Florida Farm Bureau President speaks about citrus production issues, 2022 session

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Jeb smith, the new president of the Florida Agricultural Office, hopes the Florida citrus industry can rebound after disappointing projections to start the season 2021-22.

Smith spoke to Florida Politics about citrus industry struggles and several other topics ahead of the 2022 legislative session. Smith, whose family has decades of farming experience, has resigned from the County Commission. St. Johns in early November after being elected by delegates to head the Florida Farm Bureau. Smith had been St. Johns County Commissioner for seven years.

On why he continued the concert

“I ran for it because I was asked to run. Some of our state directors have asked me to do this. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would have considered it, ”Smith said.

“Being involved in production farming in the state, the county commission and other things that I have been involved in have prepared me for the job. “

Smith’s ties to the Florida Farm Bureau also run deep. He has served on the board of directors for the St. Johns County Agricultural Bureau since 1997, served as chairman of the county board for nine years, and director of state for nine years. Smith has also served on advisory committees with the American Farm Bureau and the state level.

“I was very, very involved in organizing and shaping its policies, which allowed me to familiarize myself with many of its members across the state. “

The backbone of Florida agriculture

The starting forecast for citrus this year was the lowest in decades and continued a downward trend for expected production of oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and tangelos. But Smith says he’s not resigned to a continued decline in Florida citrus production.

“I think there is still hope. And I think we all hope that the citrus industry can be saved and turned around, ”he said. “It’s the monster. It is the backbone of our agriculture industry and has been for decades.

Smith pointed to the possible progress of citrus stocks, arguing that stocks that are more resistant to disease or cold could help get the industry back on its feet. He mentioned past obstacles that growers have faced, such as freezes, the spread of canker and moving the crop further south, and argued that farmers would still overcome this recent decline.

“The volume could be down compared to the square footage. But I think there may be an opportunity where we can make it more efficient, make production more efficient, and have higher returns on fewer properties. “

Legislative session 2022

Smith brought to light Senate Bill 1000 of sen. Ben albritton as a priority bill for the Farm Bureau when the legislature meets in January.

“This is called adjusting the rates for fertilizer application for growers,” Smith explained. The legislation “Would allow a certified crop consultant to provide recommended rates.”

This could allow farmers – in the citrus industry and elsewhere – to ensure that nutrients are put into the soil using the best available methods.

“Some of the (recommendations) that we have are over two decades old and may not be applicable to some of our newer varieties (crops),” Smith said.

“This is a very, very important piece of legislation that would allow scientifically substantiated, expert and professional recommendations to allow our producers to be competitive with the quality and quantity of a crop, as well as to be sensitive. to the environment and natural resources in their protection.

As of this publication, there is no House Sponsor for Legislation.

Agritourism

Albritton and Rep. Josie tomkow are working on separate legislation to further promote agritourism in Florida. Although Smith said he had not looked at this particular law, he supported agri-tourism in general as a potential generator of profit for farmers.

“There is an opportunity for producers to expand their business model so that they can provide the public with entertainment and exposure to agriculture, its benefits and something that many of them are completely separate from,” Smith said. .

“I know people who really, really love going out into the country and going for a walk in a cornfield or a hay walk. So if a farmer has this opportunity, it equates to them having more opportunities to expand their business model and thrive or survive.

He noted, however, the difficulty of examining these transactions and determining whether they constitute “good faith agricultural purposes” or are merely a lucrative business. This distinction is important when it comes to property assessments, as farmers are offered preferential tax rates to encourage them to keep their farms.

“I know a lot of our real estate appraisers and others have had questions. There have been some gray areas, ”Smith said.

“One of the things that happens though, is that entrepreneurship makes others want to get involved as well. And it’s not good faith farming, but they see the opportunity. So they see a barn and a pasture and think, “Oh, I can start an agritourism business”. And that’s a totally different intention.

Profit issues

“If farmers want to stay in farming, they have to be profitable,” Smith said. “If you take everything – every piece of legislation or every additional regulation – it doesn’t matter. We can continue to cultivate as long as we are profitable. And if not, here in Florida the option is to sell it to a developer.

Smith called over-regulation a potential profit killer and argued that lawmakers should keep this primary goal in mind when drafting agricultural legislation.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s at the local, state or even federal level. If there is something that begins to erode the ability to make a profit out of what we grow and produce, it begins to jeopardize or compromise the ability to remain viable.

Science and politics

Smith closed the discussion by talking about the importance of science and research in the agriculture industry going forward.

“We have wonderful new technology when it comes to water irrigation. Irrigation is needed for crop and livestock growth and we’ve become more efficient, ”Smith explained.

“With plant stocks, there are huge benefits that come from some of the sciences that have been worked on at our land grant universities – not just here in Florida, but across the country. We are the beneficiaries. As a society, we are the beneficiaries of some of these investors by taxpayers, our state legislature and our local governments.

Smith said it is the government’s job to support universities that grant land and other entities that seek to advance the industry and contribute to efficiency and environmental concerns.

“The policy must support and sustain the research side of industry in order to promote, induce and reap the benefits of better technologies,” Smith said, arguing that research institutions are particularly important.

“I’m excited because they’ve been at the forefront of identifying and resolving some of these issues, and they’re doing a great job. And we will support them 100%.


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