- 1940s: A Humble Beginning
- 1950s: A New Home
- 1960s: Services Expand
- 1970s Whirlwind of Change
- 1980s: Painful Adjustment
- 1990s: Adjusting to Change
- 2000s: Progress and Professionalism
- Give Florida farmers a special identity.
- Study and promote better cultural and research practices, product quality improvement, improved marketing methods and market stabilization.
- Represent farmers in the Legislature.
- Compile and disseminate agricultural and market data to farmers.
- Organize county Farm Bureau units.
Through The Years
History of Florida Farm Bureau
1940s: A Humble Beginning
The magnificent organization one sees today working on behalf of agriculture had humble beginnings.
The Great Depression of the 1930s left many Florida farmers heavily mortgaged and in debt. Citrus growers, especially, were caught in a vice between low prices – grapefruit was bringing five cents a box on-tree in the late 1930s – and handlers and shippers, who often controlled harvesting.
Seeking a means of combating the shippers’ groups, several influential central Florida citrus growers formed the Florida Citrus Growers, Inc. (FCG) Citrus grower George Fullerton headed up the new organization. The founders included: Henry Pringle of Leesburg, J. J. Banks of Winter Park, W. L. Burton of Windermere, Frank Laird of Lake County and Lacy Thomas of Clermont.
By 1941 Florida Citrus Growers was unable to do anything about the sorry state of Florida citrus production. The group contacted American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) in Chicago and AFBF sent a representative to the next FCG directors meeting. A general farmers meeting was called in Orlando, attended by “Cap’n Ed” O’Neal, president of AFBF, and it was decided that FCG would be laid to rest and resurrected as the heart of a new Farm Bureau organization affiliated with AFBF.
The charter outlined the goals of the Federation:
The First Five Years
On Nov. 15, 1941, the first FFBF convention was held, and the charter was read and approved. About 100 farmers attended and elected George L. Fullerton as FFBF’s first president. A goal of signing 500 members was set, the minimum required before FFBF could be accorded standing within AFBF. Charles Sanford of Sarasota County was the first to sign up and by day’s end; nearly 200 other individuals had joined. On March 13, 1942 the first county Farm Bureau was formed in Dade County. A month later, county Farm Bureaus were also being formed in Volusia, Hillsborough, St. Lucie, Lee, Manatee-Sarasota, Indian River and Polk counties. By the time Florida Farm Bureau celebrated its first birthday in Miami, membership had reached 1,180 and 17 county Farm Bureaus had been established.
Women Get Involved
The Social and Education Committee was formed in 1945 with Mrs. George W. Munroe of Quincy as Chairman. It later became the Farm Bureau Women’s Committee. The women began to undertake projects involving improvements in education, establishment of community frozen food lockers, extension of rural telephone services and electrification, rural health care and other social and civic services.
Programs and Policies
Farm Bureau’s agenda for the 1945 legislature has echoes in today’s Farm Bureau policies. In that year, Farm Bureau sought a refund of the state tax on gasoline used off the road; expanded research in poultry diseases and parasites; expansion of advertising for Florida oranges and by-product research by the Citrus Commission; and support for the Cooperative Extension Service and experiment stations. The protection and preservation of fresh water resources was also a priority. Even then, experts were warning about the potential for saltwater intrusion into the state’s water supply. John D. Clark followed Fullerton as FFBF President from 1943-1944. He was succeeded by one of the most experimental of the early presidents Doug R. Igou (1944-47), a Lake County citrus grower. Under Igou’s administration, commodity committees were reorganized and the Water and Drainage Committee was set up to research and advise members on the State’s increasing water problems.
In the latter part of the 1940s, under Presidents George Munroe and Francis H. Corrigan, Farm Bureau sought to provide affordable insurance for members. In 1946 it began offering Blue Cross coverage, initially to members in Alachua, Suwannee, Polk, Columbia and Gadsden counties. Florida Farm Bureau began offering casualty insurance to its members through the newly formed Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company in 1947. The company’s auto insurance product gained rapid acceptance among farmers while the life insurance product got off to a slower start.
1950s: A New Home
During the ’40s the State Farm Bureau offices remained housed in a two-room suite in Orlando. As staff expansion and insurance activities began to cramp things, a building fund was established under President George Munroe and a new state headquarters was established in Winter Park.
In December 1950, the staff moved into a renovated former municipal golf course clubhouse.
President Loring Raoul, elected in 1949, set a goal of helping the 50 county Farm Bureaus become active, self-sustaining units. Farm Bureau now had two fieldmen working with counties. Change was also taking place at the state level. A study of FFBF was conducted by American Farm Bureau Federation. Rauol named a management committee composed of himself, General Counsel Henry Pringle and Executive Vice President John Ford to act on recommendations made by American Farm Bureau. While the insurance program was a success, rumblings of discontent were beginning to be heard. As Florida Farm Bureau entered its second decade it was on the brink of its first major upheaval. In 1951, membership stood at 10,000. Optimistic boosters had expected it to reach that level within three years of its founding in 1941. But if Farm Bureau was a lackluster organization entering the ’50s, the end of that decade would find it transformed into a political powerhouse. During this time it would undergo some of its greatest changes and see an explosive growth in membership.
The leadership team that would set the course for this success would emerge from turmoil centering on FFBF’s relationship with the Southern Farm Bureau Insurance Companies. Resentment grew among the Florida insurance staff and some FFBF directors about insurance management by Southern. This resulted in a move to separate from Southern, but that effort failed. Delegates to the 1951 convention elected Ed Finlayson of Jefferson County as president. Finlayson inherited an organization that had spent so much time and energy on the insurance scrap that little else had been accomplished for months. Finlayson, elected for a second term in 1953, saw the need to speed the growth of membership in the organization.
The Legislative Arena
At the state level, Finlayson determined that the best way for Farm Bureau to gain acclaim and do something beneficial for members was to score an impressive victory in the state legislative arena. A refund of the sales tax on gasoline used on farms was rated as Farm Bureau’s number one legislative priority and county legislative committees were formed to push for this goal. With the support of Gov. Dan McCarty, a refund bill passed – by a single vote. The final version was something less than Farm Bureau had wanted, but it was nonetheless a victory for agriculture. By the end of 1953, FFBF membership had risen to 13,000.
The Mutual Insurance Company
By spring of 1954, Southern Farm Bureau insurance executives suggested that the time was right and recommended that the Florida Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company be formed. Farm Bureau members in Florida were soon buying fire insurance from their organization in great numbers. By 1958, the mutual insurance company was writing in excess of $500,000 in premiums per year, exceeding even the most optimistic predictions.
First Headquarters in Gainesville
The prospect of moving Florida Farm Bureau headquarters from Winter Park to Gainesville drew heated debate from the board of directors and individual members in the mid-1950s. Proponents of the move pointed out that many agencies Farm Bureau dealt with were located in Gainesville.
Opponents wanted to maintain a central Florida location, but the move north was approved by the board in 1955 and work began on the new location. On Aug. 1, 1956, Florida Farm Bureau officially opened its third headquarters building – a Southern colonial-style building south of Gainesville on U.S. 441.
Growth in Membership and Staff
By the end of the 1950s, membership in FFBF had more than tripled. There were now 61 county Farm Bureaus in Florida and the organization had 100 paid staff members in the Gainesville office. County-level participation in the annual conventions was also strong. In 1958, the “Banner County” competition – forerunner of the Gold Star competition – was developed to recognize outstanding effort at the county level. The Winn Dixie/Farm Bureau Scholarship was a convention highlight. New contests were also added to the annual meeting.
1960s: Services Expand
Florida Farm Bureau entered the 1960s optimistic and ready to expand. The organization had been in its new building only four years, but rapid growth in membership fostered fears that the building would soon be overcrowded. No sooner had the last brick been laid on a new addition than the FFBF board began discussing future additions.
Disaster is Spelled “Donna”
Farm Bureau dealt with a number of disasters during the ’60s, but none hit with quite the force of Hurricane Donna. The hurricane left a trail of destruction that few of the new residents of Florida could believe. Donna provided the insurance company a chance to demonstrate how fast and effective it had become. Adjusters provided the fastest service possible to insured farmers; The Farm Bureau Insurance Companies paid out $500,000 in claims following Donna.
The early sixties saw the formation of the Florida Farm Bureau Marketing Association, forerunner of the present Florida Agricultural Marketing Association. Florida Farm Bureau’s Citrus Marketing Program, under the Florida Agricultural Marketing Association (FAMA) marked its 20th year anniversary in 1991. The program was founded to help Florida growers market their citrus.
The ‘Tire, Battery and Accessory” Program (TBA) was initiated. At first, it involved only the sale of tires to Farm Bureau members. But within six months, all but two county Farm Bureaus had approved the tire program for their members and 71 dealers were in operation. FFBF continued to provide members with service in other areas, including estate planning, safety, research on taxation and environmental rules, legislative lobbying and testimony before various agriculture hearings on behalf of Farm Bureau. But while services to members were growing, membership was not. By 1963, membership growth was virtually at a standstill, putting a strain on finances. The insurance companies were also suffering losses.
In the early ’60s the political trends so evident in Washington were beginning to be seen in Tallahassee as well. FFBF failed to defeat a tax increase. Its attempt to have enforcement provisions added to the right-to-work law also failed. During the 1963 session a drive to secure trespass legislation flopped, and it was unable to stop a drive to remove the sales tax exemption from agricultural machinery. The Florida Agricultural Marketing Association (FAMA) was started to provide cooperative sales for Florida farmers. Today, FAMA sells Florida products across the country and offers products marketed by other Farm Bureaus to Florida members.
Florida Regains its Momentum
Art Karst took the reins as Florida Farm Bureau president in 1965 and helped lead the organization into increased membership and expanded progress. The Board of Directors voted to hold a special convention in June 1966. The meeting was called to consider a plan for expansion. Among the recommendations were increased information and public relations activities, improvement in legislative research, establishment of a Tallahassee legislative headquarters, and establishment of an active statewide advisory committee system. Approval was given for most of the recommendations, including a $2.50 increase in member dues.
New Legislative Initiatives
FFBF also made strides in the legislative arena. This was partially due to the fact that two of its officers and one director were currently serving in the Florida Legislature. President Karst, Vice President Wayne Mixson and Board member E. C. Rowell all served in the Florida House of Representatives. Although the mid-60s was an era of some confusion in state government, Farm Bureau was able to lobby effectively for its agenda. Farm Bureau successfully pushed for county agricultural zoning boards. At the end of 1968, FFBF’s net worth was up by 75 percent, membership was growing by more than 1,000 members per year and the number of State Board districts was increased from nine to 19.
John C. “Jack” Lynn took over as Executive Vice President of Florida Farm Bureau in April 1969. He pushed to have FFBF form a labor department and Young Farmer Program and sought increased awareness of the strength of the FFBF Women’s Program. In the legislative area, Lynn set up an office in Tallahassee which FFBF would share with the principal agricultural groups in Florida in an effort to help forge a uniform voice for agriculture. By 1969 FFBF membership had passed 40,000 despite continuing declines in the farm population. “All in all, the situation for Florida farmers and for Florida Farm Bureau members appears to be the rosiest and most promising in memory,” Karst said.
At the 1969 convention Walter Kautz was elected president and he would set the pace for the ’70s. Kautz was representative of a new generation of FFBF leaders. Although he had risen through the ranks, he was the first president who had not been active during the earliest years of the organization.
1970s Whirlwind of Change
In 1973, more than 300 FFBF employees moved into a $3 million, five-story building near Interstate 75 in Gainesville, where the Federation and insurance companies remain headquartered today. Gov. Reuben Askew was among the dignitaries who spoke at the dedication later that year.
It had become apparent that the frenzied growth of programs which had characterized the early part of the decade would have to be controlled. The organization had experienced financial set-backs, and the Board of Directors realized it could not continue to subsidize programs that had not proved their worth. A new structure for Farm Bureau was established with the President of the organization becoming the Chief Executive Officer. Under the new system, the Executive Vice President would become Assistant to the President. In July of 1973, Walter Kautz became the first full-time FFBF president. The need for a program to help young farmers develop leadership skill became more apparent in the 1970s. A Young Farmer and Homemaker group was formed and Jinny Ragans of Madison County was elected as its first chairman. The group later became the Young Farmer and Rancher Committee.
Working with an Urban Legislature
After the 1972 legislative reapportionment, the State legislature lost many predominantly rural districts and took on more of an urban complexion. Even so, FFBF met with remarkable levels of success. Defending the Green Belt Law became routine business. The law provided for agricultural assessments taking into account the “use value” of farming operations rather than the “best value.” It kept money in farmers’ pockets.
The early ’70s brought the imposition of price controls on food, the energy crisis, and increased federal regulation. The awareness of the effects of Washington on the day-to-day activities of Florida farmers prompted FFBF to encourage farmers to visit Washington D.C. in person. The first Washington tour in years occurred in 1973 and involved more than 40 farm leaders and staff members. By the end of the decade, attendance on such tours had increased nearly five-fold. Farm Bureau continues to sponsor Washington tours, giving members direct access to their lawmakers while they learn how the federal government works. At the start of Farm Bureau’s fourth decade in Florida, caution was not the watchword. It was a time of enormous flux. The new programs were taking hold and reshaping the face of the organization.
Commitment to Commodities
There were any number of production problems confronting Florida farmers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They included brucellosis, black flies, Mediterranean fruit flies, corn blight, droughts and freezes. FFBF leaders were committed to seeing to it that affected farmers got the help they required.
In its early years Farm Bureau was unable to address all of the commodity concerns of its diverse membership. In the 1940s, this had prompted members of FFBFs Vegetable Committee to form what later became Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. It was the same case when members of FFBFs Citrus Committee broke away to form what became Florida Citrus Mutual. This trend continued as more commodity organizations appeared. In the mid-70s, the desire grew to do more in the way of commodity programs within Farm Bureau. The commodity advisory committee system was rejuvenated. The committees embraced all of Florida’s major commodity areas. In the minds of many members these were the most important Farm Bureau programs – they helped farmers increase their production and income. In order to provide producers with information on industry trends and markets, FFBF conducted commodity tours in the United States and several foreign countries. In the 1980s, citrus growers toured Brazil, where citrus production was growing at an alarming rate, threatening to change the world’s citrus balance. Florida growers also visited Holland, the world center of the bulb business.
Other Services to Members
Farm Bureau’s programs – from insurance, labor and legislative to Young Farmers’ and Women’s – flourished during the 1970s. One of the most effective programs was in the area of communications. Along with publishing FloridAgriculture, Farm Bureau was producing regular radio programs and monthly television programs.
In 1978 Walter Kautz was elected to the AFBF Board of Directors. The next year the AFBF Annual Convention was held in Miami, the first time since 1956 that the convention had come to Florida. That year Florida received a record five gold stars for programs.
1980s: Painful Adjustment
In the early eighties the property and casualty insurance industry was going through painful changes. Years of cash flow underwriting and under-reserving of claim reserves were catching up with the industry. Florida Farm Bureau Casualty Company was no exception. In 1983 with the help of outside actuaries the company determined it needed some help to raise outside capital. FFBF sold its life company to Southern Farm Bureau Life and applied the proceeds to the Florida Casualty Company. Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Company purchased Florida Farm Bureau Casualty Company and sold preferred stock to other state Farm Bureau insurance operations to refinance the company.
Time to Rebuild
By July 1985, Farm Bureau’s Casualty and Mutual companies’ financial positions were stabilized and profitable. The surplus had been boosted and the loss ratio reduced. The organization was ready for active growth. Problems associated with the insurance companies’ financial problems caused membership to decline drastically from 95,733 in 1982 to 62,129 in 1985. Carl B. Loop Jr., who became president following the resignation of Walter Kautz in 1983, and the Board of Directors recognized the need to maintain the Federation’s services to members as they sought to rebuild membership. Since 1985 membership has grown each year. By 1999, it had exceeded 130,000.
Adapting to Change
In the mid-1980s, the State of Florida mandated growth management and required counties and municipalities to develop their own growth management plans following State guidelines. While recognizing the need to manage the State’s growth, Farm Bureau members also realized that without input from agriculture, the plans had the potential to cause land values to decrease. County Farm Bureaus mobilized to assure that farmers’ concerns were articulated. FFBF appointed a full-time staff member to assist in coordinating this effort by the counties.
A Voice in Tallahassee
FFBF maintained a legislative office in Tallahassee through the ’80s. In addition to supporting a full-time lobbyist, Farm Bureau members travelled to the capital each year to host lawmakers at legislative receptions, and then visit their individual lawmakers.
During the 1980s it was recognized that Florida’s agricultural diversity required some special awareness on the part of Congressmen and their aides. The Commodity Activities Division was given the added responsibility of maintaining close contact with Florida’s legislative offices in Washington, D.C. Farm Bureau’s commodity advisory committees continue to play a vital role in recommending policy and monitoring conditions in individual commodity areas. The creation of an aquaculture committee in the late ’80s demonstrated the ability of the system to change to accommodate new developments in agriculture.
1990s: Adjusting to Change
Hurricane Andrew was the defining natural phenomenon of the 1990s. Andrew stormed ashore in Dade County on the morning of Monday, Aug. 24, 1992 changing the landscape of much of South Florida. By Tuesday, Florida Farm Bureau Insurance Companies had established a toll-free telephone number and assigned employees to handle claims. By Wednesday night, the claims hotline had logged nearly 1,200 calls. More than 70 adjusters were sent to handle claims. Florida adjusters were assisted by adjusters from Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. By Thursday, Farm Bureau had adjusters in the county Farm Bureau office in Homestead; the next day, they set up a special claims office in Davie. A group of Farm Bureau members manned a convoy of 15 vehicles loaded with food and clothing, and the Federation set up a relief fund to assist the Dade County agricultural community. Farm Bureau insurance companies paid out more than $100 million in settlements, most of that covered by catastrophe re-insurance. Less than a month after Andrew brought normal life to a standstill in South Florida, the agricultural community was beginning to rebuild. The winter vegetable crop had not been planted on the fields west of Interstate 75 when Hurricane Andrew slammed into the area, but packing houses, other buildings and farm equipment had sustained damage estimated at $380 million. Nevertheless, the agriculture industry geared up for planting and began preparing to house 35,000 migrant and seasonal workers and family members. The fast recovery of the South Florida winter vegetable industry contributed to the economic recovery of the entire area.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was ratified in 1993. It eliminated tariffs between the United States and Mexico over a 15-year period. American Farm Bureau energetically supported NAFTA, while labor and environmental interests opposed it. Concerned over NAFTA’s potential negative impact on Florida farmers, especially citrus, tomato and winter vegetable producers, Florida Farm Bureau formally dissented from AFB’s policy calling for ratification. “Our people were very much opposed to NAFTA,” said Carl B. Loop, Jr., who was president of the Florida Farm Bureau and served on the American Farm Bureau Board at the time. “What we were afraid would happen, actually happened. We went from 300 [tomato] growers down to about 100 growers.”
(Mr. Loop’s quote is from Forward Farm Bureau by Stewart R. Truelson)
Canker Plagues Florida’s Citrus Industry
In 1994, citrus canker, which had been detected in Florida groves in 1984, was declared eradicated. Florida Farm Bureau was the first agricultural organization to seek indemnification by the state and federal governments of growers who had trees destroyed in the eradication efforts. Those efforts eventually resulted in growers’ receiving some reimbursement for their losses. Citrus Canker was again detected in 1995 in Miami-Dade in a residential area near Miami International Airport. It would subsequently be detected in 24 Florida counties and eradication efforts by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry would continue until January 2006, when USDA withdrew funds for eradication. All tree removal ceased and the program shifted to a management program.
Program Emphasis Changes: “Commodities” Becomes “Agriculture Policy Division”
In the early 1990s, the FFBF Commodities Division found itself increasingly involved in environmental issues, monitoring changes in pesticide regulations, water issues, and technological changes. Formerly, its role had emphasized helping farmers and rancher produce more efficiently. Management recognized the changing role of the division, and in the early 1990s, the name was changed to the Agriculture Policy Division. Division staff members are still assigned specific commodity areas and facilitate the work of the advisory committees and the policy development process. The Division also works closely with other divisions within FFBF, American Farm Bureau, and state and national agencies to see that FFBF policies are enacted. Currently, implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act is considered to be the number one policy priority.
Storm of the Century Spawns FAWN
In 1993, a late season cold snap dubbed the Storm of the Century caused widespread crop damage in South Florida. Because the National Weather Service had recently phased out its agricultural forecasting service, producers had received scant warning. To keep producers from being blindsided by future weather events, Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and other agricultural groups supported development of the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) by UF/IFAS. FAWN, a network of automated weather stations located strategically around the State that update data every 15 minutes. (http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu/ )
The system of fieldmen developed in the 1940s and ’50s continued to serve the organization well. Though still involved in organizational matters and training, FFBF’s eight field representatives now devoted a great deal of their energies toward issues management, including land use, water, and private property rights. Field Services is still the liaison between County Farm Bureau units and the State organization.
In the mid-90s, recognizing its changing role within the organization, the Communications Division became the Public Relations Division. FloridAgriculture, a descendant of the member publications first published in the 1940s, continued Farm Bureau’s tradition of frequent communication with members. The division communicated with members and the general public through traditional and evolving media, including news releases and the Voice of Florida Agriculture web site.
As the decade of the 90s drew to a close, Florida Farm Bureau had registered an increase in membership. In 1999, for the 14th consecutive year membership increased, reaching an all-time high of 136,317 member families. When individual family members were counted, our membership exceeded half a million. The organization had begun offering new services to those members, including long distance telephone service through Farm Bureau Connection. In 1999, Florida Farm Bureau invited members to become charter members of Farm Bureau Bank.
Annual Meeting Thwarted
A threat from Hurricane Irene forced Florida Farm Bureau to cancel the 1999 annual meeting, which had been scheduled for October in Tampa. Irene struck Florida as a Category 1 hurricane, producing somewhat heavy damage in across the southern portion of the State and moving across the State then northward over the Gulf Stream but steering away from the Tampa Bay area. The 1999 annual meeting was held Dec. 2-3, in an abbreviated format, in Gainesville.
2000s: Progress and Professionalism
A Pillar of the Economy
Tourism was curtailed following the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001. The State’s agriculture industry played a role in stabilizing the State’s economy. As President Carl B. Loop, Jr. explained it, “Agriculture has been the most adaptable contributor to Florida’s economy. Food is essential to life, so agriculture doesn’t get the big up-and-down swings experienced by other segments (of the economy).” In 2009, UF-IFAS economists would peg the annual impact of agriculture, natural resources and related industries on the Florida economy in excess of $100 billion.
Everglades Restoration and Water Issues
In 2000, Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Florida Farm Bureau stationed an Assistant Director of Government and Community Affairs in South Florida to monitor the development and implementation of the plan and to represent Farm Bureau members. Later in the decade another specialist would be hired to work with and monitor activities of the Southwest Florida and St. Johns River water management districts.
Pregnant Pigs Enshrined in Florida’s Constitution
In 2002, a coalition of animal rights activists used the State’s ballot initiative process to place on the November ballot a constitutional amendment banning the practice of housing pregnant sows in gestation crates. While proponents of the amendment spent heavily promoting it, production agriculture invested almost no funds in the campaign against it. Although Florida Farm Bureau mounted a vocal media outreach campaign opposing it, Florida voters approved the amendment by a margin of 55-45 percent. Steve Koppernal, Vice President and founder of the Animal Industry Foundation, later commented that “with the exception of Farm Bureau, animal agriculture sat on its hands.” In 2006, Florida voters approved another amendment requiring future proposed amendments be approved by 60 percent of the voters in order to pass. Later in the decade animal rights groups would mount similar, successful campaigns in Arizona, Colorado and California.
Ag Lands and Practices Act
The Florida Legislature in 2003 passed the Florida Agricultural Lands and Practices Act without opposition. Florida Farm Bureau, which had long sought to prohibit local and county governments from imposing regulations when State and Federal regulations were already in place, earnestly lobbied for the measure and spent much of the rest of the decade working to see that the act was enforced. Other Farm Bureau-backed legislation passed during the decade included a sales tax exemption for electricity used on farms and measures streamlining the process for permit extensions and comprehensive plan reviews. During every session of the Legislature, FFBF warded off attacks on its key “watchdog issues,” which included the UF/IFAS and Florida Department of Agriculture budgets, agriculture’s sales tax exemptions and the Greenbelt property tax classification.
Promoting Public Awareness of Agriculture
In 2002, Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Department of Agriculture mounted a joint campaign aimed at increasing public awareness of agriculture in this highly urbanized state. A scientific survey conducted in 2008 indicated 1/3 of the adult population in the state recalled having heard or seen the campaign message, “Safe, Affordable and Abundant: Food for Thought, From Florida’s Farmers.” The mass media component of the campaign employed paid PSAs on statewide cable television, public broadcast and commercial radio advertising, radio networks, RFD-TV programming, print ads and our own Farm Bureau media. In 2009, for example, announcements ran during two weeks in March on 108 radio stations in 112 markets, coinciding with the legislative session and leading up to Farm Bureau Day in Tallahassee, reaching roughly 74 percent of the available audience with a frequency of 3.2 repetitions per listener. Another radio flight ran on PBS stations in the state capital in morning and afternoon news blocks to increase awareness of Florida’s agriculture industry among elected officials, policy makers and opinion leaders.
Florida Farm Bureau’s CARES program, the County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship, began in 2001 in conjunction with the Suwannee River Partnership. Its purpose: to recognize agricultural producers who voluntarily adopt and implement Best Management Practices. By 2009, CARES initiatives had been developed in other areas of the state including the Santa Fe, Indian River, Okeechobee and Tampa Bay regions. CARES brings agricultural associations, public agencies, institutions and farmers together to increase environmental awareness. Public recognition of producers under the CARES program demonstrates to the public that the agriculture industry is actively involved in utilizing sound environmental management.
2004 brings Back-to-Back Hurricanes
In 2004, five named storms struck Florida in quick succession during one of the deadliest and most costly Atlantic hurricane seasons on record. Tropical Storm Bonnie strengthened over the Gulf of Mexico, then turned northeast and made landfall near Apalachicola with 45 mph winds, causing flooding and minor damage; followed in quick succession by Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. It was the only time in recorded history that four hurricanes affected Florida in one season. On Aug. 13, Charley made landfall west of Fort Myers then swept Punta Gorda with 145 mph winds, swept across central Florida and exiting the state near Daytona Beach. On Sept. 5, Hurricane Frances made landfall on the east coast of Florida with 105 mph winds, weakened into a tropical storm and emerged over the Gulf of Mexico, then making its second landfall near St. Marks, Fla. Hurricane Ivan, a Category Five storm, made landfall near Gulf Shores, Ala. on September 16 and caused damage in the Pensacola area. Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson called the combined devastation resulting from the storms “unprecedented” and mounted a campaign to assure customers around the nation that Florida agriculture was “Coming Back Strong” and would have quality products available for winter markets. While Florida Farm Bureau Insurance company’s personnel worked to settle claims and Farm Bureau volunteers assisted their neighbors, the Federation worked with state and federal agencies and elected officials to get relief for producers. At a September 24 meeting in Bartow that included Gov. Jeb Bush, Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson and U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman announced a major package of federal disaster assistance would be available for Florida agricultural producers. In 2005, the Insurance companies became the first in the state to have settled all of its hurricane claims.
Change at the Helm
In the summer of 2006 after 23 years as president, Carl B. Loop Jr., announced that he would not be seeking re-election to the post. Loop led the organization through some of the most tumultuous times and through immense change and growth. In October of 2006 John L. Hoblick was elected president. After his election Hoblick embarked on a series of “President’s Listening Sessions.” He visited all eight field districts in the state, meeting with County leaders to hear their concerns. Hoblick emphasized a renewed commitment by the Federation to the organization’s grassroots. In 2008 he announced a two-year initiative titled “Strong Family Farms – Strong Florida.” This program focuses on family farms and rural communities. Other initiatives included the passage of a historic Right to Farm Act that will will protect the livelihood of Florida farmers and ranchers. In 2021, Hoblick announced his retirement. After 15 years of serving the organization, he would not be seeking re-election. President Jeb S. Smith, a 5th-generation farmer from St. Johns County, was elected to serve as the president of the organization in October 2021.
Protecting UF/IFAS Budget
During the decade, Florida Farm Bureau found itself stepping up during every session of the Florida legislature to defend the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences against sharp budget cuts. IFAS, the research and teaching arm of the state’s largest Land Grant institution, the University of Florida, consists of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, research and Education Centers, Extension (including county Extension offices) academic departments and IFAS International Programs. It is a Federal/State partnership that functions as the research and development arm of Florida agriculture. In 2008, Florida Farm Bureau and its president, John L. Hoblick, were tapped to lead the industry in a successful effort to defeat lawmakers’ attempts to impose cuts in the IFAS budget that were disproportional to cuts to other parts of the University of Florida.
Renewed Focus on Education
Florida Farm Bureau partnered with our Commissioner of Agriculture and the Florida Department of Education, lending financial and organizational support to the Agri-science Education Leadership program that moves a select group of agriscience teachers through a course of Ag tours and leadership development activities encompassing the entire state. By the end of the decade, Florida Farm Bureau was administering an annual State grant that helped fund travel and educational materials. Having been instrumental in passing the legislation that established the agricultural auto license tag (“Ag Tag”) in the 1990s; Florida Farm Bureau and its members continued to support the efforts of Ag in the Classroom, Inc. which works to incorporate agricultural topics into school curricula. Florida Farm Bureau staff members served on and chaired the Florida Ag in the Classroom, Inc. Board of Directors. In 2009 more than 1,300 volunteers read to 26,000 students during Ag Literacy Day in the schools and hundreds of members, including members of the State Women’s Leadership Committee, attended the State Ag in the Classroom seminar. In 2009, FFB was awarded a $300,000 grant by Workforce Florida, Inc. (WFI), formerly the Florida Department of Labor, to establish the Employ Florida Banner Center for Agriscience. The Center’s purpose was to evaluate and develop high school curriculum to meet the workforce needs of Florida’s agriculture industry by preparing students for the jobs that are available in modern agriscience and conduct “Train the Trainer” sessions on the usage of these materials for each school district offering the programs. FFB housed and administered the Center, coordinating efforts of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Education, Florida FFA Association and the University of Florida. The Center established curriculum committees comprised of members of FFB’s 16 industry advisory committees, teachers, University of Florida teacher educators, the Florida Department of Agriculture and FFA staff, to review the curriculum frameworks for 2010-2011 and develop curriculum, including electronic lesson plans. Industry certification was the ultimate goal. Employers in the agriscience industry must have confidence that entry-level employees have the knowledge and skills to succeed. Florida Farm Bureau planned to develop certification and specialization designations based on the work of the Banner Center.
Technology Use Changes and Expands
Florida Farm Bureau was at the forefront of the advent of the Internet: with an organization website in the mid-1990s. The Web site, www.floridafarmbureau.org, has gone through three redesigns and continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of the membership. Technology plays an important role in grassroots activism with the FBACT program. Members of FBACT receive legislative updates and “FBACT Alerts” via email. In addition they periodically receive Agricultural Policy Bulletins on important issues that will affect agriculture. Each “FBACT Alert” includes a link to the website.
By 2009, there were more than 3,000 members on the database.
Activism on National Policy
In 2006 the national immigration debate was reaching a fever pitch when Florida Farm Bureau decided to launch a grassroots message campaign. Farm Bureau members need access to a legal, guest workforce. The need for comprehensive immigration reform needed to be communicated by Farm Bureau members to other members, Congress and the general public. The overall goal was to raise awareness among members of Congress of the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. The “Empty Bag Campaign” focused on having members sign paper grocery bags that had already been affixed with large stickers bearing the message: “Border security and enforcement is vital to our national security. A safe, affordable and abundant food supply is too! Support comprehensive immigration reform providing legal guest workers to harvest our crops or this bag may remain empty! Don’t leave Floridians holding the bag!” Nearly 4,000 of these bags were signed by constituents and delivered to members of Congress or congressional offices.
Other Campaigns Followed
In 2008 the National Affairs Coordinator didn’t want Congress to forget that it had again failed to act on reform measures. The “Don’t Tie Our Hands” campaign was launched. This campaign had Florida Farm Bureau members signing blue slips of paper that had a piece of twine tied to them. The initiative culminated during the 2008 Field to the Hill trip when over 75 members marched on the Capitol with their hands bound, symbolizing the results of not having comprehensive immigration reform.
With the decade coming to a close, climate change became a target for Congressional action. “Don’t CAP Our Future” was a grassroots campaign involving Farm Bureau members from across the nation.
Florida Farm Bureau is encouraging all Farm Bureau members in the state to join together in a unified request to federal lawmakers: Don’t Cap Our Future. The appeal was directed to members of Congress who were addressing restrictive climate change legislation that could hurt agriculture, consumers and the national economy. Playing off the cap-and-trade climate change bills in the House and Senate, Farm Bureau is encouraging members to participate in the campaign by signing an unused farm cap, including a message sticker that reads, “Don’t CAP Our Future” and dropping off the farm cap at one of the district offices of their U.S. Senators. Florida Farm Bureau also collected signed caps and presented them at Senate offices.
Past President Carl B. Loop Jr., who served from 1983 until 2006, frequently observed that Farm Bureau is unique among farm organizations because of its longevity. Most of the general-interest agricultural organizations formed this century, he points out, were organized to solve a single problem or address a limited concern. Consequently, as the times have changed, many of those organizations have folded or faded. Farm Bureau, on the other hand, was created to address the broad spectrum of agricultural concerns. The years have proven the soundness of its basic structure and its ability to change with the times.