Rick Roth’s 1st term in Legislature: ‘Much more than I expected’

By Mick Lochridge

A respected farmer and business owner in South Florida, Rick Roth has long advocated for issues beneficial to his community and Florida’s agriculture industry. His leadership positions with farming organizations, along with his own successful commercial operations, have provided him with experiences and insight to tackle an even bigger role – in the state Legislature.

Roth, 64, just finished his freshman term in the Florida House of Representatives, where he represented District 85, which includes Palm Beach Gardens, Juno Beach, North Palm Beach, the Acreage and parts of Loxahatchee, Royal Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.

“The decision to run was a natural outgrowth and next step in my career as a business owner, farmer and landowner in Florida,” he said. “I have been involved in politics and farm policy for more than 30 years and have encouraged others to get more involved by setting a good example.”

“In the end,” he added, “the decision to run was answering the call to step up and do more for my country.”

A third-generation farmer, Roth joined his father in the family business in 1976 after graduating from Emory University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. In 1986 he became the president and principal owner of Roth Farms, a closely held family farm in the Everglades Agricultural Area near Belle Glade. The company, with 20 full-time and 150 seasonal employees, grows radishes, leafy vegetables, rice, sugar cane, sweet corn, green beans and celery.

In 2007 Roth opened a state-of-the-art packinghouse in Belle Glade, naming it Ray’s Heritage after his father. The plant handles radishes, sweet corn, green beans, leafy vegetables and celery.

Active in the agriculture community, he serves on the boards of the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. In addition, he is president and founding board member of the Florida Rice Growers Association and serves on the Farmers Feeding Florida Advisory Committee to Feeding Florida.

Married 39 years, Roth and his wife, Jeanie, have lived in Wellington for 38 years and have three adult children and three grandchildren.

FFVA caught up with Roth to ask him about his experience in the Legislature.

FFVA: Was your first term in the Legislature what you expected?

Roth: My first term in office was so much more than I expected. The amount of information and knowledge required to evaluate and vote on hundreds of bills is overwhelming. Fortunately, it is still easier than vegetable farming in Florida. I was impressed with the level of expertise of legislators and staff on every subject imaginable.

FFVA: What were your biggest accomplishments?

Roth: I developed key friendships with members to discuss pending legislation. I introduced two bills (dealing with regulations for hospice services and public records for agriculture research) that were signed into law, and I gained valuable insight into passing future bills. Just as important, I participated on different levels to amend or stop legislation that I had problems with.

FFVA: What do you hope to accomplish during the next session?

Roth: I am a big-picture guy. I am pro-business, pro-jobs and pro-environment. If you are anti-business and pro-environment, please move to Denmark. I am working on several bills under the broad categories of efficient government, public safety and civility.

FFVA: How do you juggle your legislative duties with your farm business?

Roth: In an ideal world, every farmer’s goal is to pass on the family farm to the next generation. I have been blessed with the family and great employees to run the day-to-day operations. God’s timing is perfect. My adult children have their careers, and this step gives them greater opportunities and responsibilities.

FFVA: What qualities did you take from the farm to the Legislature?

Roth: I am a small-town business owner. I am privileged to have grown up, lived and worked in the same community all my life. For years I have said, “I live in Belle Glade. I sleep in Wellington.” I learned early in life that everything works better when you work hard and are honest. Finally, as a business owner, you become adept at solving problems and evaluating the performance of everyone you work with, including yourself.

FFVA: In what ways do your farming experiences make you a better lawmaker?

Roth: In agriculture, you learn quickly that there are certain things that have to be done today. Second, farmers are long-term planners. So you believe in long-term strategic planning to accomplish big goals. You learn patience and understand that waiting is work, too.

FFVA: What have you learned in Tallahassee that you can use in your farming business?

Roth: My main focus as a legislator is to “always tell the truth without making people mad.” That is accomplished in part by the phrase “less is more.” My goal is to keep debates and discussions short and to the point.

FFVA: What issues that affect other farmers have you fought for – and against?

Roth: There were several bills lowering taxes and regulations that help all business owners, which include the constitutional amendments to increase the homestead exemption by $25,000 and cap the non-homestead exemption to a maximum 10 percent annual increase permanently. We were also able to include veterinary medicine and other items in the category of sales tax-exempt agriculture expenses.

California tour gives leadership group new insights

A three-day California production tour opened a window to new crops and production practices for Class 6 of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program. Company presidents and farm managers opened their operations to the group as it traveled across the Salinas Valley June 25-27.

It was the fifth and final session for the class before it graduates at FFVA’s annual convention in September. The class began its year together with an orientation at FFVA’s offices in November. In January they toured South Florida farms and packinghouses, and they visited with legislators in Tallahassee in March.

In California, the class saw some crops for the first time, including apples, mushrooms, artichokes and wine grapes. They also learned, however, that many of the same issues pose challenges in California just as they do in Florida.

The tour gave the class the opportunity to discuss farming challenges in detail with leaders of the California companies. The No. 1 concern raised repeatedly by the hosts was the serious shortage of labor. A close second was over-regulation by the state and federal governments.  And though the California drought may be over, growers cited long-term water quality and quantity concerns. They also discussed the need for innovation to stay efficient and competitive in the marketplace.

In addition to seeing production practices in the fields, the group also toured major several receiving, cooling, packing and shipping operations. Meeting with agriculture leaders in Salinas, they heard about the top issues facing growers in the valley and work by the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California on those issues.

The group also learned about innovations underway in mechanical harvesting and precision agriculture.

“I was amazed at how cutting-edge their farming practices are, specifically in harvesting,” said class member Jeff Searcy of Helena Chemical. “The technological advances they have made in mechanical harvesting clearly show their focus on efficiency, and more importantly food safety.”

A special thanks to Driscoll’s for hosting the ELDP for dinner on the first night of the trip.

Tour stops and hosts were:

Uesugi Farms in Gilroy, Pete Aiello – peppers

DiMare Company in Gilroy, Jeff Dolan – tomatoes

Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, Vince Gizdich – apples and peaches

Monterey Mushrooms in Watsonville, Matt Fuller – mushrooms

Driscoll’s in Aromas and Watsonville, various hosts – strawberries, raspberries, blackberries

Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Mark Reasons and Glenn Alameda – artichokes

Duda in Salinas, Sammy Duda – celery

Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Jim Bogart; Monterey County Commissioner of Agriculture Eric Lauritzen; Kim Stemler, Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association

Bengard Ranch in Salinas, Bridget Rotticci – broccoli

Taylor Farms in Salinas, Rigo Ramirez – bagged salad processing

Taylor Farms in Salinas, Chris Rotticci – automated lettuce harvesting

D’Arrigo in Salinas, Mark Houle and Daniel DeLorimier – vegetable and strawberry receiving, cooling, shipping

Tanimura & Antle in Salinas, Ashley Pipkin and Nick Sgheiza – lettuce

Ramsay Highlander in Gonzales, Frank Maconachy – mechanical harvesting

Pisoni Vineyards in Soledad, Mark Pisoni – wine grapes

New company gives landowners a link to additional revenue

By Mick Lochridge

John Evans, a member of a longtime Florida farming and real estate family, turned his light bulb of an idea into a money-making venture by connecting property owners with folks looking to lease land for everything from cows to crops to camping.

His company’s website, LandLeaseExchange.com, provides a space for landowners to post photos and descriptions of property available for lease. For example, a 544-acre farm near Wildwood has four wells and is suitable for growing onions, peanuts and watermelons. In Volusia County, there is a 200-acre cattle ranch with fencing and cow pens. In the coastal bayous of Louisiana, a hunting and fishing lodge offers a haven for both sportsmen and nature lovers.

From his job in agriculture real estate as vice president of Maury L. Carter & Associates in Orlando, Evans was in the perfect position to see the opportunity for creating the new business.

“We get hundreds, if not thousands, of unsolicited phone calls a year on the properties in our portfolio from individuals and companies looking to lease or rent our properties for various reasons,” he said. “I recognized this enormous need and demand for private land use. But I also recognized something else. Landowners of all types are constantly looking for ways to make additional income or generate new revenue streams on their land.”LLX logo

So he created a way for the two parties to connect, launching the website this past spring. The service is available in every state, and there are nearly 40 listings, most in Florida. The cost is $75 a month to list a property; there is no charge to visit the site and search for land. FFVA members can receive a nine-month free trial with discount code FFVALLE17.

“No property is too small or too big,” said Evans, president and CEO of Land Lease Exchange. “Lease all of your land or just a portion.”

One of his clients is Lykes Bros., an agribusiness with land in Florida and Texas.  The company listed three Florida properties on the exchange, two for hunting leases in Glades County and a preserve with a lodge suitable for company retreats and family gatherings in Glades County.

“We have had tremendous interest in both of the hunting lands, and we are in the process of leasing them,” said Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, vice president of strategic development for the company. She added that other lands, including property in west Texas, would be evaluated for including on the exchange.

That fits right in with Evans’ plan.

“We provide something that has never existed, a marketplace where landowners and land users can connect,” Evans said. “It’s a service that has not been available and that is in huge demand by both.”

Most of the initial land posted for leasing centers on traditional farming. Yet Evans said he expected interest to build for recreational and other uses.

“Livestock and production agriculture crops are just the beginning as these sites are in huge demand for leasing across our state and country,” he said. “But there is an enormous segment of our population looking for recreational opportunities too, such as hunting, camping, horseback riding.” Landowners also can post their agri-tourism properties.

Evans, 32, is a 2008 graduate of the University of Mississippi with a degree in real estate finance. A seventh-generation Floridian, he lives in Winter Park with wife Ann and son Jack, 1.

His family’s companies are Nelson & Co. Inc. and Evans Groves, based in Oviedo. His family has been farming since the 1880s in Florida and grows citrus and blueberries.

“My family is in agriculture and real estate. I love both,” he said. “I also love hunting and the outdoors. I wanted a career that would meld all of those things together, which landed me with my current position in the agri-real estate industry. And that led me to LandLeaseExchange.com.”