A Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services representative outlines water availability, immigration and agricultural research as top threats for Florida agriculture.

“Current projections anticipate a total water demand for the state of 9.3 billion gallons a day by 2020, an increase of nearly 2 billion gallons a day from 1995 levels,” said Shannon Shepp, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Deputy Commissioner. “Water is a limited resource and we must find alternative supplies.”

Shepp who spoke at the American Seed Trade Association’s 51stVegetable & Flower Seed Conference said agriculture plays an important role in Florida’s water use and supply.

“Florida has one of the most effective and progressive water management programs in the country,” she said. “Through conservation efforts and recommendations made by the department, agriculture is using less water.

“With more precise application of fertilizer, less is needed. Water control structures have been implemented and many operations and landowners are recycling water and cleaning it up as it passes through their land.”

There is a huge battle over water between constituents who are growers and those who are not growers, Shepp explained. We have a lot of statistics that back us up saying that agriculture has reduced their water consumption and is reusing it for multiple purposes, she noted.

Immigration another serious challenge

Not only are people battling over water, but also immigration. Immigration plagues the future of Florida agriculture, Shepp said.

“Many industries in Florida demand a stable legal workforce and there are gaps in the industry,” Shepp said. “Agriculture among a few others is one of those gaps.

“Florida alone cannot solve this problem. We must work with the federal government to develop a comprehensive program to solve these problems. A comprehensive solution to immigration must not only provide a stable legal workforce but protect our borders and the United States must remain a land of opportunity.”

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recommends a temporary worker program, which is not a new concept. This program would allow workers to pay their taxes and support social security, and will allow the US to track them — ensuring that they are here for a defined period of time.

Budget cuts to research from the federal government are the other issue threatening Florida agriculture. Most of the new pests and diseases coming into the United States are introduced in Florida, Shepp said.

“On average, we find 12 new pests per year,” she said. “For example, our most recent find was the Giant African Land Snail and this is a triple threat.

“This snail consumes stucco on people’s homes. It consumes more than 500 varieties of plants and is known to carry meningitis. As you can see research is our best weapon against any pest and disease introduction into Florida.”

Shepp said they receive or have grants from the federal government, research dollars for university projects and researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service that have been invaluable through the years.

Research is how the state finds solutions to its most pressing challenges. This is a serious problem facing not only Florida, but the entire nation.