Joining the Conversation


JackPayneSquareAn invitation to join any national conversation on agriculture that includes a former American Farm Bureau Federation president is worth accepting.

I’m proud to participate – and especially to listen – in a group that includes several current state secretaries of agriculture and former U.S. secretaries of agriculture.

I know I can pick up the phone and call former AFBF President Bob Stallman. And I visited with current President Zippy Duvall at the American Farm Bureau headquarters in D.C. in April.

But I want to expand what I know about U.S. agriculture and how I can strengthen Florida farming. And I want to know what those who do not agree with me are thinking. I also want science to be part of the national conversation.

Agriculture is no more the same in Iowa and Florida than in Palm Beach and Escambia counties. A richer understanding of the national tapestry of agriculture is necessary to produce the greatest good for the greatest number of the nation’s 2.1 million farms.

Without that national conversation, we may not have progressed from a Farm Bill that historically focused on commodities and disproportionately benefited places like Iowa. Including specialty crop block grants in the Farm Bill acknowledges that farming in Florida is different. Our Florida industry leaders, some of whom participated in the national discussion I’ve recently entered, played a major role in driving these changes.

Our status as a specialty crop state, our proximity to a nation where our relations are thawing after a half-century freeze, and our vulnerability to pests, diseases, storms and salinity make us different than other places.

This group to which I’ve been nominated and selected for membership, the Farm Foundation, is not an advocacy group. The goal is to explore ideas that inform participants’ work in states or D.C.

The group’s Round Table discusses priorities of national agriculture, and many of its 150 members are influential in public policy circles. That’s why I’m listening, discussing, and considering Florida farmers when I’m in the room with national leaders.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

By Jack Payne