Florida farmers want to cut labor costs; they want the legislature to help by passing laws on artificial intelligence and mechanization

Sweetwater Organic Farm in Tampa. By Sean Kinane.

Backroom Briefing: Is AI the Answer? Weekly political notes
By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Fruit and vegetable growers who say they are combating “unfair foreign trade” from Mexico want support during the 2024 legislative session with issues such as artificial intelligence and mechanization that could reduce labor costs.

Mike Joyner, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, told members of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday that boosting technologies could help farmers cut costs and reverse trends in international trade.

Joyner called a 2020 revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement “a missed opportunity,” as Mexico continues to assist its farmers, covering costs of building greenhouses and other production expenses. What was known as NAFTA became the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“It’s not slowing down,” Joyner said. “If anything, it’s getting worse.”

Joyner said five years after NAFTA began in 1994, the value of Florida’s specialty crops was 44 percent higher than imports from Mexico. By 2014, with Mexico prioritizing certain fruits and vegetables, the value of specialty crops from Mexico was 198 percent higher than Florida’s.

Joyner said efforts are underway with Florida’s congressional delegation to address trade issues through the federal Farm Bill and in building a case against “dumping” that could be brought before the Federal Trade Commission.

Artificial intelligence is an area where lawmakers could help at the state level, Joyner said. Among the issues is Mexico’s competitive edge in labor costs.

“If you work hard and you’re a Mexican worker in Mexico, and you work hard in the field, you might make $35 a day,” Joyner said. “If you’re in the H-2A program (a temporary visa program for workers coming to the U.S.), where we brought you in — we brought about 50,000 H-2A workers into Florida last year — you could make between $15 and $20 an hour.”

Joyner said he’d like to see more efforts such as $10.9 million that was approved this year to begin the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Center for Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture.

“If we can get that stood up, and if we can get some of the best and brightest to begin to work on this mechanization and automation, maybe we don’t have to bring in those 50,000 or as many. We’re certainly always going to need help,” he said.

Committee Chairman Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said the state needs to be “aggressive and relentless” in its response to the “growing” negative impacts of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“We have to push our universities — like IFAS (the University of Florida institute) and everybody else — to not move at the speed of science but at the speed of need,” Collins said.


In line to be Senate minority leader during the 2025 and 2026 legislative sessions, Sunny Isles Beach Democrat Jason Pizzo has set his sights on building the ranks of his party to help lead to “real competitive races” in the future.

Pizzo, who has been holding a series of talks with university students, said he could be on the statewide ballot in 2026, depending on who Republicans put forward for governor.

During an hour-long appearance on the “Deeper Dive with Dara Kam” podcast, Pizzo said he could envision himself running for governor if Republicans back a candidate such as Panhandle Congressman Matt Gaetz, a prominent ally of former President Donald Trump.

That’s not the case if the GOP’s pick is more in line with someone like Attorney General Ashley Moody, who has a much lower profile.

“We have like 4 million NPAs (no-party affiliation voters) that will — I strongly believe if the Democrats have the right candidate — will not vote for somebody like Matt Gaetz,” Pizzo said. “But we also have 4 million NPAs if given the choice between something that might be, you know, not exactly you know, incredibly charismatic … that’s where somebody I think like Ashley Moody does well.”


At its Florida Water Forum last week, the business-lobbying giant Associated Industries of Florida named a water-policy award after former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“Naming this award in his honor is a small recognition of his passion for water and unmatched commitment to advancing good water policy that was long overdue,” Associated Industries President and CEO Brewster Bevis said.

Putnam, part of a multi-generational farming and ranching family in Polk County, became CEO of Ducks Unlimited after losing the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary to Ron DeSantis. Before becoming agriculture commissioner, he served in the Florida House and the U.S. House.

The first recipient of the Putnam award was Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican who chairs the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee.


“Reporters are telling me to expect a call from President (Donald) Trump. I will ask the best President in my lifetime 2 things: why he can’t admit he was wrong about the vaccines, and why he never fired Tony Fauci. For these two lapses of judgment, I am #DeSantisordie #DeSantis2024.” — state Rep. Joel Rudman, R-Navarre, (@doc_rudman), about endorsements in the 2024 presidential race.

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