(July 8) TALAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida agriculture gained some protection from developers while agricultural landowners appeared to have lost some financial leverage July 8 as Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the Agricultural Economic Development Act.

Proponents said the bill was designed to help landowners hurt by a change in land-use classification or by the moving or lowering of residential density designations.

The bill would have established “agricultural enclaves,” or agricultural land surrounded on at least three-quarters of its perimeter by existing development, that allow that land to be classified as consistent with the surrounding developed property.

“Some farmers are finding themselves completely surrounded by development, and they are prevented from selling that land for the best and highest use (price),” said Ray Gilmer, director of public affairs for the Orlando-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. “It’s not so much that a lot of these guys want to get out of farming, but right now, the loan value of that land is bankable. If the banks know that that land is doomed to always be farmland, its value is greatly diminished compared to the land next door.”

Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson, who supported the bill, vowed to fight on.

Among Bush’s objections to the bill was a potential incentive for farmers to “cash out” in cases where land values rise rapidly.

The governor said the ambiguity of the bill created a potential for abuse, particularly in what constitutes an agricultural enclave. Its ambiguity, Bush said, also likely would encourage litigation.

“Land use policy should be determined by elected officials, not by the courts,” Bush said in vetoing the bill.

He also said he objected to the state taking charge over matters that he said are better handled locally.

“I think Bush got a lot of pressure from environmentalists and communities who felt that the ag land needed to be provided as a buffer zone and to stem development,” Gilmer said.

Jack Gautier, salesman for the Homestead Pole Bean Cooperative, which controls more than 6,000 acres in Florida, said the bill would have been good for farmers — even those who intended to stay in the business.

“Some of these growers are sitting on land worth millions of dollars,” Gautier said. “It’s just such a meaningful thing for the family to dispose some of this property and enjoy the good life, if they want to.”