Last year when global trade was disrupted and panic and shortages drove people to load up on supplies, we got a preview of what life would be like without a strong domestic supply of food. Shelves in grocery stores across the state were empty. Some consumers went weeks without meat and potatoes.
Fortunately, in the United States, we have a strong domestic supply of safe, wholesome food. Much of the nation’s fresh vegetables are grown right here in Florida. Most of us did not have to go without food for very long thanks to our Florida farmers and ranchers.
Florida’s farmers and ranchers do a great job of feeding our growing population. This small part of our population is not the enemy, rather the substance to our stable lives. These farmers and ranchers are working in very complex systems and strive to meet the challenges of our growing state with all the complexities growth brings with it.
Therefore, we must all work together to protect the long-term sustainability of Florida agriculture and ensure we have a safe and adequate supply of food for years to come.
Currently, Florida’s Right to Farm Act recognizes the importance of agriculture to our state. However, it does not go far enough to protect Florida farmers from unjust, nuisance lawsuits. There’s a proposal moving through the Legislature this session. SB 88 by Sen. Jason Brodeur and HB 1601 by Rep. Jayer Williamson will strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm.
The legislation limits complaints to those that come from one-half-mile in geographic proximity to a farm or ranch. The bills also enhance the standard of evidence so that those who bring complaints have the proof to substantiate their concerns. And if someone makes a complaint that doesn’t uphold in court, then they should pay attorney’s fees for the farmer. There remain multiple avenues for real complaints to be filed, investigated, evaluated and, when appropriate, mitigated. The goal of this bill is to rule out those claims and lawsuits that are unjust and unnecessary.
We don’t just grow food. Farms and ranches throughout Florida provide extensive natural habitat. For example, where I live on Buck Island Ranch, 174 bird species frequent the property, 484 plant species — mostly native plants — have been recorded, as well as 30 mammals, 19 amphibians and 34 reptiles.
I have had the privilege of working with many leading scientists in their fields at Archbold Biological Station, a non-profit science, education and conservation institution, and the University of Florida, as well as scientists from many other universities, often in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the South Florida Water Management District and many other stakeholders, to help the industry focus on food production and conservation.
I have seen research help farmers determine how and when we should use prescribed burning. Research also helps evaluate how and when we apply fertilizer. The research we conduct here in Florida informs agricultural operations across the nation and around the world.
I’ve been involved in agriculture my whole life. I grew up in St. Cloud and started working in citrus groves and on cattle ranches before I could drive.
I’ve seen our state change dramatically over the last three decades. The population has grown significantly. Evidence of that is the increase in traffic. Where I live, right off Highway 70, I used to see far fewer cars. That same road is bumper to bumper nowadays.
While the population has grown, Florida’s farmers have continued to protect and care for our natural landscape. We’ve gotten better at growing food. We’re now producing more and using fewer resources. Science and conservation have contributed to that. And as a result, we’re able to feed our state’s growing population.
Science, conservation, and innovation cannot, however, protect Florida’s farmers from unjust nuisance lawsuits. As the state’s population continues to grow, the threat of lawsuits will only increase.
Strengthening Florida’s Right to Farm is critical to protecting farmers and ensuring we have a food supply to meet our future needs. The ability to feed ourselves is a key factor for the health and economic stability of our nation.
Gene Lollis is the President of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. He has served the cattle industry for 28 years. This column represents his personal views and is not written in his capacity as Ranch Manager of Archbold Biological Station’s Buck Island Ranch.