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Tied to Ag: Matthew and Blaire Fisher

Matt and Blaire Fisher grew up in Florida’s Panhandle. Blaire grew up in Jackson County and Matt in Washington County, and the couple currently reside in Matt’s hometown of Chipley. Together, they have two sons; Brett and Brody.  

The Fishers raise and sell grass fed, grain fed and Waygu beef cattle as well as grow and bale Bahia and perennial peanut hay. They attend community farmers’ markets on the weekends to sell their locally grown beef. Matt works full-time on the family farm managing the cow/calf operation and overseeing the growth and baling of hay. Blaire works for Johnson Roofing Solutions, where she is responsible for scheduling all final inspections and assisting with permit pulling.  

The couple is eager to expand their involvement in Farm Bureau and learn more about agriculture across the state.  Matt’s dad is the Washington County president, and the couple is eager to represent their local county at the state level and continue their involvement locally. 

“Farm Bureau gives us the opportunity to meet new people and learn about new operations,” said Blaire. “We also learn how beneficial and important Farm Bureau is to members and how they help in each challenge that comes in between different operations.”  

Matt and Blaire’s community involvement through their local farmers’ market has given them the opportunity to educate customers about where their food comes from. Helping  more people learn about the importance of agriculture and its impact on the local economy is something that both Matt and Blaire are very passionate about.  

“We are tied to ag by going to local Farmer’s Markets every weekend and sharing our production of beef with the community,” said Blaire. “We have the inventory to give people the opportunity to buy Farm to Table beef and know where it is coming from. We explain how our operation works and we plan to be even more successful in 2024 with our beef production.” 

Your Land Grant Partner: J. Scott Angle

February 2024 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

dr angleBy J. Scott Angle
[email protected]

When I arrived in Florida three and a half years ago to lead UF/IFAS, my message to Farm Bureau members was, “I work for you.”

I still do, but no longer as UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. They’ve made me provost, the academic leader of the entire university. This is my last FloridAgriculture column.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop working for you. As I told Florida Farm Bureau members gathered in Tallahassee last month for a day of legislative visits, there are experts in many UF colleges, not just the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, who can help Florida agriculture and rural Florida.

As provost I’ll be in a position to encourage the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering to bring more its expertise, Extension-style, to rural counties. Our medical care doesn’t have to be accessed only in large urban hospitals. I’d like to see it reach more of rural Florida, more farming communities.

And I’ve laid the groundwork for a successful transition at UF/IFAS. Dr. Rob Gilbert will continue as interim senior vice president and head of UF/IFAS. When I appointed him interim senior vice president, I was hoping to get my old job back in six months. Rob’s ready to run UF/IFAS without me now.

You’ll find him personable, committed to delivering relevant science, interested in stakeholder input, extremely well organized, and eager to meet as many of you as he can.

Rob and I are aligned on many priorities. Namely, we’re focused on your future. I told the members gathered in Tallahassee that artificial intelligence is going to change the way they farm and UF/IFAS is going to help them make the most of this new generation of technology. It will help drive a future of lower inputs and higher yields.

Part of the future was in the room. Scores of blue-jacketed FFA youth attended the breakfast. They are learning early what didn’t occur to me until my college days, that there are so many exciting careers and opportunities in agriculture and natural resources.

IFAS is special, but so is all of UF. I told the Tallahassee gathering that President Sasse is out to change all of American higher education for the better. We’re on a similar mission at UF/IFAS, to help make Florida agriculture the model for the entire nation and for the world.

I was honored to have President Jeb Smith say from the podium that he considered me a blessing to Florida agriculture. But I feel I have received more than I have given.

You’ve welcomed me to your communities as I visited every Florida county. You’ve provided opportunity to students for which I’ve worked to find beyond-the classroom experiences. And you’ve hosted research on your farms.

It’s been my pleasure to serve you directly for three and a half years. No matter where I am on campus, I’ll never stop working for you.

J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Provost. From July 2020 to January 2024 he was UF’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

 

Tied to Ag: Benjamin Putnam

January 2024 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Benjamin Putnam comes from a family of agriculturalists in rural Polk County. He is a sixth-generation farmer and grew up working cattle with his uncle, fixing irrigation in the citrus grove, and helping around the farm where needed. His involvement on the family farm helped instill in him a passion for agriculture.  

Upon graduation from Auburn University with a degree in business management, Putnam decided to move back home and work full-time at Putnam Groves, his family’s citrus operation.  

“After my Uncle Will passed away, my cousin Christian and I talked a lot about my plans after college,” said Putnam. “It felt right to move back to Bartow and work at the farm.”  

The family farm has 1,300 head of cattle spanning over Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties and 1,000 acres of citrus, specifically Valencia and Hamlin varieties. They have recently started hay production and are refurbishing pastures through rotational grazing.

“We started rotational grazing and allowing some family friends to grow watermelons in our pastures to help with weed control and help add more grazing land for our cattle next year,” said Putnam. “This has really allowed us to continue to be good stewards of the land.”  

Although Putnam has grown up around Farm Bureau, it was his cousin that encouraged him to become more involved with their local Young Farmers & Ranchers group and apply for the leadership team. He has enjoyed being more involved in the community and sharing agriculture’s story with the public.  

“Last year, we were able to donate 160 pounds of blueberries through Harvest for All,” said Putnam. “We also set up a booth at the Lakeland Farmer’s Market and talk to people about agriculture and pass out Publix gift cards to help pay for some of their groceries.” 

Putnam also looks forward to visiting with other farmers in the community at their county annual meeting in October.  

When asked what he is looking forward to over the next two years on the state leadership team, Putnam is excited to get more involved with Florida Farm Bureau and learn how to better advocate for the agriculture industry.  

“I’m strengthening my tie to agriculture by learning how to be a better spokesperson for the industry through the opportunities the leadership group will provide me,” said Putnam. “I’m excited for opportunities to network with other young farmers from around the country and learn about agriculture and advocacy in their state at the American Farm Bureau Federation YF&R Leadership Conference in March.” 

Your Land Grant Partner: J. Scott Angle

January 2024 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

dr angleBy J. Scott Angle
[email protected]
@IFAS_VP

You know yourselves as food producers and as stewards of the land. You also know that not everyone sees you that way.

The question isn’t whether they’re right or wrong, whether they disregard their three meals a day while they focus on side effects of it getting to them. The question is how do you talk to people who have seemingly diametrically opposed views of agriculture to your own?

The Florida Farm Bureau Federation has been a great supporter of a part of UF/IFAS that prepares leaders to address this question.

For many years, FFBF has sponsored Fellows participating in the UF/IFAS Natural Resources Leadership Institute, or NRLI, so Florida agriculture can better engage with non-agricultural stakeholders and not just retreat to our own camps when contentious issues arise.

NRLI doesn’t teach people how to produce food. It does teach farmers and leaders how to communicate with people who see agriculture as a threat.

That’s been invaluable to Andrew Walmsley, a NRLI alumnus whose day-to-day job as your legislative affairs director involves communicating with policy makers who don’t understand agriculture and sometimes don’t appreciate it.

In fact, said Walmsley, NRLI helped him hone the skills to talk across the divide to organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund as he helped the American Farm Bureau Federation launch the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance.

Instead of regarding EDF as an adversary, Walmsley adopted the NRLI approach to working with it as a stakeholder with a common interest. It has resulted in mutual support for policy recommendations for the Farm Bill to help agriculture achieve its climate mitigation potential while preserving and creating economic opportunity.

FFBF leadership programs coordinator Michele Curts is a member of the current NRLI class. She finds it remarkable that beyond building valuable skills such as facilitation of difficult conversations, NRLI brings together people who normally would never cross paths and do not find themselves on the same side of all issues.

Charles Shinn, your retired director for government and community affairs, is a NRLI alumnus who credits it with helping him form relationships with classmates from government, industry and activist groups, a network that he still relies on years after his participation in the program.

Farm Bureau has also subsidized the participation of volunteer leaders such as Ben Butler, Clay Archey and John Dooner.

It’s time for applications. If you’re ready to step up and invest in yourself as a leader, please consider NRLI. Contact your field rep or county chapter president or reach out directly to FFBF professionals who can support your application and help you through the process of securing a nomination.

NRLI requires a three-day stretch each month for most of an academic year. It was an especially big commitment for Walmsley, whose first child was born during his time in NRLI.

He said it was worth it. He’s better for it, and as a result so is Florida agriculture.

J. 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).

FFBF Prepares Legislative Priorities and 2024 Farm Bureau Day

Submitted by Madeline Wright, Assistant Director of Legislative Affairs 

As the Legislative session is rapidly approaching, we are working hard in Tallahassee to prepare and, hopefully, see our Farm Bureau priorities cross the finish line. Our two main initiatives for this year are crafting health plans for our members and combatting labor issues by reducing housing regulations for H2-A workers. Please find a debrief of those below. 

HEALTH PLANS One challenge we see our producers face as small business owners is increased costs – costs for inputs, cost of fuel, and other costs, such as affordable healthcare for their families.  Farm Bureau is uniquely positioned to address that challenge through a new member benefit that includes an emerging opportunity of health plans.  Too often health insurance is too expensive for small business owners and the Health Insurance Marketplace provides no alternative. Partnering with Tennessee Farm Bureau Health Plans, Florida Farm Bureau can provide a health plan option to our members.  It will take a tweak to State law, and we are preparing to address this in the 2024 Legislative Session. 

LABOR We are seeing the impacts of the immigration bill from last session, increased costs for H2A workers, and potentially, new regulations at the local and federal level when it comes to heat illness and standards. HB 1343 almost crossed the finish line last session to prohibit local governments from regulating farm worker housing.  We want to reduce the obstacles to doing business in Florida and a patchwork of local ordinances will create additional undue burdens on our growers. This bill has been filed again for the 2024 Legislative Session, and we are anticipating success this year. 

FARM BUREAU DAY – It is also important to note that Florida Farm Bureau Day will take place on January 16. We look forward to having our members in Tallahassee to be the voice of agriculture on the Hill!  

We look forward to having you join us for the 2024 Farm Bureau Day and Taste of Agriculture Reception. If you plan to attend Farm Bureau Day in Tallahassee, please register here.

Tied to Ag: Erin Jones

December 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Growing up, Erin Jones was surrounded by agriculture on her family’s cattle, hay and peanut farm in Bell. Her family has approximately 60 commercial beef cows and a Simmental Angus bull. Jones was actively involved in 4-H and FFA during her youth and is involved with local chapters in her community. 

“I have my own cattle and work alongside my mom and dad to maintain our herd,” said Jones. “We sell show calves to 4-H and FFA members, giving me an opportunity to work with the future of our organization to cultivate a passion for agriculture like I have.” 

Jones attended Florida Gateway College for her associate degree and transferred to the University of Florida where she received a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences. She is currently working on her master’s in agronomy from UF and works for UF/IFAS Extension as the Suwannee County Livestock Agent. 

“I am proud to work with livestock and forage producers to help them continue to grow and maintain their operations,” said Jones. “I am extremely blessed to be able to coach the 4-H Livestock Judging Team and give youth members the opportunity to build a network of agriculturists and spark passion for the industry in each member.” 

Although her parents have been Farm Bureau members for decades, Jones began her own journey with the organization when she started school at UF. She was a founding member of the Levy/Gilchrist County Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R). Jones has served as the chair of the Gilchrist County YF&R committee since 2017 and attained a position on the Gilchrist County Farm Bureau board in 2018. Jones’ position as the Suwannee County Livestock Agent allows her to be involved in both Gilchrist and Suwannee County Farm Bureaus. 

Jones is a proud advocate for agriculture in her county and loves educating others about the benefits of being a Farm Bureau member. She enjoys participating in numerous outreach opportunities throughout the year, but particularly enjoys the Christmas parade in Bell every December and the Quilt Festival held in Trenton in March.  

Jones believes in the future of the young people in her community and is continuously looking for ways to engage them in agriculture. In addition to her involvement with the younger generation, Jones is always looking for ways to push herself professionally. She participated in the Young Farmers & Ranchers Discussion Meet at the organization’s annual meeting and will be representing Florida at the 2024 American Farm Bureau Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah in January. 

“I could not be where I am today without my Farm Bureau family, and I am so excited to make them proud and represent them to the best of my ability,” said Jones. 

 

Throughout her involvement, Jones continues to be a strong advocate for Florida agriculture. She is excited to grow her knowledge and leadership skills through the many opportunities the Young Farmers & Ranchers state Leadership Team will present to her.  

“I think for me, being tied to ag drives my passion to continue to advocate for the industry that has molded me into the person I am today,” said Jones. 

 

Your Land Grant Partner: J. Scott Angle

December 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

dr angleBy J. Scott Angle
[email protected]
@IFAS_VP

UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) student Julia Heijkoop delivered an important message at this year’s FFBF annual meeting. Farm Bureau doesn’t tell you what to do. Instead, it offers opportunities.

That’s something UF/IFAS and FFBF have in common. We’re agents of opportunity. Together, we grow that most important crop—future leaders.

Heijkoop pursued opportunity by registering for the Collegiate Discussion Meet at the annual meeting. It’s not a debate, it’s a simulation of a committee meeting in which participants are judged on cooperation, communication and analysis of challenges to agriculture.

Heijkoop distinguished herself with a command of Florida farm facts, the organizational structure of FFBF and youth development programs.

She spotlighted a need for an inclusive FFBF that serves both an increasing number of producers serving specialty markets (e.g. organics or value-added products like ice cream) and larger acreage producers. She identified the opportunity for FFBF to mediate and bring together older versus up-and-coming generations of farmers.

And in perhaps her most powerful statement, she called for a continuing investment in youth to raise their awareness of agriculture. Even if they do not become agriculture professionals, she said, they will become something equally important to our future—consumers and voters.

Heijkoop’s road to Orlando, where she competed in the Collegiate Discussion Meet, was guided by two important mentors—Staci Sims at FFBF and Dr. Charlotte Emerson at CALS.

Sims helped Heijkoop learn how to function effectively in a committee setting when they served together on the state’s FFA board, which Heijkoop earned a place on as state FFA president in 2021-22.

Emerson came into the picture about a year ago, when she helped Heijkoop through the process of entering UF CALS as a transfer student. Emerson’s official title is director of student development and recruitment, but I consider her associate dean of opportunity for the way she helps students find great experiences.

Under Emerson’s mentoring, one of the first things Heijkoop did upon entering CALS this fall was to join Collegiate Farm Bureau. Then Emerson encouraged Heijkoop to register for the Collegiate Discussion Meet.

Heijkoop won the state Collegiate Discussion Meet. FFBF and UF/IFAS will support her in her journey next year to compete at the national level in the American Farm Bureau Federation Collegiate Discussion Meet. FFBF supports students through the CALS Partnership Program, which expands professional development opportunities for students like Heijkoop, both on campus and through travel. Emerson will likely accompany Heijkoop.

Over the next two years, CALS will continue to prepare Heijkoop as a future Florida ag leader as she majors in agricultural operations management. She’ll have opportunities to join clubs and to become more active in our Collegiate Farm Bureau chapter.

And we’ll encourage her to pursue internships to give her experience in real-world settings in areas she’s interested in, such as public policy and marketing. FFBF has been a great CALS partner in offering such opportunities. Sims herself was an FFBF intern as a UF law student, but based on connections she made when she was a CALS student, she said.

Heijkoop, who grew up on a family dairy farm in Sumter County, was a winner the moment she entered the Collegiate Discussion Meet. She wants to hone the skills of thoughtful discussion, finding common ground, and facilitation and practice them in a career in policy or marketing for the dairy industry.

Heijkoop saw opportunity through both FFBF and CALS. We, in turn, see opportunity in developing the leaders we’ll need for the future of Florida agriculture.

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).

 

 

 

 

Tied to Ag: Ellie John, Manatee County

November 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

A Florida native, Ellie John was raised in the town of Duette, located in Manatee County. She was part of the Mighty 4-Hers of Duette and raised pigs during her youth. Growing up, John spent many summers on her great-grandparents’ farm and cousins’ dairy farm, both in New Jersey.  

John attended Manatee Technical College where she became a certified dental assistant. She was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom for 14 years with her children and has worked as a dental assistant at a family-owned practice in Manatee County for the last three years. 

Just like John did, her children participated in 4-H and showed cattle and pigs. Her husband is a fourth-generation cattle producer and actively ranches with John and their four kids. Additionally, the family owns a pasture restoration business and grows hay.  

Agriculture holds a very large part of John’s heart. She has served as the leader for the Myakka Allstock 4-H club for 11 years and is heavily involved in the Manatee County Fair in the supervision of the beef breeding barn.

John’s involvement with Florida Farm Bureau started in 2015 when a longtime family friend and board member asked her to join their newly established women’s committee. John served as a founding member and was the first co-chair, serving for two years. She has served as the committee chair for six years along with Chris Mahoney as her co-chair and 13 committee members, all involved in agriculture.  

“I have also served on the state committee for two years now and love my involvement with Farm Bureau,” said John. “I love the relationships I’ve built and the knowledge I’ve gained to help promote the ag industry.”  

Her favorite part of being involved in Farm Bureau is the Manatee County “Agventure” event, held during Farm-City Week in November. This event is a rotating activity center, with an agricultural themed make-and-take activity. John serves as the timekeeper, and they have more than 1,000 third graders learn about local agriculture. 

“What used to be a one-day event has turned into two days so we can reach more children,” said John. “We want to teach these kids that food doesn’t just come from the grocery store.”  

She is also involved with the Manatee County beef workshop and prospect show which also takes place during Farm-City Week. 

Through her strong community involvement, John is a powerful voice of agriculture in Manatee County. She continues to educate people in her community about the importance of agriculture and show them ways they can be tied to the industry.  

“I am tied to Ag through my involvement with the local 4-H clubs, FFA chapters, the county fair and our county Farm Bureau and use these groups as ways to educate people in our community about the importance of agriculture,” said John. “I also share the importance of farming and ranching through my social media whenever I can.” 

A Guide to Florida Farm Bureau Policy Development

November 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

As a grassroots organization, Florida Farm Bureau’s policies start with recommendations from members at the county level. This is predominantly accomplished through 16 commodity-based advisory committees, which are comprised of nominated members at the county-level and appointed by the organization’s state president.  

Each of the committees are made up of farmers, ranchers and growers, who are voting members on the committee, and industry professionals, who are non-voting technical advisors. These technical advisors serve as expert liaisons to their respective areas and guide Florida Farm Bureau’s policies through education. Technical advisors play a fundamental role in ensuring Florida Farm Bureau members are educated in industry updates to guide decisions that are made in accordance with current and scientifically-sound principles. 

Once policy amendments and new resolutions are proposed at advisory committee meetings, they are presented at the organization’s Annual Meeting to be accepted or rejected by the delegate body. If a policy is accepted and deemed of national importance, it is sent on to American Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting in January for review. Once a policy is accepted on the state level, the Legislative Affairs Division implements FFBF’s policy book on the Hill by advocating and lobbying on behalf of our membership. 

In the 2023 policy process, 23 policies were amended, one policy was removed, and eight new resolutions were accepted. These changes represent the current needs of agricultural producers in Florida and will give FFBF staff the direction they need to advocate for farmers and ranchers at the local, state, and national level. 

Your Land Grant Partner

November 2023 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

dr angleBy J. Scott Angle
[email protected]
@IFAS_VP

On June 16, 2020, UF/IFAS agronomist and longtime Gadsden County Farm Bureau member David Wright sent a text that doctors had found a golf-ball-sized tumor in his head. Colleague Sheeja George asked how she could help.

“Keep the crew going,” David responded.

George and colleagues revered David for his work ethic, his humility, and his love for agriculture. He had 10 kids and 10 tractors at his family farm in Quincy.

David’s 45-year career at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy contributed to the understanding and adoption of what some call conservation farming. That is, he researched and taught producers about sod-based rotation and crop-livestock integration. It produces better yields and better environmental stewardship.

“We would be hard pressed to find a farm in North Florida that Dr. Wright’s shadow has not been on and had a positive effect on it,” wrote the Farm Bureau leaders in Gadsden, Calhoun, Jackson and Santa Rosa counties who nominated David for the Extension Professional of the Year Award.

And this compliment is recorded in a memory book at David’s retirement: “You don’t really ‘deliver’ a solution; you partner with many and ‘design’ them knowing that there is a human at the other end who is receiving and using it.”

Isn’t that what Extension is at its best?

David was cherished as a man as well as a scientist, so it’s very meaningful to us at UF/IFAS that the Florida Farm Bureau spotlighted Wright’s legacy by posthumously honoring him last month in Orlando. And it was meaningful to David that the Farm Bureau told him about the award before his death in July.

David recognized that science is in part a social phenomenon. In addition to hypotheses, observation and measurement, it depends on trust.

He built that connection and credibility with a question to colleagues: “Do you want to walk a few rounds?” The walk-and-talks around a pond at NFREC explored scientific challenges and built camaraderie.

The line between work and family was thin at best. Most of his kids have helped out at NFREC in some capacity. He considered clients to be friends and would knock on their doors, call them after hours and get to know their spouses and children.

He shared information with scientists nationwide that helped control soybean rust when it first hit the U.S. He also emphasized shared bonds, like when he gave a lobster hat to a departing USDA colleague who was moving to Maine, or when he helped a graduate student find funds to visit his family in Ghana.

David called me as his health deteriorated, and he urged me to start looking for a successor so that important science would not be interrupted. I think it was his way of telling me, “Keep the crew going!”

J. 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).