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Commissioner addresses agriculture versus environment

By Staff | Jul 22, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Nikki Fried

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried told Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce members that farmers are making strides to become more conservation-friendly and have many of the same goals as the state’s environmentalists. She spoke on July 16 at the chamber’s Virtual Power Hour, sponsored by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

“I don’t come from agriculture,” the Miami native said. “So I spend a lot of time listening and learning and hearing from (the farmers’) perspective. At the end of day, if they don’t have the quality of the land, they can’t be successful either The passion they have for their land is the same passion I see in the environmentalists. Keep the communication lines open. They need their land to be there for generations, and we want their land to be there for generations.”

Fried outlined the wide oversee of her agency, but concentrated on new legislation, technology and crops to make farms more environmentally sound, clean energy, and clean water.

She underlined the importance of farming to Florida, where COVID-19’s impact on tourism has moved agriculture from the number two state economic driver to number one. Fried foresees one good that will come from the pandemic is more awareness for supporting local farmers.

“I’m very excited about having hemp growing in the state,” she said, referring to the result of one new piece of legislation regarding CBD regulations during this year’s session. “It gives so many of our farmers another opportunity for another commodity to grow. It uses less water, it needs less nutrients, in fact it cleans the waterways another opportunity to do great things for the environment.”

The commissioner talked about traveling to Israel with one her innovations committees to research new agricultural technology that farmers can put to use to stem the flow of nutrients into waterways.

“Farmers want to be stewards of the land,” Fried said. “Now I have the goal of creating that the state of Florida is going to be the Silicon Valley of the East Coast for agriculture.”

She voiced concerns on the environmental impact of a planned 340-mile expressway through the state, fearing it will place unnecessary strain during the economic challenges of COVID besides ruining millions of dollars of agricultural and conservation lands.

“It will destroy the fiber of what makes Florida Florida,” Fried said, listing wildlife, small farms, and drinking water as victims. “It will threaten the unique character of so much of our rural land. I agree with economic development, but it should not come at the price of our rich cultural heritage.”

In response to a question from meeting moderator and SCCF Chief Executive Officer Ryan Orgera about bridging the gap between environmentalists and farmers, she urged conversation to end “a battle that has gone on for so long.”

“If we don’t conserve that (farm) land, where does that land go? To developers, and that doesn’t help us either,” Fried said.

Chamber President John Lai thanked her and the SCCF.

“Thanks to Ryan and his team for bringing Commissioner Fried’s voice and expertise to our membership with some extremely relevant information,” he said.