SEBRING — Rep. Greg Steube has reintroduced initiatives aimed at improving the situation for Florida agriculture.
He proposes banning fresh citrus imports from China, altering trucking regulations for commercial agriculture drivers and moving administration of H-2A work visa laborers from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture.
These initiatives could assist growers of Florida citrus and other crops to better compete in the global market, said Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association.
“We appreciate the congressman’s efforts on behalf of the agricultural community,” Royce said.
LaborThe “Moving H-2A to United States Department of Agriculture Act” would put visiting agricultural workers under the supervision of the USDA, not the Department of Labor.
“The USDA has a greater understanding of the uniqueness of that particular labor force,” said Royce, adding that the Department of Labor oversees too many industries to have that focus, but the USDA has people who specialize in that area of labor.
Right now, he said, contracts don’t allow people brought in to harvest oranges to also pick blueberries or watermelons, or move state to state. Watermelons, for example, get harvested in Immokalee in April, in Georgia in June and Michigan later in the year. Royce said “it’s silly” to send people back and then bring them back again to have them cross state lines.
CitrusThe “U.S. Citrus Protection Act” would prevent China from exporting fresh citrus to the United States. Royce said. That’s how citrus diseases, like canker and greening, came into the United States.
It would also protect Florida growers, with their labor and safety costs, from cheaper imported fruit. Mexican blueberries have posed a similar problem for Florida growers, Royce said under the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allowances.
“Florida fruits and vegetables have suffered from that,” Royce said.
TuckingThe “FRESH Trucking Act,” originally introduced by Steube in January 2020, would amend the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “Hours of Service Regulations” governing how long truckers may be on the road and how long they must sleep.
Regulations cap driving time at 11 hours a day, with a half hour of rest and a full stop after a 14-hour day, no matter how much downtime they’ve had. The regulations exist to prevent fatal crashes from sleepy or exhausted long-haul truckers.
Most citrus truckers don’t drive out of state, Royce said, but they may run several loads per day during harvest season when the product is perishable and the harvest may soon end.
Steube’s bill would change hours and breaks for agricultural truckers, letting them complete a trip if they are within 150 miles of their destination, even if they are over the maximum on-duty drive time. Also, loading and unloading would no longer count against their on-duty time.
The bill, sent to the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last year, got no cosponsors
“It will be interesting to see if he gets cosigners [now] and will it be able to move through the Democratic-controlled committees,” Royce said, “Having legislation introduced and having it passed are two different things. To his credit, he is responding to the concerns of his constituents and we appreciate his willingness to work on our behalf.”