- Helping agriculture grow -
An FFVA trade associate member, Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department brings together the resources of community partners, organizations and other county agencies to create new opportunities for job creation and business growth throughout the region.
Within the department is the Agribusiness Industry Development team. Simon Bollin manages the team’s efforts, helping agribusinesses in the county develop and grow.
“This position was established in the mid ‘90s to be a liaison between farmers and agribusiness and county government on regulatory issues that could be impactful to local farmers,” said Bollin. It was launched when a county planning commission report predicted that at then-current growth rates, there would be no agriculture in the county by 2040. “The county formed the Agriculture Economic Development Council and established my position to bring together the agricultural community and the county with the goal of seeing that this scenario didn’t happen,” Bollin said.
The recession that developed later slowed that dire prediction. “Today, although it covers a smaller footprint than it did 25 years ago, agriculture still is very viable,” Bollin said. “We’re seeing land uses changing somewhat, though. Instead of a low-intensity, low income-per-acre agriculture such as cattle grazing, we’ve seen and probably will continue to see, higher intensity, higher profit-per-acre or potential profit-per-acre uses such as strawberries or watermelons, which result in a higher assessed value.”
The Agribusiness Industry Development team has been helping grow agriculture in some important ways. For example, it helped fund the relocation of the University of Florida/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center from Manatee County to Balm in Hillsborough County. The center was moved to county-donated land in 2005, and through cooperation between growers and government was built using only $3 million in tax dollars toward the total cost of $15 million. Read a summary here.
Bollin took over the position two years ago. His predecessor, Stephen Gran (now Hillsborough County Extension director), established a tradition of working on many legislative issues, including those resulting from greenbelt issues and the urban service boundary. The urban service boundary is an area surrounding the Interstate 4 and Interstate 75 corridors that is delineated by local governments in an attempt to control urban sprawl .
These days Bollin is working on several projects, including a partnership with the GCREC to determine the viability of Florida-grown hops. “We’ve applied for a USDA specialty crop grant to research possibilities,” Bollin said. “There are 144 breweries currently in Florida and about 40 percent of them in the Tampa Bay region. And hops is one of the more costly inputs for making beer because it has to be shipped from the opposite corner of the country or Germany or New Zealand or some other far-off place. We thought we’d see if we could take a shot at growing hops locally,” he said. “Hops is a pretty hearty plant. There’s been some limited experimentation in backyard growing, and it seems to do fairly well. It’s hearty as long as it has the correct amount of water and fertilizer, but there is a concern about hops here vs. the Northwest because of the high humidity and resulting disease pressures.”
“If we can develop the Best Management Practices and prove the concept of growing hops in Florida, it would be up to farmers in the state to see if they would want to diversify their operations to include that crop.
Bollin also is working on the beneficial reuse of byproducts produced in Hillsborough County as a benefit to local farmers. “Agriculture could be the largest user of that product. We’re in the trial stages and looking at full-time operation sometime next year,” he said.
And Bollin’s team is hard at work encouraging veterans to consider careers in agriculture. “Florida has the third largest population of veterans in the country. We also have the second largest presence of military bases in the country. Plus, Hillsborough and the Tampa Bay area — but specifically Hillsborough — has the largest veteran population in the state,” he said. Pointing out many similarities in the discipline and work ethic common to both military service and agriculture, Bollin is enthusiastic about helping to bring these young men and women into the industry.
“MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa transfers between 1,200 and 1,500 vets out of service every year,” Bollin said. “About 44 percent of them choose to stay in the area. That’s about 500 or 600 vets every year. I think it’s important to create programs to introduce them to agriculture opportunities such as being a mechanic, or a logistics manager, or starting their own operation.”
Whether it’s craft breweries or new farming operations, Bollin aims to continue to help promote development and expansion of new and existing agribusinesses. “We’re always trying to look for opportunities for local agriculturists to be able to capitalize on new opportunities.”
Bollin’s team is guided by the 12-member Agriculture Economic Development Council, which represents various types of agriculture present in Hillsborough County. The council reviews and evaluates county agricultural issues and initiates projects and recommendations. Its members are confirmed by the Hillsborough County Commission from nominees approved by current council members.
Learn more about the Hillsborough County Economic Development Department and Agribusiness Industry Development here.