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Adam Putnam says global trends favor Florida’s agricultural brand

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Adam Putnam says that new trade opportunities has historically had a negative impact on Florida agriculture, but a confluence of events is setting up the state to play a major role in feeding the world in the future.

“Put very simply, by 2050 we will have 10 billion mouths to feed on Planet Earth,” the state’s Agricultural Commissioner said Wednesday in Tampa. “The only way to meet the demands of that population will be through productivity and yield gains in agriculture. And the broadest gains will come from American agriculture. And Florida can can play an enormous role in that.”
Putnam was the keynote speaker at the inaugural “Fresh from Florida Export Summit” that took place at Port Tampa’s Cruise Terminal 6, where the theme was all about accessing overseas markets.
Agriculture is already a major part of the Sunshine State’s economy, bringing in over $100 billion in annual economic activity. But Putnam says that traditionally it’s been in a “defensive crouch” when it comes to new trade opportunities, but no longer thanks to the “premium products” now being grown in Florida.
Putnam says the state is poised to play a major role in feeding the world, and cited the fact that over a year ago Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments purchased large swaths of land in Suwannee, Madison and Hamilton counties. “Those aren’t about to be the next condo development,” he said. “It’s because it is high value soils with access to water. And he and (Warren) Buffett and other global investors recognize that arable land is going to be very valuable because not only the population growth, but also the shift in dietary habits.” He added that the development world is going to have more disable income to purchase more protein, fruits and vegetables and nuts.
The expansion of the Panama Canal later this year will be a “game-changer,” Putnam says, because it will open up the eastern seaboard to oceanic traffic that historically has stopped on West Coast ports. “It puts Florida in a very positive strategic position to benefit from that.”
 Another boost could be the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the first major overhaul of the nation’s food safety practices since 1938. If approved it would implement new regulations for produce farms and for facilities that process food for people to eat.
Putnam is frequently mentioned as a leading contender for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018, though the Polk County native has insisted he won’t consider the idea until after this year’s general election. He couldn’t have asked for a better introduction than what he received from Port Tampa CEO Paul Anderson, who described him as “very dynamic, very knowledgable,” and a leader when he served in the state Legislature.
But he seems determined to make a difference in his current position, in which he was initially elected in 2010 and easily won re-election in 2014. He the state needs to get better about applying technology to prosper moving forward.  “As demand grows to move products faster, and world continue to shrink, we have to be able to identify any threats that are within those containers, whether its refrigerator cargo or the pallet itself,” he says.
Putnam says that the state needs to put its smartest people to work on treating inbound cargo to eliminate pests, bugs and any other diseases that can be transmitted to Florida shores. There’s been citrus greening, which has devastated the $10 billion citrus industry in the state, as well the ambrosia beetle, which has also had deleterious affects on avocado trees.
In wrapping up, Putnam says he remains bullish on Florida agriculture, saying the global trend is “on our side.”
“This realignment, this transformation of logistics has the potential to uniquely benefit Florida, and uniquely benefit Florida agriculture to trade opportunities as recently as a decade ago, he says, referring to the transformation of the timber industry, as well as new commodities, such as blueberries and Florida peaches. And, he says, there are now markets for Florida horses in Asia/
“The Florida brand is strong and is designed and has values around the world,” he concurred.
And what about the Putnam brand?
Well, Florida Grown PC– his political committee that likely will fund his 2018 bid for governor – now has total cash on hand of just over $3.3 million. Apparently, there are those in Florida, in addition to Paul Anderson, who think highly of his trends in the immediate future as well.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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