PCFB President’s Column: Ag sector will keep tabs on Florida Legislature

As I write this column, we are well into preparations for the Polk Agriculture Economic Summit event, and I could not be more encouraged about the momentum that the event and the presentation of the Polk Agriculture Economic Impact Study will bring to both the agriculture community and the future direction of Polk County as a whole. I’d like to once again acknowledge our partners to date in this critical project: CenterState Bank; the Central Florida Development Council; The Mosaic Company; Ben Hill Griffin, Inc.; Dundee Citrus Growers Association; Warner University; and Florida Farm Bureau.

With the opening of the 2015 Florida legislative session just around the corner, we are keeping a close eye on proposed bills that may have an effect on agriculture production as they are filed and move through committees. As we travel to Tallahassee in March for Florida Farm Bureau Days, we will be discussing with lawmakers issues specific to Polk County producers, such as the critical need for continued citrus greening research funding, an agricultural sales tax exemption package, a statewide comprehensive water policy, and Amendment 1 funding parameters. The Florida Farm Bureau Federation and Polk County Farm Bureau support dedicating Amendment 1 funds to areas other than just land acquisition, such as programs that “grow Florida’s water pie,” best management practices, the Rural and Family Lands Program, and conservation easements, etc. Our Young Farmer & Rancher Committee recently enjoyed a roundtable session with Rep. Ben Albritton, who chairs the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee in the Legislature. Rep. Albritton presented his thoughts on long-term Amendment 1 implementation plans, and we appreciate him sharing his ideas with our YF&R committee members.

Each month, your board of directors has an opportunity to hear from the Polk County Sheriff’s Agricultural Crime Unit on ag-related theft, vandalism, and other trends through a report at our regular board meetings. Through the effective communications channel we enjoy with the PCSO Ag Unit, stolen property has been returned and criminal schemes thwarted. On Thursday, March 12, our members will have the opportunity to speak directly with Sheriff Judd and the Ag Unit deputies to share their concerns and ideas, and to learn how we can better protect our agricultural businesses from criminal activity. The annual Ag Deputy Luncheon will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the W.H. Stuart Center, 1710 U.S. Highway 17 South in Bartow. Contact Lori Kuehl at (863) 533-0561, ext. 112, or email lorik@pcfb.org to reserve your seat.

We are making plans for the 2015 Agri-Fest event. This year’s Agri-Fest will take place April 6-10 and 13–17. Volunteers are needed! If you would like to volunteer to help Polk County fourth graders learn about agriculture production in Florida, please contact Lori Kuehl at (863) 533-0561 ext. 112 or email her at lorik@pcfb.org.

Also, be sure to mark your calendar for our Harvest Celebration event on May 8 at the Lake Eva Banquet Hall in Haines City. Tickets will be available this month by contacting any Polk County Farm Bureau board member or Carole McKenzie at (863) 533-0561, ext. 111, or email at carolem@pcfb.org.

Sincerely,

KYLE R. STORY
President, Polk County Farm Bureau