The Takeaway Message:
Florida farmers are fighting financial slumps, while state parks close to prevent spreading COVID-19. Meanwhile, the state budget has been approved — but could experience unpredictable changes in the hazy future.
What’s going on?
COVID-19 is leaving no part of Florida untouched, including the farms located throughout the state. Crop sales, farmers’ markets and agritourism have taken economic hits from the pandemic. Meanwhile, North Florida farmers must tackle another sickness: A fungal disease has arrived earlier than expected to their carrot crops. This could cause more than 50% leaf loss in harvests, which can stunt carrot growth and impede harvesting methods.
Another section of Florida’s outdoors has been jolted by COVID-19: the state parks, which Gov. DeSantis ordered to be closed in late March. While necessary, these closures could create revenue shortfalls for park and recreation agencies across the state and country. The Florida Keys even closed its doors to visitors until further notice, impacting its billion-dollar tourism industry.
While COVID-19 was ramping up in Florida, another event was wrapping up: the passing of the state’s budget. Lawmakers unanimously approved a total of $93.2 billion for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Section 5, which accounts for natural resources, the environment, growth and transportation, was budgeted at $14.8 billion dollars — or roughly 6% of this year’s total budget. The money is slated to go toward projects related to algae blooms, beach management, coastline initiatives and mosquito control. It also gives $100 million to fund land acquisition and conservation programs, which have remained stagnant for years.
Why it matters.
In the last two decades, small farms represented 90% of the more than 47,000 farms in Florida. These thousands of farms make up 9.45 million acres of land throughout the state. When their businesses experience a financial blow, so does the multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry. In response to COVID-19, farmers around the state are adapting their products and packaging to accommodate their sales or even creating new business models, like one who converted his mushroom farm to a delivery service.
These farmlands, the 175 state parks that are now closed indefinitely and the rest of Florida’s natural resources, are all impacted by the newly approved state budget in one way or another. But this 458-page document will likely go through some changes amid the current pandemic, as the state is set to bring in significantly less money from sales taxes than originally projected. Legislators did set aside $52.5 million in the budget for COVID-19 responses, but they will reconvene to make changes before the bill is officially instituted on July 1. There are no predictions for any modifications due to the uncertain circumstances.
What can I do?
- Follow these steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Help out local farms with these six tips — but practice current safety measures in doing so.
- Consider supporting state parks through the Florida State Parks Foundation.
- Heading to a park? Don’t use the playground equipment
- Coronavirus Florida: Pensacola mayor donates salary to pay residents’ bills for trash pickup, natural gas
- $21 million approved for FDOT for Hurricane Michael from FEMA
- Tips for Farmers During this Time
- Garden with Us! Introducing the Victory2020 Garden Program with UF/IFAS Extension Columbia County