Commissioner Fried Letter to President Trump: Continue Processing H-2B Visas for Forestry

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Jun 3, 2020

Tallahassee, Fla. – In her continued advocacy for Florida’s forestry industry, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting the continued processing of H-2B temporary worker visas critical to U.S. agriculture, including the timber and forestry industry.

Forestry, a $25 billion industry in Florida supporting 124,000 jobs, is the state’s top agricultural commodity, a key part of Florida’s $137 billion agriculture sector, and deemed essential during COVID-19. Forestry is the second largest user of the H-2B visa program, with Florida second in the nation in hiring of H-2B seasonal guestworkers. Forestry products include timber, lumber, paper, cardboard, wood fuel, livestock forage, and more.

Last week, Commissioner Fried applauded the signing of a USDA agreement providing $380 million in block grant aid to Florida timber farmers devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018; the Category 5 storm leveled 550 million trees and dealt $1.3 billion in damage to Florida’s timber industry. Commissioner Fried had previously written to President Trump highlighting the damaging effects of his tariffs and trade wars on American forestry; exports of Florida timber to China fell 66 percent in 2019 due to retaliatory tariffs. She has also visited Washington to urge that the state’s Congressional delegation fight for timber disaster assistance.

The letter, which reads as follows:

May 27, 2020

The Honorable Donald J. Trump

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington DC 20500

 

Dear Mr. President:

I write to you today as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture on behalf of our state’s forest industry to request you continue to recognize the importance of maintaining H-2B visa processing that provides the nonimmigrant labor this essential industry needs to remain productive.

Agriculture is Florida’s second largest industry and first in times of economic downturns, such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Florida’s 47,000 farms support two million jobs and $137 billion in economic impact. Forestry is Florida’s largest agricultural commodity, which has faced many global challenges in the past few years.

In October 2018, Hurricane Michael struck Florida’s Panhandle, devastating its timber industry that is the region’s leading agricultural sector and a major driver of jobs in the impacted communities. More than 19 months later, our forest landowners are still awaiting USDA assistance to help recover from the $1.3 billion in losses caused by the storm that felled 72 million tons of trees. Additionally, Florida saw a 66 percent decline in key timber exports to China in 2019 due to retaliatory tariffs, further damaging this critical American industry. We cannot afford to add labor uncertainty on top of the challenges our forest industry is already facing.

Our proud forest landowners are resilient. They are still producing and contributing greatly to our state’s and nation’s economy during these unprecedented times, with forestry having been recognized as an essential business during COVID-19 in guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. H-2B seasonal guestworkers are critical for these operations to continue undisrupted, with the forest industry the second largest user of this visa program, and the State of Florida second in the nation for H-2B hiring.

As your administration responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, I urge you to continue putting American farmers first, continue recognizing forestry as essential, and continue protecting this vital industry’s access to the H-2B visa program.

 

Sincerely,

 

Nicole Fried

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture

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