Florida Takes Steps to Save Endangered Citrus Production, Protect Valuable Farm Land from Foreign Buyers
Florida Takes Steps to Save Endangered Citrus Production, Protect Valuable Farm Land from Foreign Buyers

By Patricia Tolson

In an aerial view of a fruit loader harvesting oranges at a grove in Fort Meade, Fla. on Feb. 1, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In an aerial view of a fruit loader harvesting oranges at a grove in Fort Meade, Fla. on Feb. 1, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Florida lawmakers are taking steps to save Florida’s citrus industry and to restrict foreign countries from purchasing the state’s valuable farmland.

At the Jan. 4 Florida Senate Agriculture Committee meeting—the first in the 2023 regular session—Chairman Jay Collins (R-District 14) acknowledged that the citrus industry in the Sunshine State is facing formidable challenges.

“Our citrus across the state continues to decline due to competition from foreign markets, the ongoing effects of citrus [greening], and other environmental factors,” Collins said after a discussion of member priorities for the new session.

According to Citrus Industry, canker protocols imposed by the European Union (EU) and logistics problems in shipping fruit to Asia are among the other challenges hindering Florida’s citrus exports. In October, citrus growers in four Florida counties reported that Hurricane Ian claimed between 50 to 90 percent of their crops.

Workers attempt to prop up with stakes the new growth orange trees in an orange grove in Arcadia, Florida on Oct. 20, 2022, in the wake of Hurricane Ian. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Less than a month ago, the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) reported (pdf) that Florida’s orange production was down 29 percent from an October forecast. Non-Valencia production was down 36 percent, grapefruit production fell by 10 percent and production of tangerines and tangelos dropped by 14 percent.

Alico, Inc., one of Florida’s largest citrus companies, suffered a loss of 15.31 percent in 2022.

The United States is the fourth largest producer of oranges in the world. Among the 50 states, Florida ranks second, contributing 42 percent of America’s citrus production, while California produces 54 percent.

Florida State Rep. Erin Grall (R-District 29) described agriculture as “a national-security problem and concern for us if we don’t have a robust farming industry and agriculture industry.”

‘Exploiting Loopholes’

As previously reported by The Epoch Times, Ross Kennedy—founder of U.S.-based logistics and supply chain advisory Fortis Analysis and senior fellow at Security Studies Group—warned that “China is exploiting loopholes to buy up U.S. farmland with the aim of sabotaging the U.S. national security.”

A June 18 report by the National Association of Realtors revealed that China maintained first in American residential sales dollar volume during a 12-month period that ended in March at $6.1 billion. Canada placed second with $5.5 billion, followed by India ($3.6 billion), Mexico ($2.9 billion), and Brazil ($1.6 billion).

The report also showed that real estate investors in China spent over $6 billion on American real estate—more than any other foreign country. Equally notable is that Florida was the number one investment choice for foreign buyers for the 14th year in a row, accounting for 24 percent of all international acquisitions, almost twice that of its four most popular alternatives combined. California ranked second with 11 percent. Texas garnered eight percent. Arizona pulled seven percent while New York and North Carolina tied at four percent.

In December 2019, a report (pdf) by the United States Agricultural Department revealed that investors in China owned approximately 192,000 of America’s agricultural acres—including land used for farming, ranching, and forestry—valued at $1.9 billion.

A worker dumps oranges into a fruit loader as he helps harvest them at a grove in Fort Meade, Fla., Feb. 1, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Protecting Florida

Preserving the strength of Florida’s agriculture is a priority for newly-inaugurated Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, who recently proposed the framework for legislation that would restrict foreign entities from buying Florida farmland.

According to a Dec. 9 press release by Collins, around 1.3 million acres of Florida’s agricultural land were “under foreign ownership.” Simpson’s proposal—“Florida’s Strategic Land Plan”—would restrict “the purchase, acquisition, lease, or holding of controlling interest in agricultural land” in the Sunshine State by “nonresident aliens, foreign businesses and corporations, or foreign governments.”

On Sept. 22, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the signing of Executive Order 22-216 (pdf), which prohibits foreign countries like China from purchasing agricultural land in Florida as well as from buying any land surrounding military bases.

“We are grateful to Commissioner Simpson for following our lead and acting on this important matter,” DeSantis Executive Press Secretary Bryan Griffin told The Epoch Times in a statement by email, citing the governor’s executive order.

During the Jan. 4 committee meeting, Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-District 15) said, “it’s not accidental that the county was named ‘Orange,’” because it was “the center of the citrus industry here in the state of Florida.” However, since then, much of the industry has moved to South America, causing Florida to lose its namesake industry to a foreign country.

“Any time you control large areas of land you have an inordinate amount of influence over what happens in particular communities,” Thompson told The Epoch Times, comparing the acquisition of land in the U.S. by foreign entities to corporations buying up affordable housing to monopolize rent pricing. “I do feel that there has to be some control over having a foreign entity having an inordinate amount of land in a particular state or region.”

While delivering his comments, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-District 13) lamented the decay of Florida’s once robust citrus industry. “As a fifth-generation Floridian” whose grandfather was a citrus grower, Baxley said “oranges was Florida.”

For Commissioner Simpson, it’s imperative to defend Florida, not just for its residents, but for the country as a whole.

“We have a responsibility to ensure Floridians have access to a safe, affordable and abundant food and water supply,” Simpson said in a statement issued by email to The Epoch Times, adding that “Florida plays a critical role in our food supply chain and in the national security of the United States.”

“China now controls nearly 200,000 acres of agricultural land in the U.S., leaving our food supply chain, our water quality and our national security interests vulnerable to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said further. “Banning foreign control of Florida’s agricultural land and key strategic military lands will protect our state, provide long-term stability and preserve economic freedom.”

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