Florida Agriculture: Still in the Crosshairs
A November 1995 Florida Bar Journal article, “Florida Agriculture: In the Crosshairs,”1 stressed the need of conveying the importance of Florida agriculture if agriculture is to maintain its prominent position in the state’s economy. As in 1995, agriculture is today a top-tier Florida industry that brings billions to the state and puts food on the nation’s table. This viable economic engine is especially critical in the current economic crisis. Agriculture has fared well over the years, yet continues to face challenges. To meet those challenges, it must heed the same advice addressed in 1995. Agriculture must sell not only its essential commodities, but also the story of its importance to Florida’s economy and natural resource base.
Agriculture is a thriving and essential component of the Florida economy with its $87.6 billion impact topped only by that of the state tourism industry.2 Florida is home to 47,500 commercial farms covering 9.25 million acres3 and with an employment impact of 763,000 jobs.4 Through F.S. §604.001 (2010), the legislature has declared state policy “to achieve and maintain the production of agricultural commodities for food and fiber as an essential element for the survival of mankind.” Noting the necessity of efficient and profitable use of natural resources5 and the difficulty of achieving such use,6 the legislature further declared that problems should not be created “by laws and regulations that cause, or tend to cause, agricultural production to become inefficient or unprofitable.”7 When problems have occurred, the legislature asserted that it has “been due primarily to a lack of adequate and informed consideration of the adverse impacts. . . on efficient and profitable” agriculture.8
Though direct in its aspirations, this policy has been, and must be, weighed alongside the various regulatory policies aimed at protecting the state’s natural resources. One of the most important of these is the regulatory framework set up through the 1972 enactment of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. §§1251-1387 (2006) (CWA). Much CWA implementation in Florida is done through the state’s five water management districts, established by the Florida Water Resources Act of 1972 (FWRA).9 the water management districts are Florida’s primary instruments for water management. They retain such powers as surface water management and management of the consumptive use of water.10 Additionally, the districts are empowered to use eminent domain11 and have done so on numerous occasions.12 Water management is critical for both the agricultural and natural resource base. Both bases are dependent upon water stewardship, and both share a symbiotic relationship in the management of Florida waters.
Agriculture is the last natural resource-based industry to circumvent arduous environmental regulation. For example, the industry enjoys broad exemptions from the permitting mandates of the CWA.13 these exemptions, though controversial in some circles, have helped agriculture maintain its vibrancy. When enacted by the 92nd Congress, the CWA focused primarily on the issues raised by point source pollution with only subsidiary focus on non-point source pollution. As many of the point source challenges have been met, greater emphasis has focused on non-point source pollution, a problem in which agriculture plays no small part. CWA-authorized programs aimed at reducing non-point source pollution, such as Florida’s development and implementation of best management practices (BMPs) and total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), necessarily implicate Florida’s farming practices. In 1995, the year of the original “In the Crosshairs” article, Florida’s Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services established the Office of Agricultural Water Policy.14 In the years since, this office has developed and maintained a critical role in addressing non-point source pollution. The office has taken a proactive approach in implementing BMPs through credible scientific research and partnering with farmers and ranchers throughout Florida.
The 1995 article listed a sample of exceptional economic statistics coming from the state’s agricultural sector. Today, Florida continues to rank as one of the most agriculturally prolific states in the nation, both in value and diversity of production:
• Florida continues to lead the nation in value of production of oranges, grapefruit, snapbeans, watermelons, and sweet corn. The state leads in value of production of fresh market tomatoes, fresh market cucumbers, and sugarcane for sugar and seed, and has moved to number one in value of production of squash.15
• Florida is second in value of production of pickling cucumbers, bell peppers, strawberries, and tangerines. The state ranks fourth in value of production of honey.16
• Florida’s orange production accounts for 63 percent of the total national value of production, bringing the state $1.4 billion annually. Florida grapefruits comprise 55 percent of the market and bring home $153 million. Snapbeans comprise 43 percent of the market and bring home $113 million.17
• Florida ranks second for greenhouse and nursery cash receipts. The state has fallen from first to sixth for aquaculture sales. However, the state ranks third for fresh cabbage, fourth for peanuts, and fifth for blueberries and mushrooms.18
• Florida sold $1.1 billion in livestock and poultry products in 2009, including $375 million in dairy products, $350 million from meat animals, and $268 million in poultry sales.19
• Florida is home to 1.72 million head of cattle, including 112,000 milk cows.20
• The state ranks 13th in total number of chickens. Farmers had 9.8 million egg-laying hens in 2009, which produced 2.7 billion eggs for sales of $153 million. The state produced 42 million broilers for sales of $115 million.21
• Florida ranks 16th in the nation for total cash receipts for agricultural commodities.22
• The state is second only to California for vegetable cash receipts. Florida brings in $1.96 billion in vegetable sales, comprising 9.6 percent of the national total.23
• Florida ranks 10th for overall cash crop receipts, adding $6.59 billion in sales and comprising 3.6 percent of the national total.24
• Florida ranks 20th in total number of farms and is tied for 30th in total land in farms.25
• Florida ranks 17th in net farm income, 19th in net farm income per operation, 20th in value of production per operation, 13th in net farm income per acre, and ninth in value of production per acre.26
• From 1995 to 2008, Florida increased its total agricultural cash receipts by a third, from $6.08 billion to $7.98 billion.27
Notwithstanding these impressive statistics, Florida’s overall ranking in net cash income from the sale of agricultural commodities has dropped in recent years. As referenced above, the USDA’s most recent rankings put Florida at 17th in net farm income. In 1995, Florida ranked seventh.28 This indicates that although Florida agriculture continues to increase its cash receipts and still holds a formidable market share for many commodities, the state is losing ground in how it matches up against other states’ production. To reverse this trend, Florida needs to heed the directives of F.S. §604.001 while simultaneously maintaining and pursuing the water management districts’ CWA and FWRA goals. This is not an easy task considering an ever-growing number of new Floridians are only remotely familiar with the realities of agricultural production.
Bolstering and securing agriculture’s role in Florida is about more than economic self-interest; it’s about food safety and national security. Domestic food production is essential to our national well being. America’s farmlands are able to produce enough food to both feed Americans and to support a robust export market.29 Many other nations do not have this luxury. One needs look no further than the never-ending debacle of our fossil fuel affairs to see the results of heavy reliance on imports for a vital need. If that state of affairs is not to be a harbinger of the nation’s future food production affairs, America needs to protect and promote its agricultural resources. Like oil, food is a national security issue.
Reliance on other nations for a food supply would produce consequences beyond those produced by our fossil fuel reliance. Headlines in recent years on tainted food imports from China demonstrate the dangers America could face if forced to import large percentages of our food.30 Many nations do not have the infrastructure or quality of regulatory oversight that America enjoys. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and various other federal and state authorities have given the nation standards to keep our food safe. When imported food fails to live up to these standards, federal agencies can block the specific imports until the situation is remedied. This would not be as easy to do if the tainted import made up an indispensable share of the national food supply. Agricultural self-reliance prevents this scenario.
Agricultural self-reliance also contributes to the goal of further energy self-reliance. Agricultural biofuel production as a renewable energy source holds promise for the future. One such example is ethanol derived from cellulosic biomass crops such as switchgrass31 and sugarcane.32 there is also an increasing interest in getting energy from methane derived from an anaerobic digester.33 An anaerobic digester uses anaerobic bacteria to decompose manure, leaving a waste product of biogas.34 Sixty to 70 percent of the waste biogas is methane, which is a constituent part to the natural gas many Americans use to heat their homes.35 Yet another example is biodiesel, most of which is derived from soybean oil.36 A 2007 congressional research service report found that “farm-based energy production is unlikely to substantially reduce the nation’s dependence on petroleum imports unless there is a significant decline in energy consumption.”37 Although by no means a panacea, agriculturally derived energy sources are contributing to domestic energy production. This is yet another factor demonstrating the importance of agriculture to both the economy and national security.
Florida’s warm climate and fertile soils put it in a particularly enviable position for agriculture, allowing the state to play a substantial role in maintaining the nation’s food security. Recognition of this position must remain in the forefront of discussions on how to allocate the state’s resources. As described above, water resources are allocated and overseen by the water management districts. An equally important resource to Florida agriculture is Florida’s land itself. Since 1995, Florida has lost almost one and a half million acres of farmland.38 Nationwide, the American Farmland Trust reports that 78 percent of vegetables and melons and 67 percent of dairy products are grown on farms threatened by development.39 Additionally, 54 percent of the nation’s poultry products and 91 percent of the nation’s fruit, tree nut, and berry farms are reportedly in the same predicament.40 these figures stem from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s numbers on “urban influenced counties.”41 Though extrapolating “threatened by development” from “urban influenced” may push these figures higher than they perhaps should be, the statistics certainly show that a large percentage of farmland is in the path of urban sprawl.
These national issues are no doubt prevalent in Florida. When the boom times of development return, Florida agriculture will again have to contend with increasing pressure to convert vital farmland into residential and commercial development. Little understood is the importance of agricultural lands as urban buffers in the preservation of wildlife habitat and ground and surface water recharge and retention. As pressures for development inevitably build, the state will risk losing these services, while the agricultural industry will be forced to develop innovative ways to maintain requisite production on fewer acres. These pressures on agriculture will continue to raise tough questions on water, nutrients, and pesticides with agriculture and the public each demanding concessions of the other. It is critically important to strike the right balance. To maintain its contribution to U.S. food security and preservation of Florida’s economic and natural resource bases, agriculture’s contribution must be clearly understood by the Florida public.
A lot has changed in Florida agriculture in the last 15 years. Farmland continues to be converted to residential and commercial developments. The U.S. population continues to increase, with now over 300 million mouths to feed. Florida’s population continues to increase. Young people continue to migrate to urban areas and pursue other professional avenues than the family farm. In addition to these inevitable changes, environmental policy has shifted more toward the regulation of non-point sources of pollution. Additionally, agriculture contends with such challenges as uncertainty in immigration policy, the implementation of free trade agreements, and economic pressures from oscillating fossil fuel prices.
Recent years have exposed increasingly mounting tensions in the debate over immigration policy. The debate is of particular importance to the farming community, as foreign labor plays a large role in domestic agriculture production. A projected result of cutting off foreign labor would be the outsourcing of food production.42 One farming interest group president commented that “[c]onsumers have to understand we must either out-source our labor or out-source our food. If we want to keep an American way of life, we’d better have a domestic food supply.”43 This issue affects all Americans.
Economic pressures have also been affected by the free trade agreements of recent years. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), enacted in 1993 and launched in January 1994, created one of the largest trading blocs in the world. The USDA frames it as “one of the most successful trade agreements in history,” one that “has contributed to significant increases in agricultural trade and investment between the United States, Canada, and Mexico and has benefited farmers, rancher and consumers throughout North America.”44 From 1992 through 2007, American agricultural exports rose 65 percent.45 American agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico rose 156 percent.46
Many argue that Florida’s farmers have not fared so well. Winter crops grown in Florida are likewise acclimated to growth in Mexico. The disparity in farm labor costs and Mexico’s more lenient environmental regulatory practices put Florida at a competitive disadvantage.47 An agricultural advocacy group opposed to NAFTA has asserted that the agreement forced the closure of 300 Florida winter vegetable farms and cost the state $1 billion in winter vegetable sales.48 A 2001 article from Public Citizen stated Florida lost 1,000 small- and medium-sized farms as a result NAFTA.49 the tomato and bell pepper industry have been particularly hard hit with the beef and citrus industries suffering as well.50 Lands which once supported a viable agriculture now support planned unit developments.
The Bush administration’s enactment of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and its later enactment of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), have added further complications to Florida agriculture. Negotiations over expanding these agreements into a Free Trade Area of the Americas have faltered in recent years; however, the trend continues to be toward trade liberalization. Though NAFTA, CAFTA, and DR-CAFTA have undoubtedly produced many positive benefits for all parties involved, it is equally undeniable there have been injurious effects as well. Free trade, the immigration debate, environmental regulation, oscillating fuel costs, and, of course, the economic downturn itself have all complicated the agricultural industry. Each should be a factor when considering policies that affect Florida agriculture and compromise national security.
Much has changed since 1995; however, much remains the same with respect to the challenges facing Florida agriculture. In addition to the discussed challenges, devastating plant diseases, such as “citrus greening,” GMO and bio-safety protocols, and the threat of agro-terrorism present compelling new challenges to the industry. There needs to be increased awareness of the importance of agriculture to Florida. Contributing so much yet facing such immense economic pressures, Florida agriculture deserves the attention of state and local governments. In the meantime, it still remains in the crosshairs.
1 See William K. Crispin, Florida Agriculture: In the Crosshairs, 69 Fla. B.J. 82 (1995).
2 National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services,
3 National Agricultural Statistics Service, Florida Annual Statistical Bulletin 2010 1, available at http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Annual_Statistical_Bulletin/fasb10p.htm
Florida Agricultural Overview
4 Alan W. Hodges & Mohammad Rahmani, Economic Contributions of Florida’s Agricultural, Natural Resource, and Food and Kindred Product Manufacturing, Distribution, and Service Industries in 2007,
Div. of Mktg. and Dev., Fla. Dep’t of Agric. and Consumer Servs.,
5 Fla. Stat. §604.001(3) (2010).
6 Fla. Stat. §604.001(4).
7 Fla. Stat. §604.001(5).
8 Fla. Stat. §604.001(6).
9 Fla. Stat. §373.069 (2010) The five districts are the Suwannee River Water Management District, St. Johns River Water Management District, Northwest Florida Water Management District, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and South Florida Water Management District.
10 Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Water Management Districts,
11 Fla. Stat. §373.139(2) (2010) (“The governing board of the district is empowered and authorized to acquire in fee or less than fee title to real property, easements and other interests or rights therein, by purchase, gift, devise, lease, eminent domain. . . . ”).
12 For past examples of the water management districts’ use of eminent domain, see William K. Crispin, Florida Agriculture: In the Crosshairs, 69
Fla. B.J. 82, 84 (1995). For a recent example of a water management district’s use of eminent domain, see South Florida Water Management District, Resolution No. 2010, available at http://my.sfwmd.gov/govboard/docs/F1558334316/da_lr_101_Bronson_rd.pdf, where the district commenced eminent domain proceedings to obtain 690 acres for the Kissimmee River Restoration and Headwaters Revitalization Project.
13 See 33 U.S.C. §1344(f)(1)(A) (2006), which exempts “ normal farming, silviculture, and ranching 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” from the CWA’s §404 dredge and fill permitting scheme. See also 33 C.F.R. §323.4 (2010), which expounds upon the farming exemptions to §404. Even proposed expansions of CWA jurisdiction retain exemptions for agricultural activities. See R. Benjamin Lingle, The Constitutionality and Economic Impacts of Federal Jurisdiction of Wetlands: The Clean Water Restoration Act of 2009, 62
Fla. L. Rev. 1091, 1103 (2010) (discussing the proposed Clean Water Restoration Act and noting that it retains the same exemptions for normal farming activities that are found in the 1972 CWA).
14 See Fla. Dept. of Agric. and Consumer Services, Office of Agricultural Water Policy,
15 Florida Agricultural Overview
18 Id. at 5.
19 Id. at 1.
22 Id. at 4.
25 Id. at 6.
26 U. S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service,
Net Farm Income and Value of Production, Per Farm/Per Acre for States, 2009,
27 Florida Agricultural Overview at 3.
28 U. S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, Net Cash Income 1910-2009,
29 Jon Scholl, Food Security is National Security,
Farmland Report: Am. Farmland Trust (2010),
30 See, e.g., Rick Weiss, Tainted Chinese Imports Common,
The Washington Post, May 20, 2007, at A01, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/19/AR2007051901273.html.
31 Randy Schnepf, Agriculture-based Renewable Energy Production, Cong. Research Serv. Report for Cong. 19 (2007), available at http://collinpeterson.house.gov/PDF/agenergy.pdf.
32 Id. at 21.
33 Id. at 24.
36 Id. at 26.
37 Id. at Summary.
38 U. S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service,
Number of Farms, Land in Farms, and Value of Farm Real Estate, 1850-2009,
39 American Farmland Trust, Growing Local: Fresh Food on the Urban Fringe,
42 Dan Bryant, Food a National Security Issue: CG&TFL chief,
Western Farm Press
(Apr. 15, 2008),
43 Id. (statement of Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League).
44 U. S. Department of Agriculture, Fact Sheet: North American Free Trade Agreement 1 (2008), available at http://www.fas.usda.gov/info/factsheets/NAFTA1.14.2008.pdf.
47 Becky Gillette, Vegetable Growers: NAFTA Killing Business,
Miss. Bus. J., Sept. 11, 2000, at 1-2, available at http://www.allbusiness.com/north-america/united-states-mississippi/1161010-1.html.
48 Florida Farmers, Inc.,
49 Public Citizen, Down on the Farm: NAFTA’s Seven-Years War on Farmers and Ranchers in Florida 2 (2001), available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/ACF18B.PDF.
William K. Crispin maintains a Florida and national agricultural law practice representing a diverse array of producers with a focus on federal crop insurance matters, as well as a variety of environmental related liability issues. Additionally, he is co-founder of Golfpreserves, ® a carbon asset management firm for the golf and turf industries.
Michael T. Olexa is director of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Law, member of the Executive Council of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section, and chair of the Agricultural Law Committee of The Florida Bar.
R. Benjamin Lingle is a third-year law student at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he is working toward a J.D. with a certificate in environmental and land use law. He is the executive notes and comments editor of the Florida Law Review and works as a legal researcher at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Law.
This column is submitted on behalf of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section, Kirk Nathaniel Kirkconnell, chair.