If Congress doesn’t fix the country’s agricultural labor problem thousands of family farms and the nation’s domestic food supply are at risk, a Florida citrus grower told the House Agriculture Committee.
Mason Smoak, a third generation citrus grower from Lake Placid, told members of the House Agriculture Committee that a legal, reliable labor force is imperative for the future of agriculture. Smoak, an active member of Florida Citrus Mutual, was invited to Washington by Congressman Tim Mahoney of Florida who serves on the Committee.
“My family understands it is essential to have legal, reliable workers harvesting our crops and helping put orange juice on breakfast tables across America,” Smoak said. “Please, believe me when I tell you that we want legal workers. I’ll reiterate: We want legal workers.”
Smoak’s grandfather started his family’s citrus business on 10 acres in 1933. The business has grown to over 3,100 acres of citrus and 13,000 acres of cattle ranchland and wildlife conservation areas. Smoak also told the Committee having reliable, legal labor to harvest crops such as citrus is a national security issue.
“If Florida’s citrus crop is left in the grove to rot because of a labor shortage then our Nation’s citrus production will eventually shift entirely to Central and South America,” Smoak said. “The importance of maintaining a safe, affordable and abundant domestic food supply is something many Americans care deeply about and is something I know growers care deeply about also. Shifting food production from our shores to overseas could compromise food security and in-turn homeland security.”
Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, said Smoak’s comments mirror the thoughts of thousands of Florida citrus growers.
“There are thousands of citrus growers in Florida just like Mason Smoak whose family businesses are in jeopardy because they cannot find the legal labor they need. The current system is broken from top to bottom and we need to fix it. Our industry wants legal workers,” Sparks said. “As an industry we are disappointed that our best efforts toward comprehensive immigration reform failed to pass this year. We are going to continue to work hard so that some kind of solution is eventually crafted.”
Florida Citrus Mutual, founded in 1948 and based in Lakeland, is the state’s largest citrus growers organization with more than 8,000 grower members. The Florida citrus industry employs 90,000 people and has a $9 billion economic impact