Citrus growers discussed their challenges and voiced their needs during a farm bill listening session held April 24 in Newberry, Florida.
Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-15), chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, along with bipartisan members, including Rep. Kat Cammack (FL-03), Rep. Darren Soto (FL-09), Rep. Austin Scott (GA-08), Rep. Doug LaMalfa (CA-01) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-01), listened to comments from producers and industry leaders across the entire agricultural sector.
Steve Johnson, fourth-generation citrus grower and chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission, was among the speakers. Johnson pleaded for revisions to the block grant and additional help within the Farm Service Agency offices that would streamline paperwork more efficiently. In addition, he asked for assistance in helping growers remain sustainable.
“Our food system is our national security and something that we need to be very cognizant of. Today I ask you, as we all grow perishable crops, please don’t make the farmer a perishable crop,” Johnson said.
Glenn Beck, president of Florida Citrus Mutual, asked for assistance with HLB research. HLB has devastated the citrus industry and greatly diminished the number of productive trees across the state.
“It’s no secret that the Florida citrus industry is hurting. We’ve got some solutions in the pipeline. We just need to expand on that and keep moving forward,” Beck said.
Others asked for assistance with the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), a program designed to provide financial assistance to producers who have had to replant or rehabilitate trees damaged by natural disasters, including disease. Citrus grower Ned Hancock voiced his concerns with the program.
“We also need to look at the different ways we implement the TAP program. Currently, it’s a cost-share program. It’s one of the few cost-share programs that also has an adjusted gross income component … We’d like to see that looked at and made just a straight cost-share component,” Hancock said.
The afternoon session was a humbling experience for Cammack, returning to her home district and hearing passionate testimonies from her region’s farmers.
“I think you could see just by the turnout of how significant this farm bill is, not just to the Gainesville community, not just to North Central Florida, but to the entire Sunshine State,” Cammack said. “In the room, we had over 200 farmers and ranchers. You heard some emotional testimony. The importance of this farm bill cannot be overstated. We have a huge responsibility in making sure that food security is national security and giving the support to our farmers and ranchers that they need.”
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