Florida’s agricultural industry is a driving force of our economy, employing 1.5 million people, providing $8.5 billion in cash crops, and $4 billion in agricultural commodities exports. Florida feeds our state and our country. The next Farm Bill, a multi-year federal law that outlines and funds agricultural programs, will be voted on by Congress in 2019 and will have a great impact in Florida and throughout the U.S. Proposed language, potential funding, and public input are being considered by Congress under each of the bill’s “Titles” or sections. This bill is important to all Florida residents and must be in focus for the remainder of 2017 and into 2018.
The Sunshine State has a rich history of working lands. As of 2015, 9.45 million acres of Florida land are engaged in agriculture. Florida leads the nation in growing oranges, watermelons, grapefruit, sugar cane and fresh market tomatoes and cucumbers. Florida ranks second nationwide in the production of strawberries, sweet corn and avocados, and tenth in beef cattle. The Farm Bill helps to ensure that our farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have the tools and funding necessary to conserve soils, support water quality, minimize water usage, and protect landscapes. Farm Bill programs help to protect the environment while keeping working lands productive, and the bill is the most important Federal legislation for conserving private lands in America.
The first farm bill to support agriculture was implemented in the 1930s. The programs and issues covered by farm bills have expanded over time, and the bills are updated about every five years. Each new bill authorizes mandatory and discretionary spending—approving or funding programs that would otherwise expire. The 2014 Farm Bill contains 12 Titles, including nutrition, trade, conservation, research, and rural development provisions. The estimated cost for implementation of the 2014 bill is $489 billion over five years.
Red potatoes at Jones Farm in Florida. © Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)
The Conservancy recognizes the importance of the various Titles, and focuses much support on the initiatives that encourage conservation. Programs that center on environmental stewardship and best management practices are critically important to achieving conservation success, such as the USDA’s voluntary environmental quality incentives and conservation stewardship programs implemented by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). These programs are dedicated to supporting practices that result in cleaner water, healthy soils, enhanced wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, and increased flood protection.
In the last Farm Bill, funding for America’s working lands was disproportionately cut nationwide, resulting in substantial impacts to Florida farmers. It is important that the next Farm Bill increases funding so that the Conservation Title can continue to meet the needs of our farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to ensure our state’s and our country’s food security, economic stability, and the future of our lands and waters.
It is critical that baseline funding of at least $500 million a year is allocated to easement programs. Programs such as the Agricultural Lands Easement (ALE) program and Wetlands Reserve Easement program (WRE) help to protect lands for conservation and keep agriculture in the Florida landscape to feed Americans. In the last Farm Bill, conservation programs accounted for just six percent of Farm Bill funding. For a healthy future for our farms and our state, the Conservancy is working to support passage of a Farm Bill that increases funding to the Conservation Title and avoids further cuts to the Forestry and Research Titles.
Here in Florida, especially after the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma on our farmers, a farm bill that supports implementation and funding of conservation programs is essential. Further cuts would compromise the ability of these key programs to accomplish their objectives and deliver multiple economic, conservation, and quality of life benefits throughout the state and across the country.
Your donation to The Nature Conservancy helps our team spread the word of the value of the Farm Bill and supports our advocacy towards funding USDA conservation programs.