Florida Agriculture Faces Big Hits in Budget Proposals

Randall Weiseman Florida, Legislative

Budget ProposalBy: Abbey Taylor
Florida agriculture is facing some big budget cuts. The House’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee met on March 28 to discuss its budget proposal for the 2017–2018 fiscal year. The Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee met on March 29 to discuss its budget proposal. While some dollar amounts in the competing proposals were different, Florida agriculture is taking a big hit overall in funding.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam released the following statement about Fresh From Florida funding after the House meeting, “This is a political assault on a good program that will have real consequences on real people. Gutting the Fresh From Florida program will hurt Florida’s small farms the most — their ability to raise awareness for the high quality of their locally grown products and compete against lesser quality products from foreign countries.” The department requested $12,860,000 to be allocated to the Fresh From Florida program. The House proposal only allocated $2,060,000 in its proposal.

Other budget cuts included a $20 million reduction for springs restoration, a $10.1 million reduction for citrus marketing and a $42 million reduction in water projects. However, possibly the most disappointing cuts to the agriculture industry were to the Florida Forever program and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP). In both proposals, Florida Forever will suffer a substantial loss in funds, while RFLPP will lose all of its funding.

Florida Forever is a conservation lands program that provides conservation easements in order to protect natural resource areas as well as water resources in Florida. RFLPP is an Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Its mission is the protection of agricultural lands. Both of these programs strive to protect the millions of acres of Florida farmland that is quickly dwindling due to industrial production.

Jim Strickland, vice chairman of the Florida Conservation Group, says these lands also serve as a great natural water storage area that ensure clean water is being supplied to urbanized areas. With the surplus of people moving to Florida every month, urban development continues to encroach on agricultural lands. Without the proper funding of these programs, Florida ranchlands are a viable candidate for development projects. Strickland believes conservation easements given through these programs are the most effective way to protect agricultural lands.

Adam Basford, director of state legislative affairs with the Florida Farm Bureau, says there are several reasons for the budget cut proposals, including less funding available overall, funding for the Lake Okeechobee land acquisition plan, as well as some deeper political motives. “The Fresh From Florida program and the Rural and Family Lands Program specifically took large cuts, and those are a big priority to agriculture,” he said.

Although many agriculture programs are facing significant cuts, RFLPP and Florida Forever are too vital to the future of Florida agriculture not to be fought for. House Representative Ben Albritton says these cuts are to focus on the essentials for the state. Preserving our natural resources should be seen as essential.

The subcommittees for the House and the Senate will vote on their proposals next week. This leaves the agriculture community the rest of this week to pick up the phone and call Representative Albritton or any member of the subcommittees to share its opinion on these cuts and to try to make a difference by being a voice for Florida agriculture.

Strickland believes that with a great amount of pressure from the agriculture community, legislators may take another look at the funding for these programs. “We trust that by the end of the session that we will be sufficiently funded for Florida Forever and Rural Family Lands,” he concludes.

Below are the budget cut proposals from each subcommittee.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

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