We had another great turnout at our annual membership meeting held on June 10th in Plant City. At the General Membership meeting we elected 6 Directors including two new Directors: Brittany Hollon of Urban Tropical and Paul Schlicht of Aqua Blue Cichilds. The Board re-elected the same slate of officers for the coming year which means I’m starting my third year as your President. During the dinner we inducted Sandy Moore into the FTFFA Hall of Fame. We also announced the winners of the 2016 Aquatic Experience/FTFFA People’s Choice Award. Elsewhere in this newsletter are photos of both of these well-deserved awards. We also debuted a new 4 minute video promoting Florida tropical fish and aquatic plants that was taped at this year’s Aquatic Lounge in Orlando. The video is available on our website at: ftffa.com. I hope you will take a minute to view it and share it with others. I think you’ll agree, it’s professionally done and does a great job in promoting tropical fish keeping and our industry.
On June 22, 2017, I spoke at a Farm Bill Listening Session held by the US House Committee on Agriculture. The US aquaculture industry was also represented by Amy Stone, NAA Director. The House Committee on Agriculture was led and represented by their Chair Rep. John Conaway (TX) and 11 members. The members included: Rick Allen (GA), Rick Crawford (AR), Neal Dunn (FL), Roger Marshall (KS), Jimmy Panetta (CA), Stacy Plaskett (Virgin Islands), David Scott (GA), Glenn Thompson (PA) and Ted Yoho (FL). Representative Sanford Bishop (GA) and Ranking Member on House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture also attended.
Amy Stone and I touched on a Specialty Crops designation for US aquaculture and USDA aquaculture research, aquatic animal health, Wildlife Services and catfish inspection programs. Although we were allowed only two minutes each to present our case for support of our nation’s aquaculture industry I feel the session was a success for US aquaculture. Chair Conaway closed the session by providing a charge to the audience. He noted that the Committee was committed to producing a Farm Bill and that speakers presented to Representatives that understood the needs of farmers; however, if US agriculture wanted a strong Farm Bill to pass, then the farming community needs to tell its story to the public and advocate for the Farm Bill to gain support from the rest of the House.
Many long time Tallahassee observers, including our own lobbyist Joe Spratt, commented that the 2017 legislative session was one of the strangest sessions in recent memory. But aquaculture had some success and some setbacks. In a year where the House was intent on making significant reductions to the state budget and the Legislature passed a much smaller tax cut package than in years past. Florida agricultural producers did receive $2.3 million in agricultural sales tax exemptions. Included in the Legislature's $80 million tax cut bill is language that exempts animal health products from state sales tax.
In January, a Florida Department of Revenue audit of a veterinary supply company found that animal health products were not exempt from state sales tax, although it had been assumed these products were exempt. As a result we immediately worked to file legislation to exempt these products from sales tax and preserve a $2.3 million savings on prescription and non-prescription animal health products used for poultry and livestock, including but not limited to Aquaculture health products used by aquaculture producers to treat fungi, bacteria and parasitic diseases. This will save fish farmers – especially tropical fish producers - a considerable amount.
Unfortunately the sales tax exemption for compressed and liquefied oxygen used in aquaculture production was deleted from House Bill 7109 during the final week. We will be working to clarify the fiscal impact of these exemptions for state officials and look to include some of this language during the 2018 legislative session.
The Tropical Aquaculture Lab took a big hit in funding when approximately $779K was vetoed from the final 2017-18 state budget. It is important that we remind all of our state elected officials of the importance of Florida’s aquaculture industry to our state and that it needs to be adequately funded so we can be competitive in a global marketplace. Another setback was that the ARC projects approved by the ARC for funding in FY 2017-18 never made it into the House or Senate budgets. It’s very difficult to get items in the final budget if they don’t have the support of the Legislative leadership early in the session. It could be we have to regroup and reconsider our strategy for next year’s budget for these funding issues.