Commissioner Putnam Discusses Regional Issues



As the state of Florida grows in populations, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam doesn’t plan to be an idle member of cabinet. With visions of Florida becoming “the jumping off point for people’s lives”, rather than “the prize given after a life well-lived; somewhere else,” Putnam spoke with business leaders in Lakewood Ranch this week about his plans to tackling several state-wide issues. At a luncheon sponsored by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, the Institute for Public Policy, the leadership at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, the likely gubernatorial candidate encouraged leaders to work together to solve regional problems. He also discussed business and environmental issues facing local commerce and agriculture today.

We’ve been plagued of late with an exodus of young professionals from the Gulf Coast. What should the next governor of Florida do to keep this workforce in the state?

You want to create an educational ecosystem that attracts the brightest young people from all over the world who get their education here, and then a high percentage of the ones who graduate in Florida are going to stay in Florida. We’re seeing the investments in downtown. We know Millennials like a walkable lifestyle. We certainly have the climate on our side, and we’re beginning to see a diversity in our job basket that includes more hi-tech, more of the creative, things that are attracting young professionals who are going to launch their business in Florida, not just wait until they have sold it off in a different state or country and reward themselves with a place in Sarasota for a life well-lived or possessions acquired someplace else.

How is the agriculture department attacking the citrus greening epidemic that is impacting the citrus population within the state?

The Citrus Greening disease is a bacterial disease, spread by a bug called the Psyllid, so you control the Psyllid as well as the bacteria itself. We have expedited the approval of two new treatments for citrus greening, two new bactericides, which were approved earlier in the spring and appear to be showing some progress against citrus greening. No one is under the illusion that either are the solution or cure, but they seem to be very important tools to utilize in buying us time until we can breed a tree that is more resistant to the bacteria, or a tree that can produce natural antibodies to fight this disease. Take Tropicana, for example. They’ve got a massive infrastructure built on the assumption of 200 million boxes of fruit being picked, and we're looking at 58 million boxes of fruit. Having those trees going back in the ground is how we’re going to protect those jobs.

The recent sinkhole near Lakeland has many concerned about water quality in the Floridan aquifer. What is the state doing to ensure public safety?

The DEP is on the ground monitoring the recovery wells pumping water back out of the aquifer to prevent that pollution from extending beyond the boundaries of Mosaic's property. They need to make absolutely certain that plume doesn’t leave that site. The next phase is: How do we prevent this from happening? There are more of those gypsum stacks around the state, and the one that the sinkhole opened up underneath was one of the more modern, higher-standard stacks. It was lined. It was built to the highest specifications required by the EPA and the DEP. The plan is putting the engineers to work to evaluate the risk going forward, and to produce a better design that will prevent this in the future.

Photo courtesy of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

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