FNGLA Chief Executive Officer Tal Coley

Farm bill is essential; Congress must act now | Commentary

October 18, 2023

While members of Congress were working to reach an agreement and avoid a government shutdown, the clock ran out on America’s Farm Bill. Now, with the House leadership in disarray, the future of the Farm Bill is uncertain.

The Farm Bill, which is reformed and renewed every five years by the U.S. Congress, is essential to our national security, our domestic food supply and the strength of our economy. It is critically important that Congress come together on this and pass legislation that will benefit all American families.

A strong Farm Bill is particularly important to Florida. Here in the Sunshine State, the agriculture industry generates $160 billion in annual economic impact. This industry supports more than two million jobs for Florida families. We provide food, fiber and horticulture to American families from the Mississippi River to Maine, and beyond.

Florida’s nursery, growers and landscape businesses make up the Sunshine State’s “Green Industry.” That’s because we produce foliage, plants, shrubs and trees. In fact, Florida produces 69% of America’s indoor foliage plants. We account for one-quarter of total wholesale value of floriculture production in the United States. In addition, we export $112 million worth of nursery goods each year.

But another reason we’re Florida’s “Green Industry” is because of our efforts to conserve Florida’s natural landscape. The beautiful farms, groves and greenhouses where our products are cultivated provide critical wildlife habitat and help to filter water and restore our aquifer.

The Farm Bill is important to the strength and long-term sustainability of Florida’s nurseries and landscape businesses. While the industry does not benefit from subsidies in the Farm Bill, Florida’s nurseries and landscape businesses depend on the frameworks established in the Farm Bill and the research funded by the Farm Bill.

In one example, the Farm Bill outlines a framework for hurricane recovery. Last year, Hurricane Ian inflicted damage across 70,000 acres of horticultural land. Our industry lost nearly $300 million in assets and lost revenue. Without federal support for hurricane recovery, many of Florida’s horticulture businesses would be forced to close, killing jobs and eliminating precious natural landscape. We depend on the Farm Bill to guide how losses are calculated and how recovery funds are distributed.

Another important initiative of the Farm Bill is the investment in research. Many small businesses don’t have the resources to invest in research. But with support from the Farm Bill, research has led to new technologies and revolutionary innovations that enable growers to yield more using fewer resources, mitigating their impact on the environment.

The Farm Bill’s programs to protect against pests and disease are absolutely essential to our industry. Florida is an international gateway to Latin America. We boast 15 public seaports that handle more than 100 million tons of cargo each year. We also welcome more than 140 million visitors to the Sunshine State each year. While this commerce and tourism brings many benefits to our state and nation, it is not without risks. People and goods, often unknowingly, can introduce pests and diseases from foreign countries that have the capability to decimate our plants, if left unchecked.

Many of the programs supported by the Farm Bill prevent the entry of pests and disease, help produce disease resistant varieties and advance pest management solutions for specialty crops. It is critical that our federal government continue to support these initiatives.

Our elected officials in Washington, notably U.S. Senator Rick Scott, Congresswoman Kat Cammack and Congressman Darren Soto, among others, are fighting for Florida agriculture and working to ensure our industry’s priorities are reflected in the Farm Bill. But we need the entire Congress to get back to work and get this done. With the last Farm Bill already expired, we’re losing precious time and there is a lot at stake.

Tal Coley is CEO for the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association, the nation’s largest state nursery and landscape association.

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