New Year, Fresh Perspective for Florida Agriculture

New Year, Fresh Perspective for Florida Agriculture

Say hello to 2019 and a whole new era for Florida agriculture. This month, Nikki Fried takes over the commissioner of agriculture office. And what a way to make an entrance. It’s historic. Back in the summer, it would have been near impossible to predict what (eventually) came out of the midterm election marathon. Surprise! By a razor-thin margin and a side of drama, the Sunshine State officially elected the Democratic candidate to the ag commissioner seat. Welcome to the fray, Nikki.

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Did you know only once in the history of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has a female held that position? For four months in 2001, Terry Lee Rhodes was the interim commissioner, between Robert Crawford’s stint and Charles H. Bronson’s tenure. She was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Fried, however, is the first female elected to the post.

Party lines and gender aside, Fried will be a major shift in culture compared to what those with farming interests have been used to for a long time. Outgoing commissioner Adam Putnam, a fifth-generation Florida Cracker with deep farming roots, picked up where Bronson left off. The local ag community will miss his leadership and his in-the-field perspective.

Fried certainly brings with her a different vibe, energy, and take on the office. In mainstream media interviews leading up to the election, she stressed how much she wants to shake things up. A large part of her election campaign focused on placing all medical marijuana regulation under the fold of FDACS, something that has been handled up to this point by the Florida Department of Health.

Beyond the strong stance on expanding medical marijuana use and access, it’s likely Fried will be taking the fast track toward a wide learning curve when it comes to the “agriculture” part of her new title.

She candidly admits her background is not steeped in cowgirl hats and tractors but realizes the commissioner’s role serves a much wider audience beyond farm fences.
All of this might seem like a challenge for the comfort zone that has been in place here for decades, but it could be a major opportunity for the industry to step up and show Fried what we’re truly about and where to advocate on our behalf.

On her website, Fried lists the following as priorities for her administration:

  • Medical Marijuana
  • Citrus Greening
  • Blue-Green Algae Blooms
  • Farm-To-School Program
  • Food Deserts
  • Water
  • Industrial Hemp
  • Climate Change and Sea-level Rise

The usual suspects — plus a few outliers — appear to be present and accounted for. That’s a good start.

Like you, I’m interested to see what Fried will bring to the table. Overall, I’m optimistic. Change can be refreshing. It is the one constant in life we can rely on. And no recounts needed.