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What you need to know about the 2020 elections across the greater Tampa Bay region.

Florida Democrats Rally Around Biden In Appeal To Farmers, Rural Voters

A University of Florida study showed that while demand for food is rising in the U.S., the total acreage for farms are shrinking at a fast pace.
A University of Florida study showed that while demand for food is rising in the U.S., the total acreage for farms are shrinking at a fast pace.

Florida Democratic political leaders held a virtual discussion on improvements they expect presidential candidate Joe Biden to work on for rural Florida if he were to win the presidency in November. 

“We have hope, because we know Joe, and Joe has a plan to beat COVID-19 and rebuild rural America back, and better,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. 

Due to struggles from the pandemic, Fried said the state’s agriculture has endured a $522 million loss. 

Issues brought up for rural Florida included technology and broadband access, mental health outreach, farming conservation, and international trade policies that have made business tougher for some small farmers. 

State Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) also joined the meeting and spoke on the hardships rural communities face when trying to access online resources during the pandemic.

“Many of our urban areas and our rural areas are technology deficient, lack access to the internet, and COVID-19 has pulled the blinders off of this situation that Mr. Trump and his administration have paid little attention to,” Gibson said. 

According to a report from the James Madison Institute, rural Florida counties have higher poverty rates than the larger metro areas, while broadband access is lower overall. 

“Rural America has the right to have access to technology, and Joe Biden will ensure that those federal funds are there,” Gibson said. 

One of the speakers featured was Howard Gunn Jr., a Black farmer and former president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agricultural Association. He said his food distribution company lost a lot of revenue when schools shut down in March.

“We contract with the Duval County School System, which serves over 100,000 students a day… We lost lots of money, but we didn't qualify for some of the grants that were out there or some of the money that was out there because of our credit,” Gunn said.

Gunn also brought up a lack of access to capital and an open market, and the loss of land that particularly Black farmers have seen in the Sunshine State.

“Since 1910, we've [Black farmers] probably lost over 19 million acres of land, so we're down to only approximately 1.5 million acres of land, and we only have 45,000 farmers that are farming this land,” Gunn Jr. said. 

A 2015 study from the University of Florida revealed that while the demand for food is growing, farm size is declining across the United States. Florida lost 50,000 acres in 2015 alone.

The Biden campaign has tried to appeal to rural America in recent months by highlighting the Trump administration’s shortcomings for sparsely populated areas, such as the recent troubles with the U.S. Postal Service and international trade wars

Florida Farmer Lonnie Gilbert said when former President Barack Obama and Biden were in office from 2008 to 2016, selling prices were great for farmers.

“I can remember the highest price for receiving peanuts, we received up to $1,000 per ton that year, whereas to, you know, the past five or six years, we haven't seen nothing more - at least I haven't seen nothing more over $425 per ton. That's a big difference,” Gilbert said. 

Fried is encouraging rural Floridians to put faith in Biden as a way to rejuvenate local farmers. 

“Between technology, to broadband, to access to capital, to equality issues and banking issues and just land conservation, that I can tell you, Joe Biden is listening,” Fried said. 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.
Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT.org.

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