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Nancy Smith

Legislators Missed the Boat: Snubbing Agriculture Hurts Florida

May 6, 2019 - 8:30am
Sampala Lake Ranch in Madison County
Sampala Lake Ranch in Madison County

It seems every legislative session there's one pariah -- an issue so unpopular it can barely buy a committee hearing let alone a vote. Among the notable pariahs I remember over the years were school choice, gambling and, of course, guns. There have been others.

But none was as vital to the Florida economy as this year's pariah, agriculture.

It seems to me we plain didn't like ag at the Capitol this session.

Never mind that for more than 120 years, agriculture -- ranching included -- was Florida's fiscal bedrock. It still is. It's second only to tourism as the state's most valuable industry, employing two million people and each year contributing more than $120 billion to the state economy.  

But we all know what happened to the politicians last year who campaigned on the merits of Florida agriculture. Ask Adam Putnam and Matt Caldwell, for instance. Those poor devils proudly defended farming AND the Second Amendment. In November they disappeared quicker than a couple of American tourists at a Bolivian taxi stand.

It's no mystery how ag became a pariah:

The new governor and the Everglades Foundation's paid posse blamed agriculture -- specifically, Big Sugar -- for poisoning the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers with blue-green algae, and the Gulf with fish-killing red tide. Never mind that science never supported a word of it.

But that wasn't the worst of it. The biggest move to pariah-ize agriculture came about six weeks before the Legislature convened, when Gov. Ron DeSantis fired the entire South Florida Water Management District Governing Board for having the nerve to follow the law and extend a sugar company's lease. And then, even though ag is a District stakeholder, the governor appointed not  a single representative from agriculture among the board's replacements. I believe for legislators who wanted to curry favor with DeSantis, that alone became a powerful statement.

The mass removal was a show of revenge. As one senator told me, "The governor has made it plain, it's agriculture or clean water. This isn't a year we can like both, and nobody is prepared to challenge him."

So, lawmakers found it easy-peasy to throw one of the state's most effective tools for protecting Old Florida, the Rural Family Lands Protection Program, under the bus.

I truly believe casting this 18-year-old, good-news program adrift and unfunded is one of the 2019 session's biggest fails.

What this program does is buy conservation easements, preventing future development of the land and allowing agricultural operations to continue to contribute to Florida's economy. It's the state partnering with Florida's farmers and ranchers. Their land stays productive, on the tax rolls and -- like so much of Florida's undeveloped rural land -- an environment for wildlife of all kinds, from panthers and bears to deer and wild fowl. Watch the video on this page -- farmers and ranchers explain it better than I have.

Last July I had the privilege of visiting the 1,400-acre Sampala Lake Ranch in Madison County, one of the last four properties approved for preservation under the Rural Family Lands Protection Program. Sampala Lake is a breathtaking working cattle ranch. This conservation easement combines open space, aquifer recharge, a Spanish mission dating back to the 16th Century, and working agricultural lands with wildlife corridors.  

Together, all four properties approved by the Cabinet last summer amounted to more than 8,300 acres. They brought the total land preserved by the program to over 50,660 acres through 45 conservation easements.

RFLPP is very different from Florida Forever, the state's premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program. In 2001 Florida Forever replaced Preservation 2000 (P2000), the largest public land acquisition program of its kind in the United States. With approximately 10 million acres managed for conservation in Florida, more than 2.5 million of them were purchased under the Florida Forever and P2000 programs.

Since the inception of the Florida Forever program in July 2001, the state has purchased more than 770,279 acres of land with a little more than $3 billion.

Florida Forever was grossly underfunded this year, but at least its value to the state was discussed and considered. Lawmakers didn't even throw the Rural Family Lands Protection Program a bone. A program doesn't get funded one year, it's easy to ignore it the next, and  even easier the year after that.

If the governor had wanted to keep the Rural Family Lands Protection Program solvent, he would have fought for it, as he did for VISIT FLORIDA. He would have shown leaders in the Legislature how valuable this program is to Florida. That didn't happen.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


Blocked all week by SSN from making a post here . . . try, try, again --> Maybe Nancy Smith should try and do actual news reporting and not spin Fake News --> "when Gov. Ron DeSantis fired the entire South Florida Water Management District Governing Board for having the nerve to follow the law and extend a sugar company's lease" . . . . . . . first of all, Governor DeSantis didn't "fire" a single board member, although he did decline to reappoint some, and pressured others to leave (they resigned) for violating the lease notice requirements of state law ---> 373.093(2), FS --> "Before leasing any land, or interest in land including but not limited to oil and mineral rights, the district shall cause a notice of intention to lease to be published in a newspaper published in the county in which said land is situated and such other places as the board may determine once each week for 3 successive weeks (three insertions being sufficient), the first publication of which shall be not less than 30 nor more than 90 days prior to the date the board executes the lease, which said notice shall set forth the time and place of leasing and a description of the lands to be leased." . . . . . . . that's NOT noticing the lease the night before passing it (over the objections of the Governor) . . . . . . . .I've looked in Chapter 373 (including Nancy's previously referenced section 373.4598, FS) and SB 10 (including LOF) and have yet to find a specific provision that overrides the above notice requirements for this specific situation . . . . . if Nancy wants to rebut my facts, she should provide an exact quote of state law that clearly indicates that the specific requirements of ss. 373.093(2), FS, are overridden (i.e. not just assumed to be overridden in someone's opinion) . . . . . without that factual demonstration (or a formal advisory opinion from the Florida Attorney General on the law), the ex-Board members appear to have violated this clear notice provision of state law . . . . . . and anything else is simply Fake News . . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

When you replace vegetation with rooftops and the associated impervious surfaces required for roads, shopping centers and business areas and alter drainage systems you have disrupted natures ability to self clean. Remove ag and add more rooftops and see how clean your water gets. Oh, by the way that toilet you just flushed, find out which water way it was flushed into. Septic systems by their very nature do not discharge into waterways. Check out the FDEP website. Out of 2000 permitted wastewater treatment plants over 50% discharge to marine discharges or Deep Injection wells. Oh, you thought that it was treated??? It is only partially treated. The municipalities are just now upgrading to AWT standards which still does not treat for Pharmaceuticals or personal care products...

Not really. "Agriculture" represents slightly less than 10% of Florida's Gross Domestic Product ... and contributes significantly to the now rapidly developing environmental problems we face and the decline of water resources. (Plus ... the tomatoes really suck ... and citrus is going down the tubes due to greening!)

So we just throw in the towel because we are challenged by greening? I just replanted half my grove. Maybe I should just sell it and move to another state so you can eat that crappy California fruit. Farmers are more connected to nature than non farmers will ever understand. Not all of us belong to Big Sugar. Most farms in the US are small farms. Would be nice if people had clues before they had opinions. If you ripen tomatoes on the vine instead of gassing green ones, they are much better, but it's hard to feed millions of people ripe tomatoes. They tend to rot before the consumers get them. Doesnt have much to do with where they come from.

Yup. Sell it. Florida agriculture is doomed due to many different reasons - not the least of which is Mexican imports.

You (and your party brethren) and the wrongheaded, sick and bitter attitude toward this state you all share is why we must never let you prevail in a Florida state election.

That's right!

AMEN..!!!!! ALL facets of "Socialist Liberalism" is a "plague" upon America !

Thank you for letting folks know how important the Rural and Family Lands Program is to Florida's environment and water recharge. It is every bit as important as any other land or water protection program the State funds. Hopeful that the outcome will be different in 2020.

Snubbing Ag does hurt FL. The worst part is it didn't need to happen. Sure, big sugar plays a part in the fertilizer pollution of state waterways, but so does the citrus and cattle industry, as well as smaller Ag areas, and to a much, much smaller extent, septic tanks. It is not the fault of those industries. The fault lies squarely with Rick Scott and the previous (some still current) legislature. Approximately 8 years ago, they deregulated ALL state waterways for runoff testing. That includes Ag, septic, all of it. For profit businesses are going to use any means available to them to increase their profits, that includes over fertilization and stalling costly, necessary repairs. That is where Gov't is supposed to step in, and protect its citizens. That is where the aforementioned Gov't failed us all. The Gov't should be testing all state waterways and fining responsible parties for pollution, but they were paid off not to. Individuals with septic tanks and drain fields, used to have them inspected every year by DoH, and if repairs were required, cited and/or fined until compliant. No more. This where our Gov't was supposed to protect us as citizens, but instead, they took the money and sold us out. And now you have the rest of the story...

I have lived here 54 years, never had municipal water or sewer, never will, and never had a septic system tested. The state doesn't even keep track of where they are.

All those bright Green beautiful lawns along all the canals and waters ways on the coast who have there yard fertilized numerous times a year have nothing to do with it huh? It’s all the ag industry? The industry in which this state was founded upon and has since gotten smaller has all of a sudden ruined all our water but the fact that Florida population is at a steady rise has zero to do with it... y’all some kinda smart experts

Don't forget all the golf courses that are fertilized several times a year.

And they all want hybrid St Augustine, not something native or naturally occurring.

"Good Job" Nancy !.... Very often the "pseudo-educated" and "easily swayed" (political & otherwise) need a "dose" of "facts, common-sense, and reason"..!

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nancy smith
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