JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham called on Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to come to bat for Florida’s citrus industry amidst EU threats of potential tariffs on imports.
Graham, who recently won the support of former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazouri, responded after news broke that the European Union had threatened the U.S. with retaliatory tariffs targeted at agricultural products including orange juice, whiskey and dairy.
“Orange juice is the lifeblood of our state,” Graham said in a press release Friday. “It is absolutely vital to Florida’s agriculture industry and our state’s economy. Adam Putnam needs to put Florida first, pick up the phone, call his friend Donald Trump and defend our state’s jobs.”
The threat of imposed taxes on certain U.S. imports comes in response to plans the U.S. has to levy tariffs on major exporters of steel.
The Associated Press reported last month that EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said the trade bloc was making retaliatory preparations in the event the U.S. did introduce new tariffs on steel.
Graham’s call to Putnam, who has also declared his intentions to run for governor, is undoubtedly a calculated political jab at the Republican candidate. In addition to his duty to promote Florida's agribusiness, Putnam owns a sizeable stake in a family-owned orange grove in Bartow worth just shy of $3 million, per a recent financial disclosure.
“Florida agriculture is a $100 billion industry that supports more than 2 million jobs,” Graham said. “It’s unconscionable for our state’s agriculture commissioner to stay silent and play politics with people’s lives instead of calling out the president.”
Farming brought my family here almost 100 years ago and has sustained millions of Florida families for generations.— Gwen Graham (@GwenGraham) July 7, 2017
Adding insult to misfortune, Florida’s citrus industry has seen better days, according to a forecast released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in March. The USDA forecast predicted the 2016-2017 season would yield 67 million boxes of oranges, as opposed to the 81.5 million boxes that were harvested the year before.
“Until a long-term solution is discovered, which some of our state’s brightest minds are working on, we must support Florida’s multi-billion dollar citrus industry and the more than 60,000 jobs it supports,” Putnam said in response to USDA predictions.
A growing citrus plant disease is to blame for the decline in harvests seen both here in Florida and California. The incurable disease is referred to as citrus greening and is spread by an infected insect. The trees infected with the disease produce green, misshapen fruit that is rendered worthless due to the bitter taste.
First Coast News reached out to Commissioner Putnam’s communications office for a response in regards to Graham’s call to action and was provided the following statement.
“If you can’t grow it, you can’t export it,” said FDACS Deputy Chief of Staff Amanda Bevis. “Even a half day pretending to work in citrus would teach Gwen Graham that the number one issue in Florida citrus is greening, not the EU.”
Sticking close to Gov. Rick Scott’s political strategy, Putnam has exited the gates talking job creation, and small business, hoisting the campaign slogan “Florida First.” Most recently, Putnam continued to roll out his conservative Florida platform by lowering the cost of concealed weapon permits.
Graham, on the other hand, whose father once served as governor of the State of Florida, has focused more on human rights and environmental issues. She most recently paid a visit to the Sulzbacher Center to discuss public services that are offered to the homeless in Jacksonville.