FFVA’s Executive Committee spent two days in February meeting with lawmakers and state officials to discuss bills of importance to Florida producers. And what a difference a year makes.

The meetings had a much different tenor than in 2011, when the grower community was pushing back hard on several proposed immigration bills.

The bills required the use of the federal E-Verify system without including a program to provide an adequate workforce for growers.

This year only one immigration bill was proposed, and as of this writing, it had not advanced.

As a result, producers and FFVA staff were able to spend more time talking about other issues and thanking legislators for their continued work in support of Florida agriculture.

Those kinds of visits are just as important as advocating for or against a specific piece of legislation.

The committee also met with Herschel Vinyard, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, who discussed his agency’s priorities. They include improving water quality and streamlining permitting processes.

Vinyard also is pushing for the state’s water management districts to coordinate some functions where possible to save money.

Butch Calhoun, FFVA’s director of government relations, had a chance to present in person the association’s Legislator of the Year award to Rep. Seth McKeel, (R-Lakeland), chair of the House State Affairs Committee.

McKeel was unable to attend FFVA’s convention last September to receive the honor.

McKeel led the charge during the last legislative session to override then-Gov. Charlie Crist’s veto of the 2010 ag industry bill, which exempted agriculture from many duplicative local regulations and fees.

The agriculture industry worked for three legislative sessions to get the bill passed, only to have Crist veto it.

The group also spent time with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Assistant Commissioner Mike Joyner.

Putnam discussed the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ efforts since the department took over the school nutrition program in January.

The FFVA Executive Committee was joined by members of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program class.

This meeting was the halfway point in the yearlong leadership program. The two days in Tallahassee gave the young people a firsthand look at the legislative process and FFVA’s activities to protect and promote Florida agriculture.

The next stop in the leadership program will be an April visit to the agricultural area around Tampa. The class will visit farms that produce a wide variety of crops and hear from producers about the issues they confront.

In July, the group will travel to California to tour agricultural production areas.

The program is designed to equip participants with a depth of knowledge of the issues facing agriculture and provide them with the education and tools to become effective advocates for specialty crop agriculture.

Lisa Lochridge is the director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association in Maitland. She can be reached at (321) 214-5206 or lisalochridge@ffva.com.