Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried appeared before Members of Congress from Florida to discuss key issues facing the agriculture industry.
At the invitation of delegation co-chairs U.S. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, Fried spoke on a panel alongside industry group leaders from the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, and the Florida Forestry Association.
Commissioner Fried raised the urgent need for disaster relief from Congress after Panhandle communities have waited more than seven months for help, for trade protections for seasonal crop growers threatened by cheap foreign crops, support for the emerging cannabis industry, and other issues.
“Florida’s agriculture industry is strong, but faces several challenges, including a changing climate, unfair trade practices, and threats from exotic pests and diseases. As our second largest industry, and a backstop in times of economic decline, it is imperative that the Florida Delegation remain steadfast in ensuring that the Florida agriculture industry continues to be one of the strongest in the country. Thank you to my Co-Chair, Congressman Vern Buchanan, Commissioner Nikki Fried, and the other panelists at today’s meeting for discussing these pressing matters with us,” stated U.S. Representative Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman of the Florida Congressional Delegation.
“Today’s hearing reaffirmed our bipartisan commitment to protecting Florida agriculture. I thank Commissioner Fried for agreeing to come before our congressional delegation to help highlight the many threats facing Florida’s farmers today,” stated U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan, Co-Chairman ofthe Florida Congressional Delegation.
Fried’s full remarks as submitted to Members of Congress may be found below:
Statement of the Honorable Nicole “Nikki” Fried
Florida Congressional Delegation Meeting on Agriculture Issues
May 16, 2019
I’m honored by the invitation today to address you, the members of Florida’s Congressional delegation, on emergent issues facing our state’s agriculture community.
Florida’s farmers are the best in the world. From seasonal crops and timber, to cattle and the most promising citrus yield forecast in years, the state of Florida agriculture is strong. Yet our agriculture community faces a multitude of challenges, including a changing economy and environment, intensifying natural disasters, threats from exotic pests and diseases, and cheap foreign imports and trade disadvantages.
As Florida’s second largest industry – and first in times of economic downturns – agriculture has a $132 billion economic impact in our state. Our 47,000 farms support two million workers – good jobs that help Floridians provide for their families. Our farmers export $4 billion in commodities to 164 nations, feeding our neighbors, our communities, and the world.
It’s the global challenges our agriculture community faces that require me, in my capacity as Florida’s 12th Commissioner of Agriculture, to bring these matters before you today.
As one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall in North America, Hurricane Michael devastated Florida’s Panhandle communities. But seven months after the storm made landfall, disaster recovery has been astonishingly lacking. Our fellow Americans remain living in tents, and millions of tons of debris remain on the ground causing an unprecedented wildfire risk.
Many ravaged by the storm are timber farmers whose multi-generational investments – and family savings – still lie on the ground. They are facing $1.3 billion in agricultural
losses and 72 million tons of fallen trees across 3 million acres. Unfortunately, our timber producers are unable to access crop insurance, and their ability to receive crop loss assistance is unclear.
Timber production is the leading sector of the agriculture industry in the Panhandle, and a major driver of jobs in the communities devastated by Hurricane Michael – that’s why it’s paramount to the Panhandle’s economic recovery that the final disaster recovery package provides USDA the ability to make assistance available to our producers who lost timber as a result of the storm.
Timber crop losses continue to grow, and large amounts of remaining debris have created a wildfire hazard ten times greater than normal. California does not have this kind of fire threat. And as we approach the start of hurricane season in less than three weeks, the Panhandle now faces double jeopardy, with threats of wildfire damage on top of hurricane losses.
In addition, the aquaculture industry is important to the Panhandle, and experienced nearly $10 million in estimated damages.
Despite President Trump’s recent announcement of additional disaster aid, we need immediate action from Congress to provide the long-term assistance our impacted communities need to rebuild, replant, and recover.
While it was encouraging to see the House pass a disaster bill last week with bipartisan support, I implore both chambers to work expeditiously and come to an agreement on a final package to help our Panhandle neighbors at their time of greatest need.
Additionally, Florida’s agriculture community faces the challenge of navigating unfair trade practices amidst the renegotiation of NAFTA. For 25 years, NAFTA failed to address the disastrous effects of unfair trade practices – and the USMCA appears to do no better, lacking important protections for Florida’s seasonal and perishable crop producers.
Florida’s growing season runs parallel to Mexico’s, and with the Mexican government’s agriculture subsidies and lower labor costs and safety standards, Mexican producers dump artificially low-priced products in the U.S. market. Without enforceable remedies in place, these unfair practices will continue, further threatening Florida’s farmers, agriculture industry, and our entire state economy.
That is why I strongly support the Defending Domestic Produce Production Act (S. 16 / H.R. 101), sponsored by Senator Rubio and Representatives Buchanan and Lawson. I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to every member of the Delegation for supporting this important legislation to provide our farmers protections from unfair trade practices.
This legislation will provide farmers with the enforcement tools they need to remain competitive, and could help alleviate concerns regarding the USMCA within our agriculture community. Florida farmers aren’t looking for a handout, just the chance to compete on a level playing field.
As trade wars continue and our environment and economy change, our farmers are asking for alternative crops — and my Department has been working hard to deliver. With the conclusion of the state legislative session and the passage of state hemp program legislation, Florida now has the potential to become the national leader and gold standard in this emerging industry.
This state bill gives our Department the authority to establish a state hemp program under which hemp products will be regulated, grown, manufactured, and tested, ensuring an exciting new generation of products with the consumer protections that Floridians count on and deserve. Our Department is already working to release the framework for this crucial new state hemp program in the coming months, a program that is poised to unlock billions in economic potential for our state.
Florida’s deep agriculture heritage, climate and resources, and farming infrastructure make our state an ideal place for hemp production. With 25,000 known uses, hemp could become a crop of the future for Florida agriculture. And with CBD products currently outselling THC products, this crop could significantly elevate Floridians’ quality of life and strengthen and diversify our state economy for generations to come.
This incredible opportunity is why I have staunchly supported the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (H.R. 2215). Conflicts between state and federal law have led to a higher level of risk and hurdles for businesses in the emerging cannabis industry. The absence of traditional banking services forces state-licensed businesses to resort to all-cash operations, which is both inefficient and a public safety concern. Businesses cannot operate proficiently with irregularities restricting their growth, stability, and the ability to pay bills and expenses. This is an issue impacting our state and national economy.
Without Congressional action, continued confusion and misinformation regarding hemp could discourage financial institutions from partnering with our farmers on this promising new commodity. The SAFE Banking Act is an important first step in providing legitimate cannabis related and state-licensed farmers, business, and consumers with access to an efficient and safe banking system, and traditional loans and capital markets.
As Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, I come from an unconventional background for the position – one which has led me to seek innovation for the backbone of Florida’s economy. Florida’s agriculture community needs its Members of Congress to seek similar innovation in supporting them at this pivotal moment. I hope that you will encourage your colleagues, both in Congress and in the Administration, to support at every turn the common-sense legislation before them that not only lifts up Florida’s farmers, but puts American jobs, families, and livelihoods first.
Together, we can keep Florida growing. Thank you.
Nicole “Nikki” Fried
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture