By PHIL ATTINGER

Staff Writer

SEBRING — Rep. Cary Pigman (R-Avon Park) told members of Highlands County Florida Farm Bureau at Friday’s annual meeting to beware of new regulations on sugar.

He said the movement from best management practices to full monitoring of soil and water around agricultural operations, as is being suggested by state regulators and many legislators from the coasts, is meant to check how much in nutrients washes off fields, groves and pastures.

However, it could be used, in his opinion, to shut down agriculture in Florida’s Heartland.

“There is a target on our backs,” Pigman told Farm Bureau members. “There are forces that want to put sugar out of business. I fear citrus, dairy and row crops will all get rolled into that.”

People in Tallahassee want to forego best management practices and go to “nutrient monitoring,” Pigman said. That could mean drilling wells around the perimeter of agricultural operations to watch for nutrients leaving the property.

Only, when he asked, Pigman said, no one would tell him how they would do that or pay for it.

They indicated to him that the landowner would pay, he said.

Some have advocated having all agricultural operations set aside 20% of their land for reservoirs, also not reimbursed.

That’s a “taking,” Pigman said, which is illegal.

All of this is to reduce blue-green algae blooms, which have plagued the state recently, Pigman said.

The focus on agriculture, he said, ignores the effects of urban areas like Orlando, which sits at the headwaters of the Kissimmee River.

Right now, Pigman said, the South Florida Water Management District has no agricultural representative on its board, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District has agriculture vacancies.

He suggests all agriculturalists be at the task meetings for these regulations, to be heard.

“I’ve made calls. I’ve made my position clear,” Pigman said. “Right now, you guys are in trouble. A lot of people want to turn all this heartland into a wildlife preserve. We need people to understand that raising food is not a nefarious activity.”

On the light side of the meeting, members heard about the latest achievement and fundraising activities of both Future Farmers of America and Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers programs.

Scott Kirouac told members that “Ag Angels” last year raised $80,740 to provide Christmas cheer to needy families.

Over the last 13 years, the charity effort has raised $350,000, and has gotten steadily better each year, Kirouac said.

Members also pulled out their wallets for the annual cake auction, selling off home-baked desserts to the highest bidders to support the local organization’s donations to programs throughout the community.

Such delights as an Italian cream cake that sold for $35 early in the auction, followed by a chocolate Bundt cake selling for $55, “Grandmother’s pound cake,” which sold for $65, and a carrot cake that sold for $60.

Then an Oreo cookie layer cake ended up in a bidding war between rival equipment suppliers, the local Kubota dealership and the John Deere dealership.

John Deere won with a $500 bid.

The auction continued, selling a guava cobbler for $200 and a “Hummingbird cake” for $260.

A banana cake with salted caramel buttercream icing sold for $130, while a praline torte sold for $110.

Then the Oreo cake got re-donated, and Dan Franklin, Kubota dealer, bid $505.

Immediately, another tractor supplier bid against him, and when the bidding stopped, Franklin had bought the cake for $700.

All told, the cake auction raised more than $2,100 for the organization’s funds.

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