More than 400 people attended FFVA’s 73rd annual convention in late September to hear an array of agriculture leaders and industry experts discuss key issues. Attendees also had a chance to catch up with colleagues and network with dozens of sponsors.
Always a favorite at the convention is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s state of the industry address. And this year was no exception. In his wide-ranging talk, Putnam discussed both opportunities and challenges for Florida agriculture.
His message to the audience was clear: “We are a $100 billion economic driver for Florida that cannot be replaced. While we face numerous risks every day, the biggest threat is still poorly thought-out government policies that prevent Florida farmers and ranchers from feeding a hungry world.”
In a turbulent year for Florida, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services continues to guard the health of crops and people, he said.
Asked for his thoughts on the coming year, Putnam said that Republicans and Democrats in Washington must find a way to work together. “The new Congress has to function,” he said. “Otherwise, we can expect more agency regulations and overzealous executive action.”
Another risk to the state is opposition to science-based pest control actions, Putnam said, citing the Miami-Dade outbreak of the Zika virus. He said the Department’s aerial mosquito-spraying program was effective in the Wynwood neighborhood but ran into headwinds in Miami Beach, where some residents alleged that Zika was a hoax. Others felt that spraying was more dangerous than the virus without any evidence to support their position.
Meanwhile, Putnam’s Department continues to fight giant African land snails, which are being gradually brought under control. “We have to manage multiple outbreaks that threaten our livelihood,” he added.
The Weight Of Water
Turning to the state’s water resources, Putnam said problems like the algae bloom on the Treasure Coast are likely to continue without investments in better water control infrastructure. “We accept the cost of road improvement projects, but we have neglected wastewater management in many parts of the state,” he said. “We also need to follow the Everglades conservation plan and find alternatives to using Lake Okeechobee for storage, such as deep-well injection.”
Noting that the state legislature passed a strong water management plan last year, Putnam said, “Clean water is the key to our state’s growth, tourism, and agriculture. We are all in this together.”
Marketing For The Masses
Putnam also discussed a new initiative Fresh From Florida is undertaking.
“We’re also seeing a clear trend from commoditized to value-add agriculture,” he said. “To capitalize on the growing consumer interest in the sources of food, the Department will launch a new Fresh From Florida initiative called ‘I grow this.’ Farmers will be videotaped in the fields talking about their crops, their families, and their values. We will make those videos available to retailers to help consumers make connection to you and reinforce the concept of quality Florida agriculture.”
At the convention, FFVA announced several annual awards. Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Matt Caldwell were named Legislators of the Year. Hutson (R-Palm Coast) sponsored the Farm Vehicle legislation (SB 1046) and the Ag Industry bill (SB 1310/HG749), both of which benefited Florida’s growers. Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) is a second-time recipient of the award, which he also received in 2013. Caldwell sponsored the Water Resources bill (HB 7005) and the State Lands bill (HB 1075). Both were signed into law.
Dr. Jim Graham, Professor of Soil Microbiology at the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, was named Researcher of the Year.
And finally, IPC Subway was named Customer of the Year for its work with producers to promote Florida products