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Florida ag industry awaits DeSantis’ decision on farmworker housing bill amid labor shortage

TALLAHASSE, Fla. — Florida’s agriculture sector is awaiting Governor Ron DeSantis’s decision on a newly passed bill aimed at addressing labor shortages in the industry.

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The bill (SB 1082), unanimously approved by lawmakers, seeks to limit local regulations on farmworker housing, potentially opening doors for increased participation in the federal H-2A visa program.

If signed into law, SB 1082 would prevent cities and counties from impeding the construction of housing for farmworkers on agricultural land.

The move comes amidst concerns about a labor shortage, partially attributed to the state’s crackdown on undocumented migrants, leading some growers to scale back planting efforts.

Jim Spratt, a lobbyist for the Florida Ag Coalition, highlighted the challenges farmers face in securing adequate housing for guest workers, noting that delays in the process have hampered production. He expressed optimism that the bill, by facilitating housing construction on agricultural land, could alleviate some of these issues, albeit with a ramp-up period.

The bill’s proponents anticipate the construction of housing for up to 52,000 workers statewide, subject to federal, state, and local building standards.

However, concerns have been raised about potential impacts on local property values and the effectiveness of the H-2A program.

Emory “Rowdy” Howard, a Hendry County Commissioner, voiced apprehensions about the bill’s implications for property values and the program’s susceptibility to abuse.

Supporters like David Hill, Chairman of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, emphasize the necessity of ensuring farmers’ autonomy in addressing labor challenges

Under SB 1082, housing structures would need to adhere to specific regulations, including minimum separation distances and proximity limitations to residential areas. Structures not in use for a year or on land no longer classified as agricultural would be subject to removal.

The bill’s emergence follows previous legislative efforts to bolster immigration enforcement in the state, underscoring ongoing debates about the intersection of immigration policy and agricultural labor dynamics.

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