Why am I such a meanie about Florida agriculture?

Am I, really? Rick Bastach’s book on water in Oregon is very interesting and makes a fundamental observation about farming: Agriculture is a business, not a virtue. Farmers are as ethical (and unethical) as the rest of us. Like other businesses, they employ lobbyists to sway legislators and they operate P.R. campaigns to garner public support for what they want to do. That is why people like Commissioner of Agriculture Putnam greatly exaggerate the economic importance of agriculture. It makes the adverse consequences of being the largest water user (and probably the biggest water polluter) seem more acceptable.

Pretty much, agriculture is winning on all aspects of water competition. Here’s only a sampling of how victorious Florida agriculture is in water management:

Disproportionate influence in regional water management. For example, the chair of the SFWMD governing board is an employee of one of the largest farm corporations in the state. The chair of the SRWMD board is Treasurer of the Florida Cattleman’s Association. The secretary of the SJRWMD board is the executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League. Pretty good representation for less than 2% of the state’s domestic product.

Special state elected office. In the 21st century, it no longer makes economic or democratic sense for the small Florida agriculture industry to have one of four elected state offices. (Should we have a State Restaurant General, a Trucking Secretary, or a Golf Czar?)

Farm businesses are not suffering compared to average citizens. They have above-average income and wealth.

Not all of Florida agriculture feeds you at all or feeds you well:

Alan W. Hodges et al, “Economic Contributions of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Industries in Florida for 2010” August 2012

Alan W. Hodges et al, “Economic Contributions of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Industries in Florida for 2010” August 2012

When Commissioner Putnam talks about agricultural “food and fiber” he doesn’t mention that the largest single agricultural employer is “environmental horticulture.” Another large agricultural sector, the sugarcane industry, makes a subsidized product that the more you eat of it, the more likely it is you will have diabetes. [March 20 addition: As discussed in this study.] Not all agriculture is the same and Floridians should be sure that their finite supplies of water are being used efficiently and for the best purposes.

So, I hope that I am not too much of an agricultural meanie. Florida agriculture is a very powerful interest group, very well able to take care of itself. Like any other economic activity, it has a mix of very beneficial and not-so-beneficial water users. It should not be exempt from analysis and criticism, any more than public water supply or phosphate mining.

Comments

Why am I such a meanie about Florida agriculture? — 9 Comments

  1. You’re not being a meanie of any sort. The large Ag. businesses should all be required to use Best Management Practices, such as tail water recovery ponds. They have the economy of scale on their side, but as with most big businesses, they are profit driven and do as little in the way of BMPs as they can get away with doing…or not doing.

    • Not at all… BMPs are cost-effective for the most part and therefore agriculture is doing as many as they can and not the other way around.

  2. Hey Tom! I don’t think your an ag. meanie either. Although I hope Florida Ag. has as much power and influence as you think it does. I sincerely hope that the Chair of SFWMD steps down ASAP…for the company he works for does not represent the “ethical” kind of ag. I’d want to be listed in the same category with; speaking as a farmer. You are right…agriculture is a business. Farmers have to cash flow to pass their land on from generation to generation (no…not all ag. is small family farmers…and most definitely we don’t always cash flow…). Maybe I can’t see the forest for the trees…I just don’t understand what’s ruffled your feathers so. Think I’ll sit on the sideline for a while and try to figure it out. Pam

  3. You are brilliant to bring this to light. I am being poisoned by my nieghbor’s giant row crop farm and the FDEP and Health Dept knows all about it but doesn’t warn anyone moving in to the neighborhood about the toxic water. We have an FDEP test well that exceeds the safe drinking water standard for nitrates since it was drilled in the neighborhood. Since Don Quincey (Florida Cattleman’s Association) has been Chair of the SRWMD no sampling of this poisonous well in a State Park on the edge of a residential neighborhood has been done. Now there is a Senate Bill in Tallahassee SB 948 with matching house bills that will allow Agriculture and utilities to be part of the water management process. It will be heard in the Natural Resource Committee on Thursday and I firmly believe it will be the beginning of for profit water privatization in Florida following rule making from FDEP 62-40 rule changes. It’s happening so fast.

  4. From my point of view you are right on. Agriculture paves its own way in Florida. I don’t understand why or how, but they are sure gathering up hundreds of new water use permits by chopping down pulp forests and putting in cost share ag pivots and giant production wells. They are all over North Florida. I’m trying to research it now and getting stonewalled by the SRWMD and some local counties.

  5. Subsidizing sugar production in Florida, is a farce, promotes an unhealthy product, and is a travesty against our environment! Only the rich growers and their political hacks “benefit”

  6. This is seriously depressing. And I have a bad feeling that our governor is so free lately with his public appearances and largesse (the man actually gave the teachers a raise–not much, but better than nothing) so that we won’t ask what else is going on. In any case, I suspect it’s all a diversion while his cronies and “handlers” scurry around and make sure we don’t have a chance to find out what’s really happening….
    And have you noticed that all mention of Stronach and his land and water acquisitions has suddenly vanished? It’s a bad sign that surely someone is up to no damn good. Its time for more “sunshine!”

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