.
Nearly 76,000 employees strong, we are the growers and workers who provide the vast majority of America’s orange juice. We represent a cornerstone of Florida’s agricultural industry. We represent the value of using your hands to produce something good and healthy for the benefit of America’s food supply.
I am working with my colleagues in the Florida Legislature to pass SB 1000 so that we have the ability to do what we need to do to survive and ultimately beat this terrible disease. We must work together to preserve our state’s signature crop while protecting Florida’s natural resources. This balance is the right approach.
Ben Albritton is a Republican member of the Florida State Senate, representing District 26.
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