Five questions for Jeb Smith, the Farm Bureau president from St. Johns County
Jeb Smith, whose family has farmed its fields in St. Johns County for nearly a century, recently stepped down as a county commissioner for a new two-year role as president of the Florida Farm Bureau.
Smith, 47, who was first elected to the St. Johns County Commission in 2014, was in Tallahassee last week making the rounds at the Capitol.
The Farm Bureau is considered the “Voice of Florida Agriculture,” representing more than 134,000 members who produce 300 different commodities. Its mission is “to increase the net income of farmers and ranchers, and to improve the quality of rural life.”
On his family fields in the Hastings area of western St. Johns County, Smith produces cattle, hay and sod.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Jeb Smith:
Q: What do you see as the biggest issues for the Farm Bureau and the agriculture industry heading into the legislative session?
Smith: We have a presumed contamination of agricultural properties down in Miami-Dade (the county Division of Environmental Resources Management presumes all current and former agricultural lands may have had chemicals applied to them.) That is a huge issue regarding property rights and one that does not have a bill number yet. But we do see that Sen. (Ben) Albritton (R-Wauchula), as well as Rep. (Bobby) Payne (R-Palatka) will carry that to this session. Another one will be nutrient rate tailoring. That is SB 1000, which will be providing opportunities for growers to have scientific crop consultants, which is based on scientific data, to be able to provide very specific usage of fertilizer applications on very specific crops, specific soils, which I think could be very, very helpful for us as producers. … Some regions have very different soil types. On my own farm, I can vary in soil type from one field to the next or even within the same field. This would be able to provide much more precision agriculture and usually that nutrient on that particular property with a particular crop.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges for the industry as a whole?
Smith: I'll tell you what, the number one thing for me has always been producers’ profitability. What is it going to take for me to remain profitable? If regulations cost me money, especially smaller producers, I don't have the ability to be able to engage with some of the new regulations and the time it takes to comply. But it is something necessary, and we have to do, but I have to remain profitable. So, what I need as a producer, as a farmer, our farmers, ranchers need to be profitable. Anything that erodes that — taxes, increased taxes, increased tax burden or even regulation — continue to erode that.
Q: How are COVID-19 protocols still impacting the industry?
Smith: There are some there's gonna be residual for anything coming down the line, whether it be supply chain issues or some of those kinds of matters. Supply chain is definitely something that we see affect us. But it's, you know, I had a seed salesman the other day that had $500,000 worth of seed on the ship. It was turned around at the port. He couldn't get it off-loaded. He lost that sale. So, the producer lost that seed for his operation. I went in town the other day just to get an oil filter for an F-150 pickup truck. A NAPA Gold 7509. There were only 120 for the entire country. That's an issue that each of us are going to have to face for a long time to get supplies to be able to produce. Starters for John Deere tractors, they're in short supply. There are all kinds of things that each of us are going to face from a production standpoint, there are certainly adverse effects upon each of us.
Q: How does the Farm Bureau work with farmers and ranchers as they face the diminishing land and water-supply issues due to Florida growth?
Smith: There's always going to be challenges with urbanization. But I can tell you as a producer, our farmers, we're in necessity. And each of us eat. And that's something that we're going to have to make as a general population, we're going to have to decide whether or not we're going to support agriculture, or we're going to put it out of business. The highest and best use for land is oftentimes development, but our producers want to produce and we're not only producing food for the United States, not just for Floridians, but for the world. And if that's something that they really would like to have ... we're going to have to stay in business.
Q: What do you see as being more important for you working with legislators: you being a generational farmer or a former elected official?
Smith: You know, I'm a fifth-generation farmer. My great-great-granddaddy, my farm where I live today, we'll be 100 years in our family as a farm March 1, 2022. I'll be a century farmer this upcoming spring. To me it's generational producers. That's what I'm here for, especially our producers, our farmers. The reason I ran for office was to be a representative of faith, family and farming. And that's what I was for. And I'm still that way. It's faith, family and farming to me. And I love walking these halls representing our producers, generationally or even new producers. You know, I'm an old one, but I can tell you what, there's some young ones around here too, that just started out and they're pretty excited about being able to remain viable and sustainable as a business in this environment. That's exciting. And I want to support that.