Your Land Grant Partner: J. Scott Angle

January 2024 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

dr angleBy J. Scott Angle
[email protected]

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).