Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried supports the legislation, and President Joe Biden's administration is proposing a similar federal program. WUSF’s Jessica Meszaros spoke to House Bill 993 sponsor Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, about it.
Can you describe the Resilient Farms Pilot Program included in your measure?
It would help pay for the cost to implement the new plans. Some of the kinds of practices that would be covered are cover cropping that can provide high quality grazing for animals and increase soil health; no till planting that can retain nutrients and moisture in the soil, creating a more abundant crop; and things like recycling tarps that can kill weeds and grass instead of using harsh chemical fertilizers.
How much would growers be paid for these practices?
Their projects would receive 75% of the funding needed for the new equipment and materials to implement these eligible practices. And it would be overseen by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The farmers would apply, they would need to be enrolled in and compliant with the best management practices established by the department. And those would be verified by a site visit. And they would need to operate those resiliency practices that they want to implement for a minimum of five years after funding. And the bill also contains a $10 million appropriation to help fund all of those projects around the state.
So the Florida Department of Agriculture would oversee the program, where do you foresee funding for this coming from?
We've heard a lot as we headed into this legislative session about how difficult it will be because of COVID. And, you know, we are very reliant on sales tax, it's 75% of our general revenue. And without having much in the way of tourism happening, we expected to have much less money.
But fortunately, we had reserves, we had some vetoes that happened at the end of last session. And we've had some significant help from the federal government in terms of our Medicaid budget. So we're really not in that bad of shape. And we will have our revenue estimating conference in March that is anticipated to say our revenues are not quite as bad as we thought they might be.
And then on top of that, we have the funding that we will be able to receive from the federal government. So this is a program that is in line with what President Biden is interested in doing. It's very much in line with what the state of Florida and its farmers want to do. And so, this funding is a priority that the state should have.
Why is this something you want to establish? What compelled you to drop this measure?
Well, I really believe that we need a collaborative statewide approach. And it's critical to reducing greenhouse gas pollution that will ultimately provide a more stable climate and mitigate the negative impacts while driving innovation and investment in low carbon technologies that will reduce those greenhouse emissions. But we need to be all working together on it and not have it piecemeal, so I'm a proponent of the statewide approach.