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Growing Forward, Valerie Ansell

September 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Surrounded by beef cattle and citrus groves, Valerie Ansell grew up running around on her family’s farm in Pasco County. Her father purchased part of the property when he was in high school, and bit by bit, purchased more pieces of land as they became available. Growing up, Ansell and her brother were involved in their local 4-H program, both raising dairy heifers and participating in various leadership projects.

Ansell took a different path through life and felt called to motherhood instead of pursuing a college education out of high school. Her and her family moved to Duval County where she raised her three sons. It was during her time in Jacksonville that she became involved with Florida Farm Bureau.

“My family has always had Farm Bureau insurance and dad even worked as a claims adjuster for a short time,” said Ansell. “My oldest son, Tyler, participated in the Duval County Farm Bureau speech contest and next thing I knew I was volunteering and serving as the women’s chair.”

After living in Duval County for 20 years, Ansell moved to Hernando County in 2016 to be closer to the family farm, and during this time, took a break from volunteer work. Her break only lasted a short time due to her passion for educating others about agriculture. Ansell connected with a young lady employed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and together, they created an ag tour for policy makers in the area. The event is held annually and is centered around educating policy makers about agriculture in their district.

In addition to the farm tour, Ansell is proud of her work in Duval County through the Food Check-Out Week, held every February. She spearheaded the secret shopper event at a local grocery store to purchase customers’ groceries. They also work with local food banks to donate buy-one-get-one-free items that are purchased.

“One of our members loads up his mules and wagon with groceries from Publix and he parades it through the parking lot and past a nearby preschool,” said Ansell. “Our field representative, Greg Harden, talks to the preschoolers about agriculture when we stop.”

As her sons grew older and started their own families, Ansell went back to school and completed her interdisciplinary degree from Liberty University, majoring in education, business and psychology.

Currently, Ansell helps out with the family farm, Jimmy Mc’s, and manages photographer requests for the family sunflower u-pick. She is the proud owner of Frank, a 1964 F-100, that is used in numerous photoshoots throughout the year. She also works part-time at Stable Faith Cowboy Church as the outreach director. Ansell enjoys using this role to connect agriculture programs to her church family and community members.

One of Ansell’s favorite parts about Farm Bureau are the relationships she has built throughout her life and continues to build.

“I feel like if I was driving through the state and I broke down, I could phone a Farm Bureau friend that was nearby and they would help me,” said Ansell. “It’s great having not just local friends, but friends across the state and even across the country that I’ve met through American Farm Bureau.”

Ansell continues to foster those relationships as she works toward growing agriculture in her community forward.

“My passion is teaching our youth about agriculture,” said Ansell. “One of the ways I do that is by promoting the Florida Farm Bureau Federation classroom mini-grant program to teachers in my district.”

The Giant African Land Snail Detected in South Florida

September 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

The Giant African Land Snail (GALS) has been detected in South Florida after two previous eradications in the state. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the most recent population of GALS has been found in Pasco County and have a lighter flesh compared to the previous GALS.

The snail was first introduced to South Florida in the 1960s and was then eradicated in 1975. It was later eradicated in 2021 from a detection in 2011. They are typically introduced through illegal imports to be used as pets or food.

Quarantines have been placed in Pasco, Lee and Broward counties. Although this quarantine is in place, it is unlawful to move these snails without a compliance agreement. The primary treatment for this pest is the pesticide Metaldehyde, which is applied to the ground around plants and disrupts the mucus production of GALS, causing dehydration, and ultimately death. The USDA recommends using extreme caution around GALS.  If it is necessary to handle a snail, wear gloves and wash your hands afterward. If you live in an area where this pest is found, wash fresh produce thoroughly and avoid consuming uncooked vegetables.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) the snail eats and destroys over 500 types of plants, which threatens Florida’s agriculture and natural areas. When plants are unavailable, the snail has been known to eat paint and stucco off of South Florida homes. They can grow up to eight inches long and five inches wide, which is roughly the size of a human fist. Additionally, they carry a parasite called rat lungworm, which causes meningitis in humans. Because the snail has no natural enemies and reproduces very quickly, they are a serious risk to Florida’s natural resources and population.

FDACS has many resources to help Floridians control these invasive species and protect Florida’s natural areas. Click here to learn more.

Land Grant Partner

September 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

dr angleBy J. Scott Angle
[email protected]

It was music to my ears to hear District 17 State Director Mark Sodders talk about how UF/IFAS keeps him in business. It was comedy to hear District 5 State Director Rod Land say of Lafayette County: “That’s where you go when you die… if you’re good!”

And it was poetry to hear President Jeb Smith talk about the strong bonds between UF/IFAS and the Florida Farm Bureau.

I’m proud to serve the university as interim provost, but as I told the gathering at the Extension Professional Associations of Florida annual Farm Bureau appreciation dinner last month, I’m eager to get back to leading UF/IFAS full time.

It’s not like I needed a reminder of why, but the dinner at the Alachua County Extension Office in Newberry reconnected me with friends new and old and drove home the sense of community and kinship I feel with Farm Bureau folks.

From Jeb’s bear hug to talking fertilizer with Mark to meeting a number of the Farm Bureau’s communiGators—the corps of recent UF grads who help Rachael Smith tell the Florida ag story, I felt at home.

I was enthused by District 19 State Director Mark Wilson’s interest in artificial intelligence in agriculture. Women’s Leadership Committee Chair Danielle Daum prompted an important discussion about broadening our thinking about qualifications as we recruit professionals for Extension positions.

It’s going to be tougher to escape the administration building unnoticed if I do an overnight in Orlando rather than just an after-hours local visit like the one in Newberry. Still, I hope to see you all at the annual meeting at the Caribe Royale.

It’ll be worth the trip just to see you honor the Extension Professional of the Year. But I know it will also include the mix of music, comedy and poetry I’ve come to expect from visits with FFBF, that sense of kinship and community.

I work for you. Thanks for making it feel like a family business.

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Interim Provost. Since 2020 he has served as UF’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Enter to Win Ultimate Tailgate Prizes

August 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Florida Farm Bureau Federation will celebrate football and agriculture by serving as the game-day sponsor for the Florida State University vs. Southern Miss game on Sept. 9 at Doak Campbell Stadium and again for the University of Florida homecoming game against Vanderbilt University on Oct. 7 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.  

Both tailgate events are free to the public and will provide football fans with an interactive agricultural experience that highlights assorted products grown statewide. The event will also include educational exhibits, games, food samples and activities for the whole family.  

In addition to these interactive exhibits, you can also enter for a chance to win the ultimate tailgating prizes! These prizes include a 52 quart hard cooler,  SONOS Roam speaker and 40 oz Stanely tumbler.

For more information on The Home Field AGvantage celebration and to register for an ultimate tailgate  giveaway, visit 

FarmBot Inspires Next Generation of Gardeners

August 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

With the generosity of a $5,000 grant from the Orange County Farm Bureau, the Lake Nona High School Agriscience program is now home to a FarmBot.

This is the first of its kind in Orange County, however, Orange County Farm Bureau President John Madison says the goal is to eventually place one in every high school that offers agricultural classes.

Having FarmBots in high schools can provide a hands-on project for students that encompasses STEM fields such as electronics, mechanical engineering, robotics, and soil science while educating those students about agricultural production.

Agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Justine Snyder said “technology like this shows students that agriculture is moving forward with technology.”

Read more about this cutting edge technology and how Lake Nona FFA Chapter is benefiting from this AI project here.

Financial planning tips to increase profitability

August 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Justin Little
Financial Expert
Nutrien Financial

The financial health of the operations Florida growers manage depends on several variables: weather, commodity prices, interest rates and other market-driven fluctuations that impact costs. Florida growers face some of the most extreme conditions in the country, which only exacerbates these uncertainties. You can’t influence a lot of these variables, like the timing of the next hurricane, diseases pressure or changes in interest rates, but proactive management of your money with financial planning can create some certainty to take pressure off your profitability equation.

If you don’t have a financial plan, or haven’t revisited it in a while, it’s a good time to have a conversation with your crop consultant and folks in your circle with financial expertise. Building and maintaining healthy farm finances requires partnership and communication with people who have both agronomic and economic expertise. With that information, you’ll have the best view of where you’re at, where you can go, and the support you need to make more profitable decisions.

After the Federal Reserve raised interest rates to a 22-year high in July, the cost to borrow money is one area that Florida growers can look to for savings. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Shop for a fixed interest rate to pay for input purchases, which helps create a bit more stability for your budget.
  • Look at seasonal offers and promotions that your preferred products might offer, which tend to come with more attractive rates and flexibility to leverage your operating line of credit.
  • Pay attention to details beyond the rate, including how interest accrues and how well the terms fit your unique cash flow needs.

And don’t forget that the most useful financial plan is the one that reflects your current state. With Florida’s ideal climate, many growers manage multiple crop cycles throughout the year. Every time a crop plan shifts, which may happen frequently for some growers, it’s time to reevaluate and adjust your financial plan to protect profits.

In today’s market, it costs more to produce a profitable crop, even when you have quality and output on your side. Florida farmers might feel like they’re backed into a corner with contracts that aren’t returning as much because of rising costs, but there are ways to improve your return, and it starts with financial planning.

Growing Forward, Gary Reeder

August 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Gary Reeder
Manatee County President (District 8)

Gary Reeder is a fourth generation tomato producer in Manatee County who has been immersed in agriculture his whole life. Reeder recalls fond memories on his family’s farm when he was a young boy. Since finding his own place in agriculture, Reeder has been a champion and advocate for agriculture across the state of Florida.

However, Reeder never envisioned himself taking over the family farm. Reeder was in his third semester of community college when his father recruited him to help run the farm.

“I remember my dad saying ‘See you at 6 a.m. for breakfast,’ and the next day I began my career on the farm,” said Reeder. “I have found a deep appreciation for agriculture because of him.”

Although Reeder retired in January 2020, his legacy in the agriculture community lives on. In addition to being the Manatee County President, Reeder has won several awards and has served on the Manatee County Farm Bureau Board of Directors. He has worked with UF/IFAS to develop technology that promotes agriculture. In 2008, Reeder was inducted into the Manatee County Agricultural Hall of Fame.

“I am proud to be able to have a fundraiser which raises money for FFA and 4-H,” said Reeder. “This event generates a great deal of agricultural involvement and fellowship.”

In addition to the fundraiser, Reeder leads a small group of youth to Tallahassee to speak with Senators and Representatives about agricultural issues in their county.

Living in Manatee County, Reeder is surrounded by urban development, which threatens the livelihood of  farmers and ranchers. Reeder uses his voice to support and promote agriculture in the face of adversity.

“Growing forward is the perfect phrase for all that we are doing,” said Reeder. “I am committed to growing the future of agriculture forward by working with local governments to protect farms and through my involvement with Florida Farm Bureau as well as teaching future generations about the importance of agriculture.”

Land Grant Partner

August 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

dr angleBy J. Scott Angle
[email protected]

Thanks in part to Farm Bureau support for our legislative agenda, UF/IFAS plans to expand its enrollment in equine programs by 10 percent.

This will prepare more students for work in farm management, pharmaceutical and feed sales, equine business marketing or to apply for veterinary school or other advanced degrees. It means more hands-on, experiential learning.

The funding means we can begin to lift limitations we’ve had on instruction in how to take care of the animals that help take care of your animals because the “classroom” had slipped into disrepair.

The state will fund nearly $2 million for a new building and assorted repairs to the UF/IFAS Horse Teaching Unit, aka the HTU.

The current facilities become unusable when rain floods the property. Classes get canceled, research gets disrupted. Holes, unsafe wiring and fire hazards threaten the safety of animals and humans alike.

During the winter, Florida has more horses than Kentucky. Yet there’s nowhere else in the entire Florida public university system I know of where a student can take Techniques in Farrier Science or live at a stable to take on 24/7 care of these valuable animals.

So the upgrade of the HTU is important not only to support the huge economic impact of equine competitions and tourism but of training your future professionals.

This is not a case of remedying neglect. We’ve stretched the resources we have as far as they’ll go.

I’d like to single out the outstanding job that Angela Chandler has done. She’s so good at managing the HTU that when the director of our Equine Sciences Center in Ocala retired, we gave Chandler a second job and used the savings to, among other things, pay for needed repairs.

Chandler (who is quick to credit Joel McQuagge and Saundra TenBroeck for building the program) also boosted hay production at the Ocala center, reducing feed costs at the equine and beef units. She’s saved money through equipment sharing, and she’s built a reputation for the HTU that has the potential to generate revenue through standing outside stallions.

Indeed, last year the university recognized her among its tens of thousands of employees statewide with one of its eight Superior Accomplishment Awards.

The Farm Bureau’s a

Joel McQuagge training a horse in a demonstration at the Horse Teaching Unit. Photo taken 05-15-19.

nnual day in Tallahassee did a lot to educate policy makers about the need. Now that we have some of the resources to address it, I hope you’ll join me in thanking Representative Josie Tomkow and Senator Dennis Baxley for sponsoring the legislation to authorize the funding.

UF/IFAS is also launching a fundraising campaign to build an endowment to support the equine program, a critical component of its long-term success. If you’re interested in naming rights or other opportunities to support the program, please contact Julie Conn at [email protected].

With all the technology we’re bringing you to reduce manual labor and better inform your management decisions, we can’t outright replace the horse.

That four-legged tool is only as effective as its operator, though. The HTU is how we transmit the know-how for you to get the most out of your horses and ensure they get the same care your cattle receive on your ranch.

As the HTU improves, so does the student experience, and so does the quality of the graduates you hire.

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Interim Provost and will return as Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).


Celebrate National Watermelon Day

Watermelon is an iconic staple during hot summer months. It is grown in the western part of Florida, spanning from north Collier County all the way to Columbia County. The refreshing fruit available from late March until mid-July and again from October to December.

Florida is the top watermelon producing state in the U.S. It is responsible for 907 million pounds of watermelon produced annually, which accounts for 36% of the country’s domestic supply. In 2022, 25,000 acres of watermelon were planted in Florida and brought an estimated $192 million to the state’s economy.

Watermelon is a great summer treat but has also been a contributor to Guinness World Records. The largest watermelon ever grown weighed 350.5 pounds, surpassing the previous record holder by 42 pounds. A fifteen-pound watermelon was consumed in 23 minutes and 7.08 seconds.

More information about the refreshing melon can be found here. Try these fun recipes this summer from the Florida Farm & Family magazine.

Young Farmers & Ranchers Gather for Annual Conference

The 2023 Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference brought together more than 200 agriculturalists from across the state. Themed Growing Forward, the conference focused on equipping participants with leadership skills, industry insights and networking opportunities.  

Throughout the conference, participants engaged in a series of breakout sessions and farm tours. The session topics ranged from integrating AI in pest management, estate planning, the importance of personal branding, a legislative update on the 2023 farm bill and more. The conference featured keynote speakers Cody and Erika Archie, owners of Bar 7 Ranch in Gatesville, Texas. The couple spoke on the importance of being the voice of agriculture and meeting people where they are to share the story of agriculture. 

Conference attendees had the opportunity to test their industry knowledge and skills through various competitive events like Achievement in Agriculture, Excellence in Agriculture and Discussion Meet. The finalist for each competition will compete at Florida Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in October. From there, the state winner from each category will compete at the national level at American Farm Bureau’s annual conference in January 2024. 

The Achievement in Agriculture finalists are Buck and NoraBeth Carpenter of Madison County, Brandt and Samantha Hendricks of Santa Rosa County and John and Emilee Peterson of Baker County.   

The Excellence in Agriculture finalists are Jaime Jerrels of Levy County, Rebecca Hall of Alachua County and Bernie and Avery LeFils of Volusia County.  

The final four Discussion Meet finalists are Erin Jones of Gilchrist County, Chad Haas of Volusia County, Sarah Luther of Suwannee County and Jesse Cone of Madison County. 

Young Farmers and Ranchers between the ages of 18-35 who are interested in honing in on their leadership skills and expanding their network are encouraged to join their local county Young Farmers and Ranchers group. Next year’s conference is set for July 12-14, 2024 in Palm Beach.  

To view conference photos, click here.