Farm Lobby Talks Citrus Greening, Environment and Immigration

Jun 21, 2013

Florida’s Agriculture Industry is the second largest in the state. It’s also at the center of major debates over immigration reform environmental preservation, and an ongoing effort to save citrus trees.

A few weeks ago, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam issued this assessment on the future of Florida’s citrus industry:

“This matters to every Floridian because of the profound economic impact it has on so many of our interior counties. You’re talking about a footprint of half a million acres for which there is really no plan B."

Since its discovery in 2005, a bacteria called greening has attacked orange trees, killing them off by the thousands. At its peak a decade ago, Florida’s multi-billion dollar citrus industry brought in 300 million barrels of oranges a year. Today, the figure is closer to 150 million. More than $4 billion has been lost to greening. John Hoblick, president of the Florida farm Bureau, says greening could devastate citrus production around the nation.

“A lot of money has been thrown at research, which is important. Somewhere, were going to find a cure. Ultimately, we’re going to have to produce a gene-resistant tree that will likely be the answer and will resist this disease.”   

Meanwhile, the news is better for other parts of the state’s agriculture industry. Florida is still the main supplier of winter fruits and vegetables to the rest of the nation. It even exports some of its produce outside the country, but Hoblick says for the production to continue, workers are needed. And that’s why he’s in support of a federal immigration overhaul bill pending in congress:

“What’s being proposed in D.C. is a good fix, but I think before you fix an issue with immigration  you have to secure our boarders,”  he said.

But he adds  he thinks the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrations in the U.S. now should have a legal status, but not citizenship.

"Giving them the status of being able to work in this country, but not giving them full-fledged citizenship, requiring them to go back after a time is, I think, a fair and equitable way of dealing with this issue," he said.

Hoblick and the Florida Farm Bureau were part of a 2011 effort to kill a tough immigration bill in the Florida legislature, and Hoblick says he believes it was the right thing to do. He points to states like Georgia and Alabama which passed their own immigration laws, only to see farm worker shortages and millions of dollars lost in wasted produce.

The Florida Farm Bureau also had a hand in the passage of a bill to give $32 million a year for the next decade to help clean up the Everglades.  The proposal was recently signed by Governor Rick Scott and was supported by environmentalists as well. But not everyone was happy with the outcome:

“The people of Florida passed a constitutional amendment so that the polluter must pay.  That’s the principle, and it’s a good, fair, just principle.  The legislature abandoned it here,” said Earth Justice Attorney David Guest.

He isn’t pleased with a part of the bill that gradually reduces taxes paid by sugar farmers toward Everglades Cleanup. But the Florida Farm Bureau’s John Hoblick says the proposal was a compromise.

“If producers haven’t done a good job as they’re supposed to do, then it’s something that may need to be readdressed. But at this point, it’s a visionary issue”.   

Hoblick says the agriculture industry is getting better when it comes to farming and production, and the amount of pollutants it produces like phosphorous and nitrogen are decreasing.