Activism By Local Farm Bureau Members

county advocacyA group of north Florida Farm Bureau members showed their ability to work together during this past winter. They acted to protect sustainable food production in Columbia County.

Their success typifies the cooperative effort that is legendary among Farm Bureau families.

The issue in question arose with the announcement that the Columbia County Commission would consider amendments to land use regulations. What drew attention were the proposal’s provisions that mandated the imposition of new regulations upon farm owners who shifted from plant to animal agriculture.

If an owner added as few as 300 head of beef cattle to the property, regardless of the acreage involved, for example, the ordinance would apply. In such an instance, the farmer would be required to pay a fee of $1,400 and seek a special use permit from county government.

Steven Dicks, president of the local Farm Bureau organization, said, “What they were trying to do was put everything under the Planning and Zoning Board. This was not an isolated event. It was part of a national movement.”

In response, a coalition of local farmers, realtors and business owners organized to prepare for a February meeting during which the commission planned to vote on the ordinance.

Dicks and other citizens relied upon an opinion by the office of the general counsel at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The attorneys there determined that the proposal violated a Florida statute that prohibits a local government from duplicating regulations applied to farms operating under state-approved Best Management Practices.

Proponents of the amendment stated they wanted to protect nearby springs. But its provisions directly threatened the ability of existing farms to survive – many of which have been maintained for generations.

After hearing comments from local citizens as well as an attorney from the Pacific Legal Foundation speaking on behalf of farm owners at the February meeting, Columbia County’s commissioners unanimously rejected the proposal.

“I think this was an excellent example of how a common purpose and work to bring people together to fight a bad ordinance can be successful,” Dicks said.

“The goal behind the new ordinance is to control agriculture through the Planning and Zoning Board. They will be back. We will keep an eye on them.”

Dicks said Columbia County Farm Bureau’s board members all took lead roles in achieving the victory for local agriculture. “We were also very appreciative of the support from Pacific Legal Foundation and Florida Farm Bureau,” he added.