As Hurricane Irma ripped up the spine of Florida back on Sept. 11, the overarching goals set for the 2018 legislative session immediately changed. Not only did the storm cause at least $2.5 billion in economic damages to agriculture, it shifted the focus of the entire state and will have a profound impact on the legislative session that begins next week.
Last year, we battled several challenges in the Legislature. With one-third of the House and half of the Senate being freshmen lawmakers, we worked to educate elected officials on the importance of agriculture to our state, fought to keep agricultural land in the Everglades Agricultural Area in production and secured $2.3 million in sales tax exemptions.
In preparing for 2018, we looked to build on last year’s successes and focus on restoring funds the Legislature cut from Fresh from Florida and the Rural and Family Lands conservation program, as well as $6 million in funding for UF/IFAS the Governor vetoed. Following the devastation left by Hurricane Irma, we must now also focus on hurricane recovery and relief for our family farms and growers around the state that are suffering.
Through all of the adversity facing our agricultural producers and the challenges of working through a legislative session in Tallahassee presents, Florida Farm Bureau’s mission remains the same: to increase the net income of farmers and ranchers and to improve the quality of rural life.
Despite the Legislature’s almost singular focus on the impact of Hurricane Irma, Florida Farm Bureau will continue to work toward achieving sound policies and sufficient funding that will support our family farms in 2018. Policies like expanding the agricultural truck tag exemption will help farmers effectively move their products and produce from farm to market. Current law restricts travel to only 150 miles from the farm, but as agricultural commodities continue to grow and evolve and markets continue to move, our farmers have a need to expand the agricultural truck tag exemption to all areas of the state.
Florida Farm Bureau will also work with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and UF/IFAS to restore significant and important funds that were cut from both budgets in 2017. The Fresh from Florida agricultural marketing program took a $7 million cut, while the Rural and Family Lands conservation program was cut from $35 million to $10 million. Additionally, restoring funding to UF/IFAS that was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott will be a top priority of Farm Bureau in 2018, including $1 million in 4-H funds.
With 2018 shaping up to be a tight budget year in Tallahassee, Hurricane Irma took almost all hope away of there being any budget surplus for lawmakers to work with this year. Regardless, Florida Farm Bureau will work to secure additional tax cuts and regulatory relief for our members and our state’s family farms. Although we’re not sure what that might look like at the end of the legislative session, we will work to include any tax relief in a tax cut package or hurricane relief package.
The 2018 legislative session will provide a unique opportunity for our grassroots advocates to speak up in support of agriculture as lawmakers want to hear from producers and growers on the impacts their farms felt following Irma as well as ways they can help keep agriculture competitive. We hope all of you will join us in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Jan. 30 for Florida Farm Bureau’s Legislative Days event. This annual event will provide you with the necessary tools for advocacy as well as direct opportunities to meet with your elected officials and advocate for agriculture at the state Capitol. You can register your attendance here.
Throughout the upcoming legislative session, things will continue to change. You can stay on top of these changes and our legislative progress by subscribing to AgWatch, our legislative e-newsletter. Visitto subscribe.