All posts by Rachael Smith

Land Grant Partner

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter February 2021

Gene McAvoy has been writing a Florida pest-of-the-month column for 20 years. He has almost never had a repeat.

Every Thursday or Friday, Farm Bureau members across South Florida get a visit from Craig Frey, who succeeded Gene as director of UF/IFAS Extension Hendry County. In a single day each week, Craig adds about 250 miles to the 200,000 he already has on his Ford Explorer, collecting traps set for McAvoy’s October 2020 pest, the Asian bean thrip.

All of us in Florida agriculture are sentries on alert for pests, a new species of which is said to arrive every month in Florida. Extension agents, farmers, private sector scouts, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the FDACS Division of Plant Industry and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are among those in the all-hands-on-deck effort.

This heroic effort must be maintained as long as there’s a thrip threat, another psyllid to watch for, another beetle. My vision for keeping pests off your produce is to expand the UF/IFAS arsenal of expertise.

Photo by Adah Joy Frey
Photo by Adah Joy Frey

Research and Extension are the way we take the fight to the pest. The more we know about invasive pests before their arrival, the more we can turn our eternal campaign against them from whack-a-mole in your fields to targeted strategic takeout of invaders before they get a six-legged foothold on your crop.

My job is to get our scientists the resources they need to address your problems. Key to that quest to compete for limited federal research dollars is telling our story with examples of the scientist-farmer partnership that testifies to the relevance of the research.

Examples like Chuck Obern. He leaves the gate open at his C&B Farms in Clewiston so Craig can get in and out of the bean field quickly so that his 11-hour day collecting traps doesn’t become a 12-hour day. Chuck also shares observations with Craig that Extension can in turn share with other growers.

Arguably, invasive species are already at the top of our research and Extension agenda when you consider the massive resources we’ve dedicated to fighting the Asian citrus psyllid that delivers the scourge of HLB. But there are so many threats to so many crops that deserve attention, too.

By some estimates, every agricultural research dollar has a $20 payoff in productivity. Even if that estimate is inflated (and I don’t believe it is), intuitively we know that prevention guided by publicly funded science is a better deal for you than costly eradication that comes out of your bottom line.

I’d like nothing better than to have Gene McAvoy run out of things to write about. But I’m OK with paying the gas and repair bills for Craig Frey’s Explorer.  The wear and tear on his vehicle tell me he’s where I want him to be, on your farms helping solve your problems, pests or not.

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Bill Designed to Modernize Florida’s Right to Farm Law Moves through First Committee Stop

Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) introduced SB 88, a bill that will protect farms from lawsuits. The Sanford Republican’s bill would restrict the types of civil lawsuits based on farming activities, require plaintiffs to prove noncompliance with state or federal requirements and limit who may file nuisance lawsuits against farmers.

The Florida Right to Farm Act was established in 1979 and has played a key role in protecting the viability of Florida agriculture.  Protecting and strengthening this law has been a priority for Florida Farm Bureau since its inception.

The law currently protects farms from nuisance lawsuits in urbanizing areas.  Essentially, if a farm has been in business for more than a year and conforms to generally accepted agricultural practices it cannot be sued for nuisance by surrounding neighbors. This helps ensure that farms can remain in business without worrying about lawsuits arising from the sights, sounds, smells, etc. that are commonplace in production agriculture.

Because of recent judicial rulings in other states, several areas in Florida’s Right to Farm Law have been identified that could be strengthened.  SB 88 would strengthen protections afforded to Florida agriculture as the state continues to urbanize.

“While we are always happy to welcome more Floridians, we also have to preserve existing farms that contribute to our economy and food supply,” Brodeur said. “This legislation strikes the right balance by modernizing Florida’s existing Right to Farm Act.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson has signaled that SB 88 will be a priority.  It has already passed one committee stop with 10 yeas and 1 nay in the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 1 and will be heard next in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Pivoting Your Business: Farmers are Coming Up with New Ways to Diversify their Operations

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter 2021

Pivoting Your Business: Farmers are Coming Up with New Ways to Diversify their Operations

A panel of farmers and ranchers discussed different ways they are improving their operations during a session of the American Farm Bureau Virtual Convention last month.

Farming operations look differently today than they did 10 years ago. Farmers and ranchers are re-inventing the wheel when it comes to diversifying their operations to generate new revenue streams.

Growers have turned to social media, direct marketing and specialty crop production to enhance their operations and generate more income.

Jenny Holterman is an almond grower from California. She is a 4th generation grower currently raising the fifth generation. As a way to get accurate information out to consumers, and tired of misinformation, Holterman started a blog, “Almond Girl Jenny.” “I wanted to connect a face to a family farm,” she said.

“I began direct marketing under the “Almond Girl” label. Holterman was able to develop a customer base and clientele and a general interest in her product and her family’s life on their California almond farm.

Matt Cunningham and his father are corn and soybean farmers in central Ohio. Due to a lack of development on his family’s farm, low commodity prices and larger farms moving in, he decided to look for something more profitable. In 2014, Cunningham began a new venture specializing in brewing ingredients for Ohio’s craft brewers.

“The decision came from the agricultural side as a way to diversify our farm,” he said. “Subconsciously though I think it was a way to connect something popular that I enjoyed back to the farm.” Cunningham and his family grow quality hops, stone ground flour and produce small batch craft malt on their farm, Rustic Brew Farm.

James O’Brien is a seventh generation rancher from south Texas where he raises horses and cattle on J.J. O’Brien Ranch. O’Brien began selling grass fed beef direct to consumers two years ago and says that he has a come a long way in a short period of time. “We are currently in our second year of selling products,” he said.

“What started as a necessity has grown so much.” O’Brien originally sold only quarters, halves and wholes when he began his direct sales but today he offers custom beef boxes so that the customer has more control over which cuts they receive.

2021 Farm Economy Outlook

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter 2021

2021 Farm Economy Outlook

American Farm Bureau Federation economists discussed the outlook for U.S. crop and livestock production, how the election could affect farm policy and the many factors that will influence the U.S. farm profitability in 2021 during a live session of the 2021 AFBF Virtual Convention.

The future of America’s farm economy looks promising following a year that resulted in a record number of ad hoc financial support, trade wars and a global pandemic. According to economists with the American Farm Bureau Federation, farmers and ranchers remain optimistic about the United States’ farm economy in 2021.

One of the largest factors contributing to the positive outlook is trade with China which, according to AFBF Chief Economist John Newton, has the potential to reach record levels. A large increase is expected in pork, beef and poultry exports to China in 2021. Recent data from the USDA shows that since 2019, U.S. beef exports to China have gone up 132%.

Despite tariffs, China’s world imports have risen and the country looks to the U.S. as an export partner of grains and oilseeds. COVID-19 relief and a market rally are also contributing factors. The new COVID-19 Relief Package includes $13 billion in support for agriculture. The financial assistance will help livestock, poultry, dairy, non-specialty and specialty crop producers continue to recover from COVID-19 disruptions.

In May of 2020, multiple meat processing plants were forced to shut down due to the public health emergency. AFBF Economist Michael Nepveux says that plant shutdowns are unlikely in 2021 due to the progress the U.S. has made in the fight to combat the virus.

As of early January, grocery store dollars remain above pre-COVID levels and the food service dollars remain below pre-COVID levels.

Due to the pandemic, the United States drought did not get much coverage, but Nepveux fears that 2021 will be different with over 50% of the U.S. currently in D1-D4 drought, especially the Western region.

Shelby Swain Myers is an economist at AFBF with a focus on crop and specialty markets. According to Myers, the coronavirus has been disruptive to agriculture. With the current Farm Bill expiring in 2023, certain components of production agriculture need a stronger safety net, including the dairy industry.

A boost in conservation programs, working land programs, crop insurance and additional financial resources are all aspects that will need to be improved according to Myers. Corn and soybean prices have rallied significantly and an expansion in soybean acres is expected in 2021.

Following a global pandemic and a multi-year trade war, a record amount of ad hoc financial support from the federal government pushed U.S. net farm income to $103 billion in 2020. The American Farm Bureau Federation’s economic experts will discuss the outlook for U.S. crop and livestock production, how the election could affect farm policy and the many factors that will influence U.S. farm profitability in 2021.

Following a global pandemic and a multi-year trade war, a record amount of ad hoc financial support from the federal government pushed U.S. net farm income to $103 billion in 2020. The American Farm Bureau Federation’s economic experts will discuss the outlook for U.S. crop and livestock production, how the election could affect farm policy and the many factors that will influence U.S. farm profitability in 2021.

 

 

 

 

Cultivating Tomorrow

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter 2021

Donna Blommel, Pasco County Farm Bureau President

Fourth generation farmer and Pasco County native Donna Blommel grew up in St. Joe, a small community outside of Dade City. Her parents, and maternal grandparents before them, grew citrus and other crops.

The devastating freezes in the 1980s struck her family’s operation and they were forced to diversify. “My parents and brother started a foliage nursery in 1986 which my brother Mark and I run today,” she said.

The tropical foliage nursery, Jessamine Foliage, is a wholesale operation that grows six types of plants. “We would rather grow a few quality plant types than a lot of different plants with a lower quality,” she mentioned. The farm ships plants to the Apopka area 3-4 times per week.

“The initial plan was to supplement the citrus groves with the nursery,” she explained. “Today, we have no more citrus groves, however, we are thankful for the success we’ve had with the nursery business.”

Donna and her husband Paul have four children, three boys and one girl, and have one granddaughter. The couple is currently renovating Donna’s childhood home and plans to move back into the house that she was raised in, sometime this year.

They also run a small-scale cattle operation with their daughter and grow hay to supplement the cattle.

Donna was elected to serve as Pasco County Farm Bureau (PCFB) President in 2018 and is preceded by Senator Wilton Simpson, the current President of the Florida Senate. She was an active member of the Pasco County Farm Bureau Board of Directors prior to serving in her current role.

She explained that every February, PCFB sponsors the Pasco County Fair. “It’s a special event,” she mentioned. “We sponsor the youth shirts and different aspects of agriculture associated with the fair like plants, cattle, hogs, rabbits, chicken, goats and dairy.”

The week-long event brings the FFA and 4-H kids, urban and senior residents as well as members of the business community together.

“We have had several remarkable kids from Pasco County that grew up showing livestock in the fair who have gone on to do great things for Florida agriculture,” she said. State Representative Josie Tomkow is one of them. Rep. Tomkow is currently serving as a state legislature advocating for Florida agriculture in Tallahassee.”

Donna is an active advocate for agricultural youth education and serves as a 4-H Club Leader. Her club, Progressive 4-H, includes 60 kids ranging in ages from five to 18.

Donna shared with us her favorite family recipe for Chicken Tarragon:

“Here is my Chicken Tarragon recipe.  Hope you try it and enjoy it as much as my family has for years!”

1 Whole chicken, cut up
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. Tabasco
4 tbsp. Lemon or lime juice
2 tbsp. Vegetable oil
2 tsp. dried tarragon
1 tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut up chicken (two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks, two wings), place chicken skin side down in a foil-lined 9×13 baking dish/pan. Combine remaining ingredients and brush over chicken.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, turning after first 25 minutes and brushing occasionally with sauce.

Pasco County Economic Impacts
Agriculture and related industries generate:
36,960 jobs (20.7% of total) in Pasco County
$1.86 billion in Gross Regional Product

Source: UF/IFAS

 

Cultivating Tomorrow

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter 2021

Matt Stephenson-Smith, Collier County Farm Bureau President

Meet Matt Stephenson-Smith, newly elected President of Collier County Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors. Matt is a proud fifth generation native Floridian who grew up in Central Florida where the Smith branch of his family tree operated a modest beef cattle and citrus operation in Center Hill. Upon graduating from Hernando High School in Brooksville, he remained local to attend classes and play baseball at Pasco-Hernando State College for a couple seasons before transferring to Santa Fe College in Gainesville to complete an AA degree in preparation to transfer to University of Florida.

While attending UF, Matt made a fateful decision that would change the course of his life forever. “It was the “Golden Era” at UF during which time “Head Ball Coach” Steve Spurrier’s Gators won the school’s first football national championship, and at the time I was a struggling English major also working full time as an O.R. clerk at North Florida Regional Hospital,” he recalls. “One Friday afternoon I received an urgent call from farm manger Elvie Engle with SixLs Farms during which he offered me a newly-created position supervising the loading area at Farm 7 on the southeast side of Naples.

He wanted my answer about 36 hours later that Sunday evening. I consider Elvie a mentor and friend, and I am blessed to have his influence in both my professional and personal life.” Matt accepted the position, gave his notice at the hospital, and after two weeks packed his Jeep and headed for Southwest Florida to live and work at Farm 7. SixLs Farms has in recent years rebranded itself Lipman Produce and was then and is now one of the nation’s largest privately-owned vegetable production companies. This would mark the beginning of his ongoing 23-year career in agriculture.

Matt held several other positions with Lipman from 1997-2002 including assistant vegetable crop foreman, irrigation foreman, and finally tomato crop foreman before leaving Lipman to begin the next nearly 16-year-long chapter of his career as greenhouse/safety manger with BHN Research/BHN Seed, the research and development division of Naples-based fresh market tomato and potato grower/packer/shipper Gargiulo, Inc. “One of my most demanding job responsibilities was coordinating with up to eight PhD plant breeders and pathologists from locations in California and Chile as well as Immokalee to organize, manage, and complete much of the tremendous volume of “blue collar” work required to successfully execute their numerous, intensive breeding and pathology programs. A major component of that work was growing healthy transplants for the greenhouse breeding benches and field trial plots, and then continuing to grow the containerized greenhouse breeding bench plants to maturity for evaluation, hybridization, fruit harvest, and ultimately seed extraction.”

Managing BHN’s IPM/spray program was also among Matt’s many job responsibilities, which is why in November 2017 he received a call from the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of OmniLytics, Inc. to inform him of the departure of OmniLytics’ previous AgriPhage sales representative. AgriPhage is a natural, biological bactericide certified for use in organic production in several vegetable and fruit crops including tomatoes and peppers. Matt had made the AgriPhage formulations for tomatoes and peppers an integral part of his IPM program for over a decade and had thereby achieved a level of expertise with AgriPhage, and no previous OmniLytics sales representative had ever been a grower who had used the product.

It was during that November 2017 phone conversation with OmniLytics’ COO that Matt’s recruitment to fill the vacant sales representative/account executive position began. Matt had enjoyed a long, successful tenure at BHN, and even though the opportunity was in a facet of the ag industry that would be new to him and would also require him to learn and hone a new skill set, Matt’s belief in and advocacy of AgriPhage and the OmniLytics organization made the unexpected opportunity seem like a near-perfect fit.

A brief period of recruitment, prayerful consideration, and successful negotiation inspired Matt to take a leap of faith and seize the opportunity to become OmniLytics’ AgriPhage sales representative/account executive in January 2018. Matt’s current sales territory includes Florida, Georgia, and Puerto Rico (Certis is OmniLytics’ AgriPhage distribution partner for the other lower 46 states), but Matt is always available to enthusiastically offer any assistance he can provide to an existing or prospective AgriPhage user anywhere.

Determined to earn a degree from his beloved University of Florida where he left “unfinished [academic] business” all those years ago, Matt applied for readmission to UF in late 2009, but this time had the wisdom to allow his then 14-year career in agriculture to inspire him to apply for readmission to the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS). CALS Dean Dr. Elaine Turner, then Associate Dean, conducted Matt’s Spring 2010 interview that garnered her approval of his readmission to UF CALS into either the Horticultural Science or Horticultural Production-Vegetable Row Crop programs, either of which would have required Matt to eventually return to Gainesville.

First, there was a very long list of program prerequisites populated with many math and science courses Matt needed to complete, so Dr. Turner graciously gave him her permission to “stay home” to gradually complete those prerequisite courses at local Southwest Florida institutions. This allowed Matt to remain with his family and gainfully employed at BHN while he slowly chipped-away at the prerequisite list one course and semester at a time.

Though his family endured a divorce in 2011, prioritizing his two young sons Matt managed to balance his parenting, work, and academic priorities to eventually complete his program prerequisites over the next few years. However, upon completion of his prerequisites Matt chose to remain in Naples to parent his sons instead of returning to Gainesville to begin his CALS on-campus program. This resulted in an academic hiatus that lasted over two years until another fortuitous encounter with Dr. Turner at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new lab and office wing at UF/IFAS SWFREC in Immokalee.

Though several years had passed since Matt’s Spring 2010 interview, Dr. Turner recognized him across a crowded auditorium, greeted him warmly, and asked for an academic progress report. Dr. Turner quickly processed the news of the divorce, completion of prerequisites, and resulting hiatus before skillfully combining traits of an academic advisor, psychologist, and motivational speaker to masterfully guide Matt to strongly consider pivoting to CALS’ only UF Online program.

The UF Online program required the additional prerequisites Chemistry II and Calculus, but the program’s online platform allowed Matt to remain in Naples to continue to be the parent his sons needed. Thanks in no small part to Dr. Turner’s guidance, Matt decided to pivot to the UF Online program to resume and complete his academic quest, but not before another year-long hiatus which began with the recovery from Hurricane Irma and ended with a transition to a new employer and job.

Finally, last May during the global pandemic that denied Matt and his fellow Spring 2020 graduates the opportunity to “walk” in the traditional on-campus commencement ceremony, he quietly graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Environmental Management in Agriculture and Natural Resources. “If you want something badly enough, and set your mind to achieve a goal, you will find the motivation and discipline to make the difficult, necessary sacrifices and do the work required to achieve that goal,” he said.

“That work will require if not demand your time, attention, and effort to achieve your desired level of success, and often those sacrifices and demands may seem to be more than you may be willing and able to give. You must be absolutely driven to endure, persevere, and grind through those challenges to achieve a goal if it is important enough to you. You get out of it what you put into it. My academic accomplishments are proof that if I can do it, anyone can do it.” Matt also aspires to become a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA), has already passed the International CCA exam in 2020, and hopes to also pass the Local CCA exam in 2021 to earn the certification.

Matt was nominated and elected to Collier County Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors during the Board’s September 2020 hybrid in-person/Zoom meeting, then it was announced the Board president and vice-president would both be vacating their respective seats, so about 10 minutes after being elected to the Board Matt was again nominated and elected to fill the vacated president’s seat. Matt “hit the ground running” in his new role as Collier County and all the county Farm Bureau boards throughout the state prepared for the October 22 Florida Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting which due to COVID-19 was held virtually for the first time in the organization’s history.

Matt was also chosen to serve as one of Collier County’s two voting delegates for the virtual annual meeting, so much of his time and attention in September and October was devoted to attending the Zoom meetings and e-ballot training sessions to prepare to participate in the virtual annual meeting and Florida Farm Bureau state vice president election which transpired smoothly and was a ringing success.

November’s Collier County Farm Bureau Board meeting saw the Board’s attention return to its local Farm Bureau business including the decision to undertake an ambitious ag promotional/fundraising event that will take the form of Collier County Farm Bureau’s first watermelon festival and rodeo to be held at the Collier County Fairgrounds May 7-9, 2021. “I am very excited about our inaugural Collier County Farm Bureau Watermelon Festival and Rodeo, and our Board aspires for this festival and rodeo to become an annual event that will grow in scope and attendance over the coming years” Matt said.

The event is intended to promote local agriculture, notably the seasonal watermelon industry, promote new membership within Collier County Farm Bureau, and generate much needed revenue that will be used to award micro-grants to local teachers who include Florida agricultural literacy programs in their curriculums, provide scholarships to high school graduates aspiring to agricultural academic programs, sponsor/support local FFA and 4-H programs, and facilitate Collier County Farm Bureau’s future participation in FFBF programs and events including annual meetings, Field to the Hill, and Tallahassee Farm Bureau Days. “I am honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the establishment of what our Board hopes will be an increasingly popular and successful annual event,” he said.

During the Board’s December meeting a unanimous vote passed to award a micro-grant request to a local elementary school teacher to use towards purchase of materials for classroom and student personal safety including disinfectant sprays and wipes, hand sanitizer, gloves, and other personal protective equipment. The grant will be accompanied by an agricultural literacy program which will appropriately emphasize food-borne and other pathogens.

“The micro-grant is a small part of our organization’s larger, comprehensive effort to establish communication and a presence with local schools in order to reach local students,” he explained. “It is our goal to facilitate awareness of agriculture and increase agricultural literacy in a younger generation, support them in their academic endeavors, and foster their potential interests in future careers in the agricultural industry.”

Matt still calls the Naples area home since 1997, and is the father of two sons, Dylan (19) and Aidan (17). He has been a member of Grace Lutheran Church since 1999, currently serves as the Director of the church’s Board of Stewardship and is a member of the Church Council and Endowment Committee.

Matt still has Florida family in Brooksville and Center Hill as well as Ft. Myers and Jacksonville. He is a devoted fan of University of Florida athletics, and enjoys fishing whenever he has the opportunity.

He shared with us his favorite recipe, Fried Florida Redfish.

Fried Florida Redfish
Matt Stephenson-Smith, Collier County Farm Bureau

INGREDIENTS:

  • Fresh Florida Redfish filets
  • Eggs
  • Milk or light buttermilk
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Black pepper
  • Hot sauce of your choice
  • Bisquick
  • Frying oil
  • Bread crumbs, either plain, seasoned with seasonings above, Italian or seasoned Panko

DIRECTIONS:
Clean filets well, remove all bones and cut into chunks (larger than nuggets). If using plain breadcrumbs, create an egg mixture with eggs, milk, hot sauce and seasonings. Dip redfish into the marinade to generously cover the fish. Marinade for 12-24 hours.

Shake chunks in a large plastic food storage container with a tight-fitting lid containing a mixture of Bisquick and seasonings. Then, dip chunks once more in a whisked egg mixture before placing in a separate container with breadcrumbs. Shake well until the fish is coated thoroughly.

The chunks are then ready to be fried in the oil of your choice until golden brown and well drained to remove excess oil. You can even cook in air fryer, turning at least once halfway through.

 

Land Grant Partner

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter January 2021

Dr. Angle

By J. Scott Angle
jangle@ufl.edu
@IFAS_VP

I’ve heard it from you all over the state. If you adhere to UF/IFAS recommended fertilizer application rates, you may reduce yield and already thin profits. Ignore those recommendations and you might be breaking the law.

One of my highest priorities for the new year is to provide the science to lead us out of this conundrum. We will invest in updating our recommendations to keep tens of thousands of farms in business while protecting water quality.

It’s a staggering task, when you think of 300 crops and even varieties within those crops with different nutritional needs. Fertilizer application rates also depend on soil conditions, weather, method of fertilizer application and other factors.

For example, this month we’ll launch research into tomato and potato fertilizer rates in four sites statewide. We will also look for ways to tap into the new resources available through UF’s artificial intelligence initiative (AI).

AI can help us bring together huge amounts of data on plant growth, soil health, weather, irrigation and more to identify when an additional pound of fertilizer is no longer worth the cost or to measure the environmental benefits from farms.

A student of UF/IFAS horticulturist David Liu records water usage data at the Jones Potato Farm.

Florida Farm Bureau members play an important role in this work. You help us ground truth our ideas and innovations. For example, we learned much about the benefits of pivot irrigation in potato fields because Alan Jones let us spend five years visiting his farm in Parrish and documenting on- and off-farm water quality.

Similarly, Rick Roth has opened his gates in Belle Glade to our researchers who have documented the effects of the work he and his peers in the Everglades Agricultural Area are doing to make the water that leaves their farms cleaner than when it entered. In fact, this year we’re reporting that phosphorus loads in EAA water are 68 percent lower this year than when farmers started implementing our recommendations in the early 90s.

The urgency to update fertilizer rates is also a great opportunity. The models we build to predict yield could be expanded to quantify how much phosphorus and nitrogen you remove from water leaving your farm.

We can also add to the model the carbon sequestration, preservation of wildlife habitat, water storage, flood protection, and other services you produce but don’t get paid for. That could inform a public policy discussion of whether you should.

For now, though, you shouldn’t have to choose between breaking the bank and breaking the law. Let’s keep working together to find a third way.

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Committee Assignments

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter January 2021

Senate President Wilton Simpson released the committee assignments for the upcoming legislative term. A number of Senators who have been recognized as FFBF 2020 Legislators of the Year will be serving in key leadership roles. Sen. Debbie Mayfield will serve as Majority Leader, Sen. Kelli Stargel will chair the Appropriations Committee, while Sen. Ben Albritton will chair the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. In addition, other committees of direct concern will be capably led by its appropriate member. Sen. Darryl Rouson will chair the Agriculture Committee and Sen. Jason Brodeur will chair the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee. Senator Kathleen Passidomo will also serve as the Rules Committee Chair.

Along with Senators listed above, Speaker of the Florida House Rep. Chris Sprowls also named several Representatives that have been recognized as FFBF Champions for Agriculture and or Legislators of the Year that will be serving in key leadership roles. Rep. Jay Trumbull will serve as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Paul Renner, who is in line to succeed Sprowls as speaker in 2022, will chair the Rules Committee while Rep. Blaise Ingoglia will chair the Commerce Committee. Rep. Ingoglia was named FFBF Legislator of the Year for the 2020 legislative session. Rep. Bobby Payne will be the Ways & Means Committee chairman.

Florida Farm Bureau looks forward to working with our elected officials as we continue to make agriculture in our state stronger.

Mandatory E-Verify Law Updates

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter January 2021

Many Florida employers and business owners can expect changes in the New Year regarding the new mandatory E-Verify law. Beginning on January 1, 2021, Florida’s new “Verification of Employment Eligibility” statute will require many employers to use the federal E-Verify system before hiring any new employees. The new law will compare information from I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms, currently mandatory by all employers in the state of Florida, to other federal databases to confirm eligibility to work in the United States.

The new law will now require private employers to use the E-Verify system or alternatively, use the I-9 Form and maintain copies every three years. Private employers who do not comply will be at risk of losing their business licenses and possibly limit their ability to do business with the state.

The Department of Economic Opportunity will no longer fund projects after January 1, 2021 that do not comply with the new law. Failure to provide the proper eligibility information may result in an employer having to repay all moneys received by the DEO.

No public contract can be entered into without an E-Verify certificate after January 1, 2021. For more information on Florida’s new mandatory E-Verify law, visit https://www.fisherphillips.com/resources-alerts-floridas-new-mandatory-e-verify-law-will.

 

EPA Grants 404 Permitting to the State of Florida

January eNewsletter 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed over the authority to grant wetlands permitting authority to the State of Florida on December 17.   This is the conclusion to a process that has been a year in the making and makes Florida the third state with this authority, commonly called ‘404 permitting’ because it falls under the Clean Water Act Section 404 in Federal Regulations.

In general, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires permits for the discharge of dredged or fill materials into waters of the United States, including wetlands.  However, most agricultural activities are exempt from permits under Section 404(f)(1) including:

  • Established (ongoing) farming, ranching, and silviculture activities such as plowing, seeding, cultivating, minor drainage, harvesting for the production of food, fiber, and forest products, or upland soil and water conservation practices.
  • Maintenance (but not construction) of drainage ditches.
  • Construction and maintenance of irrigation ditches.
  • Construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds.
  • Construction and maintenance of farm and forest roads, in accordance with best management practices.
  • Maintenance of structures such as dams, dikes, and levees.

You do not generally need a permit under Section 404 if your discharges of dredged or fill material are associated with normal farming, ranching, or silviculture activities such as plowing, cultivating, minor drainage, and harvesting for the production of food, fiber, and forest products or upland soil and water conservation practices. This exemption pertains to “normal farming” and harvesting activities that are part of an established, ongoing farming or forestry operation.

If an activity listed above as exempt represents a new use of the water, and the activity would result in a reduction in reach or impairment of flow or circulation of regulated waters, including wetlands, the activity is not exempt. Both conditions must be met in order for the activity to be considered non-exempt. In general, any discharge of dredged or fill material associated with an activity that converts a wetland to upland is not exempt and requires a Section 404 permit such as bringing a wetland into farm production where the wetland has not previously been used for farming .

With the delegation of 404 permitting being granted to the State of Florida, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has assumed this permitting authority.