Florida Commissioner of Agriculture
Adam Putnam has served as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture since 2010, after ten years in the U.S. House of Representatives. As Commissioner, he has been a passionate supporter of Florida’s flourishing agribusiness and a tireless advocate for the state’s water quality and supply. During his time in office, Florida’s agricultural production increased nearly $150 million in cash receipts, $20 million in tax revenues and helped create 5,000 jobs. In addition, his highly publicized achievements in working with members of the Florida Legislature to transfer the state’s school food and nutrition programs to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has resulted in schools serving healthier menus to Florida’s students, with a focus on including more locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
On Returning to Florida from Washington
The primary driver was that my passion was always agriculture and natural resource policy issues. I saw an opportunity to leave a pretty dysfunctional process and be a part of something that actually accomplished things and made our state better, particularly as we were struggling to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
In Florida, people do come together to address challenges, both long-term issues like water, which isn’t so glamorous, as well as other more short-term issues. Here, you can find a coalition of people who are focused and dedicated, and you can get things done. Happily, Florida has a culture of problem solving; unfortunately, that is not always the case in Washington. Also, I have three young children and this has given me the opportunity to regain control of my own schedule. As a multi-generational Floridian, I wanted to leave the state’s natural legacy to my children.
The Position of Florida’s Agriculture Industry
The increase of the global marketplace has impacted agriculture as much or more than any other sector of commerce. Florida, with its nearly year-round growing season, access to international markets through very well-developed air and seaports, along with the states rail and trucking infrastructure, is extremely well-positioned. A number of our commodities, particularly our cattle industry, have benefited from the unfavorable conditions in other states. The droughts in the areas of the West and Midwest have put the Florida cattle industry in very profitable territory. While the state has suffered setbacks in the real estate market, our agribusiness has become stronger.
We continue to see our innovations in agriculture as our universities have produced varieties of peaches and blueberries, which can be grown in Florida, that were previously unheard of. Today, these are thriving and growing industries, which were unknown 25 years ago.
On Florida’s Water Management
We are seeing years of investment by farmers and ranchers in low volume irrigation and best management practices saving billions of gallons of water per year. Also, we are beginning to recognize farmers and ranchers as potential water farmers, in public/private partnerships, to provide a social asset for water recharge, wildlife habitat and water storage. That is new and exciting territory for Florida and for other states that have similar water challenges, who are looking to us as an innovation leader.
It is good for the environment, it is good in terms of meeting the demands for urban water use and it is good for the private landowners, but most of all, it is relatively affordable to put in place. We’ve been focusing on the area south of Orlando as a test bed for this new approach and it is drawing international attention – from the World Wildlife Fund to the National Cattlemen’s Association, as well as the South Florida Water Management District.
You get water quality and water quantity. It isn’t the single answer for Florida’s water needs, but is a viable part of an overall water strategy.