By Doug Ohlemeier

Staff Writer for The Packer

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Amid threats of development, disease, pests and other challenges, state officials and agriculture leaders are working on ways Florida can keep its farm industry healthy.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson played host to a June 26 meeting to garner ideas and suggestions from growers and others in the industry.

The incoming speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Rep. Marco Rubio, a Coral Gables Republican, asked Bronson to develop some legislative proposals to help keep the industry viable.

More than 338,000 people move to Florida every year.

“The industry is facing unprecedented challenges in remaining economically viable as we move forward,” Bronson said. “The pressure is going there. It’s all coming back to agriculture.”

Haines City citrus grower Marty Bowen, a Republican state representative, helped lead the meeting.

“Florida is growing, but our agriculture land is shrinking,” she said. “Agriculture has been such a tremendous part of Florida’s past. We want to make sure we utilize what we have.”

Discussing water issues, Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach, said growers and landowners should be paid to manage water instead of paying for water rights.

“An average grapefruit grove gives up 25% more water than it utilizes,” he said. “We are the system. We’re not given enough credit for what we give.”

Bronson said the group heard many ideas from the meeting. He said the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will start formulating some opinions to begin the process of working with state lawmakers.

The agency plans to post a report of ideas that came out of the meeting on its Web site by the end of July.

A department spokesman said he wasn’t sure if the agency would schedule future meetings.

This article originally appeared in the July 10 print edition of The Packer.