Op-Ed

Florida’s farmers are ready to meet challenges of the future

HOBLICK
HOBLICK

Who among us would not think of food on Thanksgiving Day? A delicious meal is the centerpiece of our annual celebration.

Most of us have the privilege of assuming that food will be available for our choosing — on Thanksgiving Day and every other day.

We can treat the process of collecting items in our diet as an errand, not as a struggle for survival. This blessing gives all of us a basic security. An abundant, nutritious supply of food produced within our borders allows most people to pursue other careers beyond the “farmgate.”

Farm families in Florida and across the nation are the source of this abundance. They are so successful at feeding us because they apply skill, dedication and hard work to their calling. By adopting innovative approaches to production, they harvest a volume of food not possible a decade ago.

Food availability will become a critical issue in the near future for the world at large as well as for our own country. According to United Nations officials, the world’s human population will increase by another 2.3 billion individuals before 2050.

Florida’s agriculturists have proven that they can meet such challenges. They can grow more food on the same amount of land. And they have proven that as they enhance their productive capacity, they remain superb stewards of natural resources.

Based upon field monitoring data, state officials report that farmers and ranchers conserve 11 billion gallons of freshwater each year through their conservation strategies. Their work also includes protecting water quality.

Many farms operate with complete recycling systems that both prevent nutrient loss into the surrounding environment and filter rainwater flowing from their properties. South Florida Water Management District officials have reported that in the Everglades Agricultural Area farmers slashed the phosphorus content in water runoff by 70 percent in a single year. Farmers in all regions of the state implement practices that improve water quality.

The success of agriculture involves more than food and natural-resource conservation. It also creates a stable foundation of Florida’s economy. According to researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, farm production and related enterprises generate an economic impact of $104 billion annually and employ nearly two million people.

In Miami-Dade County, farm-related businesses provide jobs for more than 222,000 people and deliver an economic impact of $13.2 billion each year.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of these benefits is that farm families have faced steady declines in the return they receive from the consumer’s retail food dollar. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials track farm income on a routine schedule. Their figures show that since the 1970s the farmer’s average share of the consumer dollar has shrunk from approximately 30 cents to less than 17 cents. The ability to sustain operations in the midst of such a trend is another testament to the innovation apparent on farms across the state.

Our farm families also devote time and attention to helping needy people in their communities. They recognize that sometimes a neighbor or another community member needs assistance.

During the past year agricultural producers in Florida have given large stocks of fruits, vegetables, meats and other items to food banks and similar charitable organizations. For example, Florida Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers won a national award for donating more than 11.2 million pounds of food to needy residents in our state.

Many farmers are the first to step up as volunteers in additional ways. They participate as leaders in civic projects, youth sports programs and various other activities that enhance the quality of life for our communities.

Their willingness to devote time and attention to endeavors beyond the farmgate is a reflection of their positive role in our society. They are sustainers of our collective quality of life.

Farm families deserve great respect for what they do. I hope that as you sit down to the comfort of a Thanksgiving Day feast, you will remember how well they serve us all.

John L. Hoblick, a Volusia County fern grower, is president of the Florida Farm Bureau.

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