The Agriculture Institute of Florida – Big plans ahead

Harvesting clams on a November day is not the typical routine for congressional staffers. Yet there they were, six of them heading out to Dog Island to do just that on the Agriculture Institute of Florida’s congressional farm tour last year.

The farm tour, one of several conducted by the Ag Institute, took the staffers to see aquaculture in action, cattle and timber operations, peanut farms and more.

Amber Maloney of Wish Farms serves as 2016 president of the Ag Institute. She’s excited about the tours as well as several other efforts the Institute is undertaking.

Focusing on education

The Ag Institute of Florida began as the Agribusiness Institute of Florida in 1970. One of its first initiatives was to organize a political candidates’ forum to be held every four years. The forum continues to be a sellout today, providing an opportunity for candidates running for U.S. senator, governor and state Cabinet posts to address agriculture issues and answer industry members’ questions.

In 1989, the Institute changed its membership base from business men and women to communications professionals. Since then, it has focused on educating Floridians about the impact and importance of Florida agriculture.

Today, in addition to the candidates’ forums and farm tours, the Ag Institute offers workshops, media events and more. Maloney says there are a number of exciting plans in the works.

One of those is a collaboration between the Ag Institute and the University of Florida/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (the PIE Center).  A lunch-and-learn workshop has been planned for May 25 where trainers will teach participants effective ways to tell organizational stories. The event will be 10 a.m. to 1p.m. at the Florida Farm Bureau Building in Gainesville.  Learn more about the event here.

“We hope to be an outlet for the PIE Center so they can share their research with the Florida agricultural community,” Maloney said. “Also, the PIE Center has connections with young up-and-coming ag professionals.  We plan to connect with the graduate and undergraduate students who are looking to network and become involved with our organization,” she added.

The Institute also is creating a new website. Maloney said the site will be user-friendly and optimized for mobile devices. “It will have relevant content and fresh images as well as an ag calendar featuring industry events,” she said. “Our goal is to make the site a resource for our members and anyone looking to learn more about Florida’s agriculture community.”  The site will be completed later this year.

Farm tours get high marks

Working with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s staff, the institute has hosted three farm tours for congressional staffers so far, with plans for a fourth in 2017. The groups have visited operations in South Florida, Central Florida and North Florida. Maloney said the 2017 tour is slated for South Florida again.

Tour stops have included a Publix produce facility, Florida’s Natural, Mosaic, Fancy Farms strawberry farm, the UF/IFAS aquaculture research facility, and the Ocala Stud Thoroughbred Farm. The tours are designed to educate the staffers on the wide spectrum of Florida agriculture. “In addition to educating the staffers on Florida agriculture and the challenges we face, the tours serve as a way to connect ag producers to decision-makers in Washington,” Maloney said. “We’ve received incredible feedback from participants and all those involved in planning and hosting the events.”

In the meantime, Maloney is looking forward to planning something a little different for the Institute’s annual meeting later this year.  “We are interested in tying in a cooking feature.  Perhaps we’ll be able to work with Fresh From Florida and a guest chef,” she said. “We are still in the beginning stages of planning and brainstorming ideas. We would really like it to be a fun event that members are excited to attend.  After all, we are in the food industry, so why not have fun with it and incorporate a cooking demo or fresh produce feature to showcase Florida agriculture?”

In addition to Maloney serving as president of the Ag Institute, other officers are: Tory Boyd of Farm Credit, vice president; Ruth Hohl Borger of IFAS, secretary; FFVA’s Lisa Lochridge, treasurer; and Gail Rayos of Wragg and Casas, immediate past president.

Membership in the Ag Institute is open to communications professionals associated with non-profits or businesses and to students who are planning an agriculture-related communications career.  Its mission is “to educate, encourage and empower individuals and organizations to communicate more effectively on behalf of Florida agriculture.”

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Ag Institute of Florida, please send an email to amber@wishfarms.com for information.

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