On a Wednesday morning, just after 8AM, the rooster crows on I Am Country Radio, prompting genial show host Ward Scott to announce “It’s Ag Wednesday, sponsored by the Alachua County Farm Bureau.”
For the next hour, listeners to 101.7 and 104.1 FM might hear about bees, forestry, the success of the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show, or dozens of other topics related to agriculture and rural life, from local experts.
“Agriculture plays a vital role in our area economy and the Alachua County Farm Bureau Ag Show provides much needed information on the impact it has in our local community,” said WDVH general manager Dave Cobb. The stations beam a strong signal to rural Alachua and other counties in North Central Florida, and target the rural audience in smaller communities, as well as greater Gainesville listeners.
Alachua County Farm Bureau (ACFB) began sponsoring the program on alternate Wednesdays in February 2016. With additional sponsorship from Gatorland Kubota and the Alachua County Farm Bureau Insurance Agency, the program now airs every Wednesday morning.
“It is the only such program sponsored by a county Farm Bureau in Florida,” said ACFB President Winston Rushing. “It has a growing audience and provides a unique voice for agriculture and rural landowners and residents.”
Providing a voice for agriculture has been the primary mission of the Farm Bureau movement since its beginning in the early Twentieth Century. The American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest agricultural association in the U.S., is comprised of Farm Bureaus in every state and Puerto Rico. The state headquarters of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation and the Farm Bureau Insurance Companies stands prominently north of Paynes Prairie on I-75. Its unique architecture has long prompted drivers to refer to it as “that big, upside-down building on the interstate.” Boasting more than 145,000 members, the Federation is the largest agricultural organization in the state. In 2016, it celebrated its 75th anniversary.
The more modest Alachua County Farm Bureau’s headquarters is some 15 miles to the north on SR 441 in the city of Alachua. Due largely to the success of the separately chartered Alachua County Farm Bureau Insurance Agency, the county Farm Bureau ranks first in membership size among the 60 county Farm Bureaus in the state (only Farm Bureau members can purchase Farm Bureau Insurance, but anyone can join.)
The county Farm Bureau mission echoes that of the state organization: to increase the net income of farmers and ranchers, and to improve the quality of rural life.“We also work to increase public awareness of local agriculture and to represent the interests of farmers and rural residents before state, county and municipal governments,” said Rushing.
The “Ag Wednesday” radio program is one initiative aimed at helping both urban and rural residents to understand and appreciate the impact of agriculture. Other outreach activities include observation of Farm-City Week, the week before Thanksgiving; ACFB, the Alachua County Cattlemen’s Association and Straughn Farms join with the local Kiwanis Club to sponsor a luncheon for civic leaders that stresses the interdependence of city and countryside.
Alachua County Farm Bureau also has made a strong commitment to the development of rural youth. It has been a long-term sponsor of the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock show, held each March at the Alachua County Fairgrounds. In addition, ACFB members and agents of the Alachua County Farm Bureau Insurance Agency attend the livestock auction, working to ensure all youths receive a fair return on their animals.
In 2016, ACFB fulfilled a multi-year commitment to provide $60,000 to Santa Fe College to provide scholarships to students studying agriculture-related subjects. The organization also sponsors an annual youth speech contest and provides scholarships to children of active (farmer) members.
Serving a Diverse Industry
Gainesville is the home of the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF-IFAS), which is the hub for Extension and agricultural education statewide, as well as a number of other state and federal agencies dedicated to agriculture.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture, performed every 10 years by USDA, counted 1,662 farms in the county, averaging 113 acres, with crops sales of $69.3 million and livestock sales of almost $32. The country ranked 4th in the state for hay production, 9th in sheep and goats and related products, 12th in milk from cows, and 14th in cattle and calves.
University of Florida economists examining figures for a nine-county area in North Central Florida estimate the economic impact of food and natural resources at around $3.89 billion, generating more than 62,000 jobs. The economists cut a broad swath when they compiled their figures by including forest products, manufacturing, mining, food distribution (including food and beverage establishments) and nature-based recreation, including golf courses, and by recognizing that dollars turn over many times in a local economy.
Even with all of this activity taking place in the county, keeping the needs of rural residents top-of-mind for our county officials can be a challenge. The county Farm Bureau is one of the organizations and institutions specifically granted a seat on the Rural Concerns Advisory Committee, which advises the county commission. Rushing is encouraging ACFB members to apply to serve on the committee.
“The fact is, the needs of our rural residents and the small rural communities can often be overshadowed by concerns related to the more populous areas of the county,” Rushing said.
For that reason, the county Farm Bureau retains a consultant who is available for a one-time consultation with any Farm Bureau member who may be having a problem interacting with county regulators.
By Rod Hemphill