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Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam recently spoke to the nearly 200 attendees of the 2015 Florida Agriculture Financial Management Conference (www.FAFMC.org) about the opportunities – and challenges – facing landowners and the agriculture industry.
Putnam was clear that the opportunities far outweigh the challenges.
A fifth generation cattle rancher and citrus grower who still farms in Polk County, Putnam began his tenure as agriculture commissioner in 2011 after a decade in Congress. He mixes his knowledge of government with the practical perspective of someone who remembers what it’s like to stick his fingers in the dirt. He told the audience that a lot has changed in Florida agriculture since he went to Washington in 2001.
Agriculture is central to water policy discussions
The biggest change, he said, is that farmers and landowners are now “central to that discussion” about water.
For years, Florida’s “water wars” pitted regions against each other while doing little to manage water to benefit everyone across the state. Nobody benefits from water wars, he said, and public policy has a new and welcome emphasis on finding consensus among stakeholders. Agriculture and landowners now find that they have a new respect among policy makers, he said, and that’s evident in how the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been reorganized. The department has turned over some non-agriculture regulatory functions to other state agencies so that it can focus on creating economic opportunity.
A revamped agriculture department
One example is moving the state’s energy office to the agriculture department, which will foster the development of biofuels, especially in rural areas that need the jobs. The department also is working with water management districts to incentivize landowners to conserve and store water. A new school nutrition program that encourages schools to add fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables to school menus is “putting schools together with our producers,” said Putnam.
The Farm to Schools program matches local farmers to schools and encourages schools to buy in-state fruit and vegetables. The program creates a market for local farmers and also educates kids about where their food comes. Farmers now have a platform to tell agriculture’s story “in every lunch room in every school in the state 180 days a year,” Putnam said. “It’s a remarkable opportunity that’s . . . good for Florida farmers and it’s good for these kids.”
Challenges come from regulation
While there’s a new willingness to work together among stakeholders, coordinating public policy across the state while protecting private property rights remains a huge challenge, Putnam said. “Agriculture and water needs are different around the state. There’s a big difference in managing water in the Everglades and managing water in the spring sheds and managing water in northwest Florida.”
“We need to protect that regional, closer-to-home approach,” Putnam said. He does not want to see government officials in Tallahassee dictate one-size-fits-all policy prescriptions for every region.
The flip side to local control, however, is that individual counties and cities can enact regulations that place unrealistic restraints on agriculture or landowners. These regulations often are borne of a lack of understanding and appreciation for the role that responsible landowners play in preserving ecological systems, as well as the contributions they make to the economy, he said. Whether county governments will come to appreciate the role of agriculture “is very much an open question at this point,” he said.
Growers and landowners have to step up and tell their story, he said, making sure that condo owners in Miami and the millions of people who live in urban areas understand the role that responsible growers play in supporting the economy and environment, as well as placing food on the table.
Putnam’s remarks can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7T-XXGcIr4.
About the author:
Dennis G. Corrick is a shareholder in the Fort Pierce office of Dean Mead. Mr. Corrick has extensive experience working with issues unique to agricultural businesses and properties. He is a member of Dean Mead’s Agribusiness Industry team. He practices in the areas of commercial real estate, zoning and land use, and general business law. He has experience in every element of real estate purchase, ownership, governance and sale. In addition, he assists clients in land use and zoning matters, permitting and licensing, and in agreements governing the use of property such as covenants and restrictions, commercial and agricultural leases, easements and licenses. He may be reached at (772) 464-7700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.