HOLMES COUNTY — The Holmes County Farm Bureau sat down to a steak dinner with a side of political perspective at its 71st annual membership meeting Aug. 10.
The Holmes County Agricultural Center was packed with members who turned out to recognize achievements of local farmers and political leaders for making strides in agriculture.
Florida Farm Bureau Director of Legislative Affairs Adam Basford was on hand to recognize Senator George Gainer as this year Champion for Agriculture for his advocacy to farmers and work during this year’s legislative session.
Those in attendance then heard from Representative Matt Caldwell (R-North Fort Myers) and Senator Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring), who are in the running to succeed term-limited Adam Putnam as Agriculture Commissioner.
Caldwell and Grimsley each emphasized the respect they share and that they "are not running against each other, rather they are running for an office."
Rep. Grimsley states she has the three things needed to run that office: an agriculture background, executive experience, and a financial background.
Grimsley's agriculture background comes from her family's history as citrus growers and cattle farmers, and she states her executive and finance expertise comes from years of experience as a hospital administrator for the Florida Hospital System. Before that, she followed in her father's footsteps to run her family business, Grimsley Oil Company.
"It’s a $1.7 billion budget with 3,800 employees," Grimsley said. "Whoever leads that agency needs to be able to pull those 12 departments together. You need a financial background, and I think you need it in the public and the private sector. I have it in the public sector after being the Appropriations chairman for two years in the House, and I have it in the private sector as well.”
A 7th generation Floridian whose family has a long history of being farmers, small business owners, ministers, and doctors, Rep. Caldwell states he has always had a passion for agriculture and developed an interest in agriculture early own, working at an Immokalee cattle ranch at no charge to gain more knowledge.
"He needed the help, and I needed the experience," said Caldwell. "I've built a lot of fence line for free."
Caldwell says it is important for the Agriculture Commission to know how to balance the very different needs of the rural and urban areas.
"You really need to focus on balancing the needs of urban communities with rural communities and working out natural resources issues between them,” he said. “Most of the people live in three or four big cities in big counties, but most of our counties are rural, and their main source of employment is agriculture or some kind of related industry, so dealing with natural resources is important to what’s good for agriculture and rural communities."
Caldwell also stresses the importance of other jobs performed by the department, including overseeing concealed weapons licensing, commerce, and performing fuel pump inspections.
"These are all important services, and while consumers seem satisfied at the state level, there are concerns with how the state's needs are received on the federal level," he said. "Floridians need their 2nd Amendment rights, natural resources, and property protected. No one will work harder than I will to make that happen.”
Others who have announced their intent to run for Agriculture Commissioner include Democrat David Walker, Democrat Michael Christine, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman (R-Winter Haven) and Orlando Republican Paul Paulson.